Spirituality is about paying attention to your life;
always asking in every moment,
“What can I learn from this?”
Spirituality is about paying attention to your life;
always asking in every moment,
“What can I learn from this?”
You can’t accomplish anything worthwhile if you inhibit yourself. If life teaches you nothing else, know this for sure: when you get the chance, go for it.
Each person’s life-each life form, in fact-represents a world, a unique way in which the universe expresses itself.
Yes, this has taken a while to post. It sat in draft form for several days and before that in my head for a couple of weeks. This last installment has been one of the harder webcast posts to write. Perhaps because it represents the end of a remarkable series of webcasts. Perhaps because it only marks the beginning of a journey that many of us are traveling.
Throughout these webcasts with Eckhart Tolle and Oprah Winfrey there ran several consistent themes: to live without the ego, to live in awareness of life around us, to become comfortable with change, to realize that the first step to awakening is to reflect on our inner selves, for we are the ones who hold “the key” to our fullest potential.
Eckhart refers to this awakening as a return to consciousness and a move away from form (ego). In our society, this awakening of consciousness typically happens as we approach death or when faced with a tragedy, illness or loss. At times it is only when these issues confront us that we become conscious and experience a spiritual awakening. In our society, we are more focused on the DOING, not BEING. And in our often frenetic DOING, we tend to avoid BEING because we fear a return to our spiritual nature.
This does not mean that DOING doesn’t have its place. It does have its place. And we can honor the DOING aspects of our lives if we are present while DOING them. And when we are present when engaging in the activities in our lives, we step into BEING. (Does this sound circular?)
As we increase our awareness, ego begins to drop away. Unfortunately, it is our collective egos that have contributed to so many problems in our history as human beings. We are intelligent beings. However, as Eckhart states, our intelligence is often very stupid. That is, on the one hand we are very intelligent but on the other hand we are very stupid with our intelligence.
There are three ways in which to bring awareness, or presence, or consciousness into the DOING:
Acceptance: While we may not enjoy what we have to do, we can accept that this is what we have to do. In this sense acceptance means that for now, this is what this situation, this moment, requires us to do and we do it willingly. Performing an action in the state of acceptance means you are at peace doing it.
Enjoyment: Sometimes, when we accept that we have to do something that we don’t enjoy, we may actually find ourselves enjoying it. When we make the present moment, (not the past or the future), the focal point of our lives, our ability to enjoy what we do, and the quality of our life, increases.
Enthusiasm: This is highest level of vibration or energy in increasing awareness. Enthusiasm means there is a deep enjoyment in what we do. This may also include goals or visions that we work toward. However, if we become more focused on arriving at the goal rather than enjoying the process, then we become stressed.
So after reading the book and watching the webcasts, what did I get out of it?
I’ve learned that spirituality can be separate from religion. One does not need to be religious to be spiritual.
I’ve learned that God-like or Goddess-like qualities are found within ourselves. One does not have to look outward to find the goodness within.
I’ve learned that if I can clear my mind of that internal voice, even for a brief period of time, I can better focus on the task at hand. And when that voice pops up, I don’t have to listen to it.
I’ve learned that if I pause and take one deep breath during the day, I can return to stillness and feel centered.
And I’ve learned that this is a process that doesn’t happen over night. I work on it every day. And some days are definitely easier than others.
Allowing the truth of who you are–your spiritual self–to rule your life means you stop the struggle and learn to move with the flow of your life.
As soon as you rise above mere survival, the question of meaning and purpose becomes of paramount importance in your life.
What is our inner purpose? Why are we here and what are we supposed to do? Isn’t that the ultimate question that we frequently ask? From the time we are old enough to think about what we want to do with our lives, we ask this question.
Eckhart believes each person has two purposes in life: an outer purpose and an inner purpose. The outer purpose is the DOING of our lives; thinking about the future, where we’re going and what we’re doing. The inner purpose is BEING; the aligning of our lives, where we are right now, with the present moment.
When we realize our inner purpose, our being in the present moment and being aligned with life, then our outer purpose will be fulfilled. And it begins with awakening.
Throughout The New Earth Eckhart talks about awakening, of becoming conscious and dropping the ego, and how if we learn to quiet our minds, to take a breath (or many breaths), and focus on the present moment, that we will discover our inner purpose. He also stresses that this is not some miraculous transformation that happens over night. (Sorry, I haven’t found the Fairy Godmother of Awakening with her magic wand…yet.) This is a process.
Eckhart describes awakening as a shift in consciousness; a time when we are not lost in our thinking or where thinking runs our lives.
That doesn’t mean we stop thinking or stop having that voice that pops into our heads. That voice shows up almost every morning when I get in the shower. It reminds me about an email I need to send or a phone call to make. Sometimes a problem gets solved or a creative idea is born.
Yet what is different is that as I become more aware of this voice in my head (remember, I once named her Esther), I remind myself to get quiet and focus on the present moment. To feel the warmth of the bathroom floor (we splurged and installed radiant heat.) To listen to the birds chirping. To listen to Pippin purr as he settles in on the rug.
When we awaken, we become aware. And when we become aware, we can make a conscious choice to be present rather than let the useless thinking take over.
And what does that have to do with inner purpose? It means that we need to connect whatever we are currently doing now, our outer purpose, with our inner purpose. By connecting the current activity with inner purpose, we bring deeper meaning into what we do.
So, for example, when you have to cook dinner after a long day, and you really don’t feel like it but you need to do it, you can piss and moan about it and resist it, which does not make it a fulfilling task for your or your family OR you can accept it and say “Okay, I have to fix dinner now. This is what I need to do and I need to bring my full attention to it.”
The next thing you know, you find that you actually like cooking and maybe discover a long forgotten cookbook or a recipe you haven’t fixed in a long time.
Another cool thing about increased awareness is synchronicity. As you become more aware, more present, the universe begins to bring things to you. You might notice “coincidences.” The wholesale order you hoped for arrives in your email. You get accepted into an important show. You win an award. Perhaps unexpected money comes to you or that car you wanted to buy is on sale.
Would some of these things happened anyways? Perhaps. Would you have noticed them? Maybe. Would you have struggled to make some of it happen? Possibly. But there may be no joy in it.
Our outer purpose will change over time and varies from person to person. Our inner purpose is to awaken. Finding and living in alignment with the inner purpose is the foundation for fulfilling our outer purpose.
Our minds are full of internal thoughts
and our external lives are filled with things to do.
There is no space in our lives.
And so began the discussion on discovering our inner space. And how true it is. We get up in the morning and we start thinking about what to make for dinner. We run from place to place; meeting to meeting, the soccer game, the little league game, the book club meeting. No wonder we want to stop the world and get off.
What is inner space? It is that part of you that allows you to step back from yourself and witness what is happening to you and around you; you witness your own behavior, actions, or words.
And how does one come to find his/her inner space? Through awareness and presence. When you bring awareness to a situation, an urge, a pattern or habit, consistently as it happens, you begin to develop inner space. This awareness may not always succeed, especially when the desire, the long-ingrained pattern, is strong. So don’t expect perfection the first time around or maybe not even the 5oth time around. However, the more you apply awareness to a situation, a pattern, a habit, it will gradually lessen.
In a previous post I referred to this as my “oh crap” moment. The moment when you’re talking about something with someone and you say a word or phrase that may hurt their feelings and as soon as the words are out of your mouth you realize the hurt you may have caused. Sometimes this realization happens immediately after the fact and sometimes it happens way after the fact.
Lately I’ve noticed myself becoming more aware of an emotion or reaction that wants to emerge during certain situations or conversations. Instead of allowing the reaction to emerge, I find myself pausing. I take a breath during that moment of silence and then speak. And this is hard because we are conditioned to fear moments of silence. Yet it is in the silence where we find stillness, awareness, and presence. I am learning to be comfortable with periods of silence.
I’m also reminded of phrases I heard as a child: “bite your tongue,” “silence is golden,” and “think before you speak.” Perhaps those who spoke these phrases to me were demonstrating some level of awareness that I was, well, not aware of at the time.
It is also important to remember when you step into this inner space that you not judge yourself. You need to simply observe. If you begin to judge yourself, then you clog your mind with those thoughts again (hello inner voice).
This too, shall pass This too, will pass
Oh how I hated this phrase as a kid. Why on earth would I want something to pass? Why would I want it to end? Remember how hard it could be to leave a friend’s house after playing all day?
This too, shall pass tells us that we should not cling to situations or objects. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t enjoy ourselves or perhaps find comfort in these words. Rather it means that we need to become aware of the fleetingness of situations and that should help us enjoy life even more.
If we are aware of the nonpermanence of people, objects, and situations, we will enjoy them more. If we cling out of fear of loss, if we expect people and things to be as they always have, we become trapped inside the events of our lives. Through nonattachment we will also find inner space.
Discover your inner space by bringing little gaps into your daily life. Take a breath. Listen and allow the silence. Practice nonattachment, nonjudgement, and nonresistance. Don’t be too harsh on yourself if it doesn’t happen right away. Space opens gradually and when it does, be sure to step in.
Periodically while reading A New Earth I found myself pausing and asking “what does he mean?” Usually I would have to read and re-read the particular sentence or passage before the words sunk in. I found this happening with more frequency when reading the last few chapters of A New Earth.
Eckhart begins with the phrase Gnothi Seauton which means “Know Thyself.” These words are posted at the entrance of the temple of Apollo at Delphi, site of the sacred Oracle. History tells us that people would visit the Oracle to learn what destiny had in store for them. However, before asking what destiny has in store for us, Eckhart reminds us that we must first ask “Who am I?”
As has been discussed in previous chapters, we often identify ourselves by our names, jobs, positions, physical attributes, and so forth. These are external attributes and roles and attachment to our roles can impede our ability to live in the present moment. In other words, it is okay to identify ourselves by our roles but we shouldn’t become so attached to the role that when that role ends (e.g. such as leaving a long term job position) we don’t know who we are or what else to do.
According to Eckhart, when you realize who you are NOT, then who you ARE will be revealed.
Hmm, okay; big pause here.
This realization may occur when something we identified with is gone. This loss could be through death, disaster, or even loss of social position. When this happens we have two choices: resist or accept. When we resist, we fight the present situation; we are reactive and confrontational. When we accept the situation, we go through the suffering and increase our awareness. We accept the present moment.
Another way to understand who you truly are is through abundance or acknowledging the good that is already in your life. Too often we think that WHO we are is how we see ourselves treated by others. We aren’t respected. We don’t receive recognition. We aren’t loved. Our needs are not being met. We believe we have nothing to give or that people are withholding what we need. “Poor me.” Instead of acknowledging the good already in our lives all we see is lack. And acknowledging the good in our life is the basis of abundance.
This is where gratitude comes into play. This was an “a ha” moment for me because “gratitude” was the word I chose for myself this year. And these words in A New Earth really hit home:
Whatever you think the world is withholding from you,
you are withholding from the world.
You are withholding it because deep down you think you are small
and that you have nothing to give.
In other words, if you don’t let flow whatever it is that you think the world is withholding, you won’t know that you have it already within you. Outflow determines Inflow. Or “what you give, you get.” Tell people you appreciate them. Praise someone for a job well done. Say thank you more often. Smile at a stranger.
When you acknowledge abundance, when you express gratitude, when you see the fullness in life, you send out positive energy, you begin to live in the present moment and in that moment you may find who you truly are.
Of course the natural follow-up to learning about the pain-body is to learn how to rid yourself of the pain-body.
The first step in breaking free of the pain-body is to realize that you have a pain-body. The second step is to stay alert and present enough to notice the pain-body in yourself because when the pain-body is recognized, it no longer has power over you. When you don’t identify with the pain-body, it cannot control you or your thinking.
So how do you recognize the pain-body when it emerges? Consider your reaction to the situation that has triggered the pain-body. Is your reaction out of proportion to the triggering event? (Remember, it isn’t the situation but how you react to it.)
Try to become aware of your reaction as it arises. Initially, you might realize what you said or did after the fact; an hour later, a day later. You know that realization when it hits. The “oh crap, did I say that or do that?” It can be a major dope-slap moment.
But give yourself credit for recognizing it. The fact that you recognized it is a start. Over time, the space between the emotion, the reaction, and your realization that it is happening will decrease. As your awareness increases, you begin to feel the emotion as it starts and then you can contain the emotion by being present.
Christine Kane had a great recommendation for putting that space between you and the reaction. Whenever someone says or does something that triggers you, before you respond, pause and say “Hmm” (yes, it may be more of a “harrumph” but at least you’re pausing before reacting.)
It is also important not to supress the pain-body, the negative emotion. Supressed pain-bodies are more toxic than openly active ones because repressed negativity equals negative energy. You may pick this up on this energy when you meet certain people. You may feel it in people you know.
When you feel the pain-body, the emotion, the reaction starting to rise in you, don’t start to think that there is something wrong with you. Know that the emotion, the reaction, is happening and follow the knowing with acceptance. By accepting, you allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you are feeling in that moment. That is part of being present.
Two Zen monks, Tanzan and Ekido, were walking along a country road that had become extremely muddy after heavy rains. Near a village, they came upon a young woman who was trying to cross the road but the mud was so deep it would have ruined the silk kimono she was wearing. Tanzan at once picked her up and carried her to the other side.
The monks walked on in silence. Five hours passed and as they approached the lodging temple, Ekido couldn’t restrain himself any longer and asked “Why did you carry that girl across the road? We monks are not supposed to do things like that.”
“I put the girl down hours ago,” Tanzan replied “Are you still carrying her?”
The discussion about the pain-body, the hurt from our past, was probably the most anticipated webcast thus far. Through our pain-body a voice in our head develops. The voice in our head has a life of its own and many of us are possessed by that voice. The voice in our head tells a story that the body believes in and reacts to; those reactions are emotions. Our emotions, in turn, feed energy back to the thoughts that created the emotion in the first place. Now we find ourselves caught in a vicious circle between thought and emotion.
Imagine living life like the monk Ekido; someone who was unable to internally let go of situations and who continuously collected “stuff” inside his head. Think about how many of us live carrying around burdens of the past in our minds.
Eckhart describes the pain-body as an accumulation of old emotional pain which we carry in our energy fields and feed through the voice in our head. I know that voice pretty well; the one that tells me I’m lazy or unattractive or boring or whatever other little jewels it can come up with. I’m sure you’ve had a few discussions of your own with the voice in your head.
And how does one deal with the pain-body and the voice in the head? First, you must become aware of that voice in your head and recognize the negative talk. Often times that negative voice is due to some trained thought pattern or action that we were exposed to as children such as “People can’t be trusted,” “I am not appreciated,” “I’m not worthy of love,” “You’re overweight and sloppy,” “You’re lazy,” “There is never enought money.”
As children we are very sensitive to strong negative emotions. Strong negative emotions that are not faced and accepted and let go of are carried with us into adulthood. This can include not only childhood pain but also pain experienced in our teen years and into adulthood. And when we feed into this pain and the negative talk, it may manifest itself outwardly as anxiety, anger, overeating, unhappiness, addictions, and drama.
A great deal of alertness and presence is required to not be drawn into our own drama (that voice again) or into another person’s drama. To step out of the negative thought pattern, you must recognize it for what it is-an inner voice, your ego, trying to get your attention, trying to drag you into its drama through a trained thought pattern. When you recognize that voice for what it is, when you come into the present moment through deep breathing or by focusing on another object such as a flower or by listening to external sounds such as birds chirping, you step out of the negative thought pattern.
Things that were said to us in the past, perhaps repetitively, become lodged in our minds. By bringing presence to these thoughts now, by realizing that these are old thoughts, and nothing more than old thoughts, then these old thoughts no longer have power over us. Accept the negative emotion (anger, sadness, etc) that comes with the thought, accept it in the present moment, and become aware of it.
Remember too that our parents only acted at their level of consciousness. They did the best they knew how to do at their level of consciousness. Blame them if you must; but know that you are the only one who can dislodge the past by raising your own level of consciousness through awareness and presence in the current moment.
The Chapter 4 webcast dove further into the ego with a discussion on role-playing. When I read the title of this chapter, the first thing that came to mind was acting; that is, pretending to be a character, another person, an image of someone, real or imagined.
When it comes to role playing in relation to the ego, the act of pretending is sometimes very real. There are roles we actually play and roles we’d like to play and roles we pretend to play.
There are roles and labels that we use to identify ourselves (mother, father, housewife, artist, performer, etc) but when we become completely identified with the role, we become trapped inside the role.
And what does it mean to be fully identified with that role? It means that when the role ends, you cannot relinquish the role when it is not required anymore.
I think of the male relatives in my family; men who were so completely identified with their occupations that when retirement came or when some external change happened that ended their job, they didn’t know what to do with themselves. They began to question themselves and ask “Who am I?”
I think of the job changes in my own life. My first career was as a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP). I remember several people in the field who insisted that their “title” was Speech-Language Pathologist not Speech Therapist or Speech Teacher but Speech-Language Pathologist. You could even tell who was an SLP in certain settings by the way she dressed. We identified ourselves not only by our job titles but by our clothing as well.
When I left that field, or should I say when external forces created an environment such that many of us lost our jobs, I, too wondered what I would do. In some ways I was fortunate that I was at a point where I no longer desired a career in healthcare and did not feel that I had to carry-on as a Speech-Language Pathologist. I was ready for something different.
As a Technical Writer, I felt a little more anonymous. My role as a tech writer wasn’t identified by what I wore but more by my ability to craft sentences and put together a cohesive statement in order to get a message across. I enjoyed my role as a writer (and still enjoy writing to this day) but I don’t think I fully identified with the role of technical writer. I guess that was a good thing because 13 months into that job (and several months past 9/11) my role as technical writer ended.
And now here I am in yet another “role” as an artist. Oddly enough this is the hardest role to identify with because it is hard to call oneself an artist. It is a role I am enjoying, however, I sometimes wonder if I will continue this “role” in the future. I sometimes think “What would I do, what would happen, if I could no longer work as an artist?” I find this is a fair question to ask, to “test” myself on my attachment to this role.
Another way we identify with our roles is in everyday conversation. When you first meet someone, it is very common to ask “What do you do?” And sometimes we then make an unconscious decision as to whether or not what that person does fits into our world; into the little mental compartments that we put people.
Consider also how you speak to and act around people. Do you speak differently to the housekeeper versus the CEO at your company? Do you adjust the way you act when you’re around these people? Observe this in yourself as these “adjustments” may be an indicator of your attachment to a role you play.
Our ego plays roles because it feels that it is not enough (“I am not enough”) and that we are not fully ourselves. When we don’t play roles, there is no self, no ego in what we do. When we can release ourselves from a role when it ends, we release ego. When we give up defining ourselves, we come to life.
And don’t worry about people who try to define you; they are limiting themselves and its their problem.