I’ve always appreciated the concept that we humans have a committee in our heads, often with parts of us holding different perspectives and goals. This analogy comes from a transpersonal therapeutic model called Psychosynthesis. The collection of various ideas and positions we hold represent different aspects of our psyche that cause us to feel divided, undecided, impulsive, moody, and to make choices one day that we might regret the next. These parts of us are always jumping up and demanding our attention.
Perhaps you have a spiritual seeker on your committee that is trying to help you wake up out of the suffering in the world, and another character that turns on the news at night and keeps you angry or frightened about world events. Most of us have parental introjects – the part of us that responds the way our mom or dad responded in times of stress. The inner mom might hold a belief in a god that is punishing and demanding, or a lifestyle you do not entirely enjoy. The inner dad may be a critic telling you that you are never quite good enough, or successful enough. We often have a character that wants to lose weight, and another that says “Life is short. Eat sweets, Feel Better.” Addicts are taken over by a committee member that wants to escape emptiness, or be high one more time, while other committee members with better judgment are wasted in the background of the mind. Take a minute to make a list of your personal committee members – perhaps a judge, a protector, a problem finder, a problem solver, a conflict avoider, a dreamer, a poet, an activist – what attitudes are carried in your committee? Those thoughts of yours are neurons firing. Their content reflects the committee.
Our minds are full of opposites. Our human experience is one of division and multiplicity. We can feel paralyzed by indecision for weeks because of these committee members who argue about what we should or should not do, where we ought to go, what are our goals, what someone else thinks of us, and corresponding emotions of fear, anger, inadequacy, desire and failure. (Isn’t this the outer world as well? )
Is spiritual awakening simply the addition of a new committee member, discovered by the seeker inside of you, or could it be the locating of a witness, a neutral observer of all these characters within the play of your life? What if you could rest as the witness or become a centered peaceful presence that sees through these committee members as simply belief structures? What if you knew them to be irrelevant most of the time? Would you like to have the power to step out of the boardroom and into the sunlight where there is no chatter, no conflict, and new clarity? Awakening offers this chance.
When you have a glimpse of your awakened Self it seems as if everything else falls away, and you are standing with no objections, no needs and no defenses in the field of timeless existence. It is the consciousness that you essentially are – the I am — realizing its connection to Source, or seeing clearly that all is One and Whole. In this moment the world of human thought has fallen away, leaving a knowing presence that cannot be defined. It just is. You just are. You are free of following the demands of the apparent separate and conditioned little self you have always depended upon.
These flashes of realization are not permanent. You cannot stay transfixed
by this moment and function in the real world. To the extent you are ready, the impact of awakening can last indefinitely. But most often there is a long period of slipping between ordinary functioning as you always have known it and moments of perception where you see the world in a new way. IF you return over and over to trusting the Truth of what you have seen underneath the habitual veils of the human mind, gradually you will become able to live more and more from an awakened perspective. This means you become less reactive, more light-hearted, more flexible, more compassionate and more intuitive than you were before the realization. The critical mind loses influence. You may find yourself to be more creative, more sensitive, more alive. These are signs of freedom taking hold in your psyche.
Most of the committee members fade away once there is a strong awakening of pure consciousness. But many of them put up a fight. You may have the judge telling you how you should be more enlightened. You may have a doubter telling you that what was experienced was only imagination. The inner striver may insist you have not accomplished enough, learned enough or earned enough money and you need to put your attention there. The inner parent may say you cannot let go now because you might stop loving your kids, Often there is a wanderer who shows up – a part of you that wants to give up everything and just float around the world or hide in a cave somewhere. The adventurer may seek more dramatic ways of feeling high. The lover may seek a soul mate.
Some eastern teachings suggest it is the belief in an “I” that holds all these parts of us together. Instead of facing and releasing each character, one of them at a time, we can just release the sense of the I, the do-er, and be done with the whole scene. Like a house of cards the separate self will collapse. Something new and more authentic can then enter and direct our life choices, and there is no one in you to object to what arises. This is a greatly condensed description of how it is to lead an awakened life. To most of us who have developed a workable life and functional mind this sounds crazy, until it happens.
If you are honest with yourself, haven’t most of the major turns in your life begun with something you never planned, beginning with your birth, a random event caused by two other people? You didn’t plan the family, the place or the time. Didn’t your friends and your partner just show up in your life one day with no planning or expectation? Someone was there and you recognized them! Did you pre-plan your career and all the turns it took?
Sometimes the committee members worry too much and take too much credit or blame. In their efforts to protect you and guide you they create great unnecessary arguments and generate fear and contraction. If by chance a part of you gets its way there can be great joy for a time, or if life calms down and a crisis has passed there can be great relief. Your committee members enjoy these times of agreement with what is, and may even feel a sense of accomplishment,
If you wake up and leave the committee behind you may have less intensity, less drama in your life. Even the spiritual seeker part of you will fall away eventually, and you will wonder what to do with yourself. The deeper part of us is free of seeking, anxiety, anger and demands. As it becomes more of your “go-to” place life is
smoother, even though the same challenges may arise. You still have to face whatever lands on your doorstep, and at times a committee member may arise to yell about it or weep. You may have to deal with sexual desire, or the emotional bonds of family and other human conditions that are part of your DNA. But you have found a home base, a quality of stillness, and a breadth of perspective and even unconditional love. This can sustain you and bring light into the darkness you encounter. This is why some non-dual teachers say there are no problems. Situations arise. Response arises and action coming from the heart may move you. But the perspective through which you see this dance of life unfold has changed. This is what makes you free. This is, as far as I can tell, awakened living.
If you are drawn toward awakening you will find support in “The Awakening Guide”available on Amazon and Kindle and the website:
What is enlightenment? I asked Adyashanti this question once and he said “It is being undivided.” Unfortunately, many people imagine enlightenment to be a state of having magic powers, continual bliss, and connection with other-dimensional beings. Some think of it as genius or having omniscience. I remember being told as a child that God knew everything and was everywhere, and this impression seems to be the way some look at enlightenment – as if it means becoming all-knowing, all-powerful, having control over everything. This would be an exciting possibility for an ego, and may encourage some people to seek enlightenment who are not well suited to it.
But what does it mean to be undivided? Could enlightenment or awakening to the Truth of our real nature have a result as simple as this? The ego’s way of being undivided might consider it as being one-pointed, determined and set in one way of looking at things, never allowing facts or feelings, or the needs of others to interfere with your set direction. But that is being narrowly one-sided, rather than living the undivided way of an awakened mind and heart.
I believe we come into life undivided. It is the state of openness to whatever arises. It is availability. It is a part of our cellular structure that naturally allows anything to happen. It is always within you but from your first experiences of pain or sorrow, and your first lessons of separation and identity, you formed a shell around this openness and became a character with opinions, demands, emotional upheavals and drives that you think of us as “me”. This “me” has fear and resistance to many aspects of the human experience and generates many problems and thoughts in a life. Of course this “me” can have lots of accomplishments and feel love and joy and be a positive force in the world as well. These options are usually thought of as free will – but since in the early years there is so much conditioning and shaping of identity – positive and negative — it is questionable just how free you are.
When a person’s True Nature awakens there is a sense within the body/mind of no boundary or border to the energy of the heart and mind, no separation from either form or space, and no argument with life as it is. We might call this clarity. Some have called it radiance. This openness into life as it is can be felt viscerally, at the core. It feels as if all identification with that “me” has fallen away and what remains is clear, at peace, sometimes kinestically flooded with love or bliss. This realization may look like an experience but it is more of a knowing of what always was and will be, even before birth, and after death.
There is no division in the True Nature. All division comes from the mind’s ideas about protection and separation. When events in your life seem threatening this need to create safety is a genuine response of the body and mind. The dimension we live in as humans has definite boundaries. We cannot fly off cliffs or stand in the middle of the highway and survive. We must have water and food and protection from the elements. As infants we need others to care for us and as emotional beings we crave love and community. Enlightenment does not remove these patterns that are part of our human imprinting. We are energies dancing as form and the form has specific limitations that the spirit does not
This is why no matter how deeply you have felt your True Nature you may at times have medical problems, you may sense waves of the suffering in others, you can feel loss as loved ones pass, and you may still have patterns of conditioning arise to be met and released. The difference is that when undivided you can have compassion for or perhaps even laugh at your human vulnerabilities because there is no one there who cares to judge them. And when the events in the world are troubling, you understand that human form by its limitations produces troubles and challenges, and if you feel an inclination to engage you can do it without attachment to results or acquiring new karmas (conditioning) to be worked through (the true meaning of karma yoga). You are unbounded formless consciousness living within the patterns and boundaries of energetic forms, imprinted with the uniqueness of your conditioning and DNA, and thus you are One and Undivided.
The majority of people in this country are concerned, even despairing, about where the nation is going, because of the election through the electoral college of a minority-chosen president who is impulsive and appears to stand against many of our better values. We don’t know what he will do – but we fear what he says. Fear and anger is arising on both sides. The anger of fear and the anger of defensiveness.
The appointments for many agency heads are people who have in the past been against the major practices of those agencies, and in many cases have no experience in the field they will be managing. There is a huge flaw in the federal government that allows people to be elected into leadership with no stated qualifications for office. Among other actions, it would help to promote changes in this model.
This political upheaval (not the first in our difficult history) is an opportunity for the majority to stand up for what we believe. We need to find a positive way to express what the majority want, but include what the “other side” needs. We need to stand for rather than against, because pushing against only strengthens resistance on the other side. We need to show these people we are afraid of that we will value them when they make choices for a healthy community, a clean environment, decent salaries, good education for everyone, or women’s rights. Money is not the problem – values are. Even rich people can love, find creative solutions, appreciate health and nature and enjoy appreciation. We need articles in the press that continually show the advantages of greater wealth and safety in the country that will follow in an educated and fully healthy society and environment.
It is easier to rage against what we fear than it is to promote inspiring change – this is why our politicians rely on fear to get voters to the polls. It is time for the people to promote creative change and mutual support of persons and environments in communities, states, businesses, schools – in time those elected would want to be part of it. Can we find in ourselves that which we want to promote and protect, and speak up creatively. I found in my past that when I was depressed it was because I was not doing what was meaningful to me. I had to act on the desires of my heart to rise above the heaviness of spirit. Eventually I found my way to a deep internal peace. Acceptance is not passivity – it is the beginning of clarity and right action. We need to encourage this evolution in one another. We can benefit from the will to do what is good and loving for ourselves and others. And so can the country.
The Mother, a great spiritual companion of Aurobindo, believed in the evolutionary potential for transforming human minds into an awakened loving presence. She once said that “When there is a great darkness in someone, you can be assured that underneath it is a great light. “ The state of the world is primarily because we do not recognize what we really are. Today is the time to ignite this light in ourselves and others.
I begin to see surrender as an art, having recently witnessed the most graceful surrendering in form at the San Francisco ballet in a sequence called Hummingbird, danced to the music of Philip Glass. A male and female dressed in white, floating across the stage, she in drifting chiffon, completely releasing their bodies into one movement, a merging beyond form as she was lifted above his head, or melted her body over his back to back.
I’ve rarely seen ballet so this vision of surrender was a new realization. I have thought of the form as demanding great discipline and even very painful practice as young girls learn the challenging task of standing on their toes. And while we might see great sequences of grace and strength, coordination and agility, it was a revelation to view the total surrender of the dancers body into the strength of her partner, whether falling back to back, or being lifted and carried in another sequence from one set of arms to another.
So of course this made me think of the act of surrender in spirituality. This moment of letting go seems terrifying to some people – they feel they are “losing” themselves, or that they might never know how to function again, if they relax into the mysterious unknown that arises at some point in the spiritual journey. They lack trust in the Whole, in the strength of that which is eternal and vast to hold them. So when moments of grace are at hand they contract, and the energy of fear washes over and paralyzes them.
Adyashanti wrote a book about awakening to life called “Falling Into Grace: Insights on the End of Suffering.” Another remarkable book on awakening during the process of dying was written by Kathleen Dowling Singh , called “The Grace in Dying: A Message of Hope. Comfort and Spiritual Transformation”. This grace, which we do not easily understand and often wonder how to “achieve”, is actually the response to surrender, to slipping gently into the arms of another dimension, with a profound trust and relaxation of every cell in our body. We need this surrender to fall into Truth, into the recognition of our true nature, and ultimately to have a peaceful passage into the unknown vastness beyond our lives. Like the ballerinas, we each struggle and seek discipline within our own destinies to become capable and agile in our own lives and spiritual practices. And then at the right moment, we must utterly surrender and trust in the emptiness and the fullness in which consciousness rests.
She must trust her partner in dance. We must trust our partner in that which has enabled our existence.
Perhaps we are touched by great artists, whether in dance or painting or music, because it holds this paradox – the passion, the power, the hard work and the grace of surrender.
Have you ever taken a step away from your mind long enough to notice the relationship between stress and the thoughts you carry in your head? Can you imagine the release if you only could stop all thoughts for a few minutes?
Of course we do this every night for a few hours. We realize that if we were to stop sleeping these same thoughts that maneuver us through the day would force us into mental bankruptcy and we would lose our minds. So we try to get our sleep.
Most westerners live in an internal world fueled by an inner urgency to get things done, to do it right, to perform well for others, and to frequently self-reflect on their own inadequacies. They sometimes become exhausted and ill under the weight of their own demands and self-judgment. Between living up to the pressures of both work and home expectations they collapse at night in front of a TV or computer that throws forth more stress in the form of world news, violent visions and commercials that emphasize things they are supposed to want and need, and then fall into bed wondering why they cannot easily go to sleep. In the back of many minds are the thoughts if they could only do life better, make more money, say the right thing or feel more energized then life would be easier and stress would go away.
The mind with its great gift of assessment and division greatly interferes with the true potential of the human spirit to be at peace. How do we break the grasp it has on our freedom to simply be ourselves and enjoy life as it is? How can we step away from self-imposed stress? Here are a few possibilities.
Recognize that thoughts are simply neurons firing, and the messages are generally based on negative past conditions. Brain researchers have found that our brain holds the impact of dangerous or bad encounters much longer than positive ones. (Possibly forever!) This is a human reflex based on the need to protect ourselves from danger, but translated psychologically it becomes a tendency to worry about everything from how we handled a phone call to whether we will get to work on time. To become more free we can develop a thought-witness, a part of us who does not take so seriously every thought crossing the mind (millions in a day). Very few thoughts are true — and most of these are the practical ones such as “The car needs gas in the next 10 miles” or “The baby is crying now.” Mind tends to take simple thoughts and move into a worry about all the possible scenarios before determining a specific action, when often just responding to what is in front of you is all that is needed. The mind’s tendency is to wander and associate every bad thing you have ever heard with every circumstance. It is often irrelevant. Make your thoughts irrelevant unless there is an obvious immediate response. Leave room in your head for inspiration.
Recognize worry and catastrophic thinking for what it is — an energy drain like taking the wrong trail on a long hike and ending at a dead end.
If the tendency to worry is a cause of stress for you then schedule your worrying time. Pick a time of day to worry about a specific problem, and every time the thought arises tell it you will think about it then. When the time comes you have the choice to use it in a constructive way or let it pass until the next day.
If you are overloaded with responsibility let go of it. You can be very busy without feeling so responsible and it is much easier. This is called living in the moment. Finding enjoyment while doing the dishes. Having the kids tell you a joke as they get ready for bed. Clearing out the to-do list on the desk. Being fully present with a client or friend. Postpone worrying about the kids at work and worrying about work when with the kids. One reason we become exhausted is that we are often not where we are, but doing two things at once, one with our bodies, and the other with our minds. Soothing music may be helpful while driving; listening to world news may not be.
If there is one thing that awakening spiritually has to teach us all it is to be present now, where the spirit and consciousness actually sit. It is to be the presence that is so much bigger than thought, so much more willing to be in the moment, and so at peace when in the midst of life. This is the way to find happiness in the small moments of life, which give us energy to face the greater needs. Simple presence is the way to find clarity of mind and invite inspiration and intuition into our lives. As long as our head is crowded with worry and stress where is the space for something fresh and new to arise? We need moments of pleasure and emptiness to allow creativity and vitality to arise.
Taking moments for yourself — just sitting and feeling into your body, your connectedness to your chair, the floor, the colors and textures of your room, the sensate feeling of being you, the beauty of something natural outside your window — the sound of a bird or the shape of a flower, the smile of a baby — these are ways we refresh the spirit and slowly awaken ourselves into life. Put something you love to look at in every room of your home, and in your office space — something that soothes the spirit. Eat something that feels nurturing and calming rather than loading up on sugar and caffeine. Remove yourself from toxic people and energies in your environment.
While it may help to release stress if you restructure your life, cut out the most toxic circumstances, accept the challenges you cannot change, and change the things you can, it is most important to expand inner space. Stress is in the head and then gravitates into the body with headaches, stomach problems, back aches — all the common maladies of the day. The body tells us what it needs — freedom from worry and negative thinking, relaxation, beauty, quietness, and presence or simply being with what is. What (other than television or computer games) can you give your full attention to for 20 minutes without distracting yourself with thoughts? Music? Dance? Cooking? Gardening? walking in nature? Try it and see how it feels. It is like training a new muscle, learning to allow the presence you are to be present where you are without interference from the past and future, only here now.
For a further exploration of spiritual awakening see my book “The Awakening Guide” , available at Amazon.com and Kin
I awaken as the sun pours through my east-facing windows every morning and I am drenched in light. I return to my body and stretch, and feel gratitude for the beauty I enjoy as I look out the window over my small town ringed by mountains. I awaken with quietness and openness inside, wondering what the day will bring.
Awakening spiritually is much the same — coming into a sense of lightness, openness, spaciousness, where thoughts do not interfere with the simple beingness of life — the I am is experienced as a felt sense rather than a belief, the entering of this moment. As the mind lets go of expectations, desires, and the need to judge oneself and others, all the billions of neurons bouncing around in our head become calm, aware, responsive to the amazing experience of right now. Our senses brighten. As the heart awakens the body becomes soft and relaxed, melting sometimes into wonder at the beauty all around us, the miracle of existing at all. We know our self to be an expansive spirit in a body, using this form to dance and move in the play of life. As the gut awakens the knot in the belly that wants control unravels itself and we are available to change our fear to curiousity, and notice that life unfolds outside of our control, and we are capable of meeting it as it is.
I am 72 now . When I was 20, 30 even 40 and 50 I could not imagine being happy at this age. Old people looked — well, old. I thought it would be very depressing to give up feeling pretty, being part of the movement and adventure of life that absorbs us when we are young, having lots of energy and moving through the world as if I was “somebody”. And it is true there are challenges in aging. Sometimes my feet are unstable. I fell flat on my face off a ledge a couple of week ago and looked for a few days as if I had been in a bar-room brawl. (Frankly, I felt mainly intense gratitude that nothing was broken or permanently damaged.) All of my family in the generations above mine have passed on and many friends as well. Nearly every week someone I care for is reported in a battle with cancer or a heart problem. There is always the knowing that at any time the axe will fall for myself or my husband. But somehow all of this is just absorbed into the weave of living, and in its tragedy there is a beauty, just as in the bright day there is a compensatory dark night with its stillness and solitude. I can be sorrowful for what is not here now or grateful that I am still here now. Which will bring me peace and happiness?
So much of a life today is driven by the demands of an intense and commercial society. Energy is pulled in many directions and the longing to have not only what we need, but everything we want, consumes the majority of westerners, while the struggle in much of the world is simply to stay alive. Humans are in constant turmoil internally, trying to change things, acquire something, gain recognition or achieve goals. And then they are surprised to find they are not happy and the world is not at peace. This is the drivenness of thought, of the part of mind that fears to relax, to let go, to explore just being. We have lost the grace of simply being alive, the appreciation of the natural beauty and wonder in the world that can only be seen when we “Stop”. Millions of us cannot even enter the stillness of sleep anymore because the mind will never stop.
If you are seeking peace and beauty in your life create a way intuitively to heal yourself. Put something beautiful in every room to remind you to be present, or find a spot where you can sit in stillness or walk in beauty. Learn true meditation, a simple sitting without efforting and letting things be as they are. Play music that distracts and sooths your spirit. Do something you love each day. Let go of toxic situations in your life and then do not carry them around in your thoughts once they are gone. Create your own series of koans or inner questions that cannot be answered with mind but take you to a deeper place, a place of Truth, i..e “Isn’t this only a thought — a random neuron firing? Is it true?” “What is wholeness?” “Who am I without thought?” “Can I love without attachment?” “What do I know that no one ever taught me?” Find your own, because the portal to awakening is deeply within you. And along this path you will discover peace, joy and appreciation in the very simplicity of living itself.