I have been away for awhile- took some much needed vacation and time for retreat with loved ones and enjoyed a string of days whose “purpose” was unspoken for in advance. It never seems to fail that the re-immersion into the world of our everyday needs and demands is a challenging re-entry, and that is part of what lies behind this post… Although, to be fair, the repeated need for movement from disconnectedness to connectedness is not an isolated moment, but a part of me wherever I am, until it isn’t…
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We’d like the silent spaces between our thoughts to be a warm retreat, a fullness that arises unbidden between our forays into focused activity. It is time to make the grocery list, and our minds naturally resolve into sharpened attentiveness in order to execute this task. For a brief period, our awareness is consumed with the task at hand, perhaps planning the next few meals, organizing the list of ingredients, checking cabinets and the refrigerator to verify current inventories. If we’re attentive, even a simple task such as this can reveal our beliefs about money, time, health, and identity. Those deeper issues aside, however, when the list is complete, our minds naturally uncoil, and we rediscover the breath moving through us, and we’d like such moments to be naturally buoyant- freely flowing reminders of a Love without end.
When we’re in a state of “disconnection”, however, the silence between our thoughts is the opposite. We return from a volley of thought to a fundamental, simmering discontentment, and everything seems more difficult than it ought to be: more energy-intensive or laden with obstacles. It is a twinge of doubt, a gnawing dissatisfaction, perhaps a guilt that grinds away at us, or the sinking feeling that somewhere ahead of us in time there is a pothole in the road capable of swallowing us whole.
We know the answer to this dilemma lies in accessing our heart, but this is precisely what is temporarily unavailable. It is as if the service is down. We can’t find the channel, and reception is spotty at best. What is in the way? Where have we gone, when we cannot even find the Self with whom we felt so indelibly interwoven just the other breath?
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Despite some incredibly joyous moments recently, these periods of inaccessibility have been with me as well, and in the curriculum of my life I have noted circumstances that have provoked deep-seated feelings of self-consciousness. This self-consciousness is not the type of self-awareness we seek to cultivate, the type that liberates one from falsehood and misperception; rather, it is the comparison of who I perceive myself as being to an ideal vision I carry of what I would surely be like had I made significant headway on this path called Love. Such comparisons and judgments are inevitably self-defeating.
I think it is in the Way of Mastery that Jesus says the “spiritual ego is the last egg to crack,” and I think that is part of what I am experiencing, although the continued use of the word ‘ego’ somehow adds an additional harshness, or “wrongness”, to this process I don’t, as of this moment, feel is merited. When a person on a spiritual path confronts a darkness, it is all too easy for him or her to chalk it up to the ego, as if that explains it all. And while in some sense it does, it seems to me that such a quick dismissal poses two risks: one, of reinforcing the misperception that the ego is a concrete, active and real part of us, rather than a false notion that has taken root for a short time in the mind of an infinite being, and second, of missing the opportunity to understand what is being presented to us, as a gift, on a deeper level.
Whoop! There it is again… Oh, well, we know what to do with that one… That ole’ ego is back… Naming a phenomenon is the fastest way to reinforce its reality, or ‘thingness’ to ourselves, and also a great way to keep its underlying core characteristics carefully hidden from view behind the mask of simple convention.
The ego is not a compartment of the ship that has sprung a leak, and which we can simply isolate by shutting a watertight door and then walk away to another part of the vessel, never to return. It is a way, or pattern, of viewing ourselves and the world around us that is based upon an incorrect foundation. It is, in short, the (only) way a being of infinite beauty, grace, and love finds him or herself on the outside of their heart looking in, and finds the still moment between breaths plugged with some unseemly residue.
Sitting in the pain of an inaccessible heart, mired in the emotions and experiences brought on by the curriculum of our lives, we eventually- through grace- come to discover the exit door that was always there, camouflaged by the bright and garish setting of a world misperceived and the distorted thought lens of a Self misunderstood. Being able to identify this pattern of self-criticality has rendered my heart accessible again. It has helped to make plain the fact that this notion of an ideal version of myself is truly a wild goose chase, a perpetual motivator to question what is and thus set out into a storm, rather than sitting quietly in the warmth of a full heart.
From this simple attentiveness to doubt and uncertainty, the light around the edges of the door is beginning to strengthen. I can see it now. I can see how I might walk away from this false pattern… but first I had to sit quietly in the middle of it all, distant from my inaccessible heart, and wait.
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Waiting is the hardest thing of all. It is teaching me, however, compassion for a self that could never live up to its own ideals. This waiting- it is a softening of the notion we must be anyone but who we are.