In fairy tales and mythology, there is often a guardian of the treasure.
It may be a dragon guarding a princess or gold and diamonds, or – in the case of Greek mythology – Cererbus guarding the gates of the underworld, preventing those who have crossed the river Styx from returning to the world of the living.
And I find this in my own life as well.
My treasure is what’s revealed when I (a) meet and befriend what I am experiencing now, and (b) inquiry into the stressful thought that’s here.
And the guardian is my fear of doing just that. My fear of looking at what’s here.
My fear of meeting and staying with what I am experiencing now – whether it’s discomfort, unease, pain, joy or fear itself. And my fear of identifying and investigating the stressful thought that’s here.
This guardian, this fear, is created by additional beliefs: It will be too much. It will open a Pandora’s box. Reality is unkind. Opening to it will be worse than avoiding it. Something terrible will happen if I open to my experience, inquire into my stressful thought.
Take the backward step that turns your light inwardly to illuminate your self.
– Dogen Zenji in Fukanzazengi
Dogen mentions taking the backward step.
It seems that I just wrote about one of these backward steps: Noticing and connecting with the fear that’s here, behind unease, tension, discomfort etc.
The forward step, the habitual step for many of us, is the recoil from the fear, and instead go into reactive emotions, tension, seeking comfort, over-thinking and so on. And the backward step is to instead notice and connect with this fear.
Another backwards step is The Work. Here, the forward step – the habitual one for many of us – is to take the belief and run with it, fuel it as it leads to more thoughts, emotions, a life in the world. The backward step is to notice the belief, write it down, and take it to inquiry to see what’s there.
Yet another is sense field inquiry. Or even, in a sense, ho’oponopono. Or one of the many other practices which invites us to look at what’s really here, or reverse a process of going into and fueling beliefs.
I am returning to being with the fear that’s here.
There is unease, tension or discomfort. I notice a fear behind it. Connect with it, feel it, allow it to have its life, meet it as a friend, meet it as a child seeking love.
Whenever there is any of the symptoms of beliefs I can do the same, and these are the symptoms I notice from question no. 3 in The Work: A sense of unease, tension, discomfort, reactive emotions, hurt, seeking comfort in food or activities, a sense of having to protect something or someone (including viewpoints, identities), trying to find refuge or safety in analyzing or thinking or maps, or wishful or fearful images.
It seems that (a) some very basic beliefs are behind the fear, creating the fear. (b) There are also beliefs about the fear, creating an impulse to recoil from the fear and the basic beliefs behind it. (c) This impulse to recoil leads to an impulse to seek refuge and safety in the same and other beliefs. And (d) these beliefs in turn fuel fear.
It’s all a house of cards, held up by the impulse to recoil from the fear and the beliefs behind the fear.
So the medicine is to connect with the fear, feel it, be with it, allow it its life, meet it as a child seeking love. As I do this, there is a sense of connecting with the root of the fear and it doesn’t need to express itself in reactive emotions, seeking comfort in food or activities, over-thinking and so on.
And the medicine is to allow the fear a voice, writing down whatever it has to say, the stories and beliefs behind the fear, and then – perhaps later – take these to inquiry. This too, in my experience, gives a sense of coming home, of relief, even gratitude.
I have had several days recently – off and on – where I experienced something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It felt mostly as a congestion at all levels. After asking for guidance, something shifted while in bed last night. I found the fear behind the experience, and felt it. And then realized that what I was experiencing was a silent, primal “no” to existence. As I saw this, something shifted further and the experience moved on. It must have been yet another very basic layer surfacing to be seen, felt, and loved.
It is a great honour to sit with discomfort, for all the mysteries of the universe lie within. As you sit with discomfort, you also meet discomfort’s best friend – the urge to escape that discomfort! Is there enough room in you for both discomfort AND the urge to escape discomfort? Of course – who you are is vast and spacious enough to hold anything. This is true meditation – no longer resisting discomfort and trying to escape to a future comfort, but discovering the ever-present, unconditional Comfort that you are, the perfect calm in the midst of the storm.
– Jeff Foster
What we are can awaken to itself and all is recognized as the play of awareness, as emptiness in the form of awakeness and it’s play of form. Everything is happening on it’s own.
At the same time, this human self is here and there may be many parts of this human self that’s still not aligned with reality. From it’s previous life within identification as an I, it has wounds, beliefs, stored trauma and more. And the movement is for all of these parts to come to awareness and align with reality. These parts – these voices or subpersonalities – still live partly within confusion, and seek clarity. They wish to be liberated from their suffering.
Some of the ways allowing experience, inquiry and TRE work together.
Allowing fear and experience is more comfortable than getting caught up in resistance, thoughts, emotions or escape. And it also allows old wounds and stored tension/trauma to release and unwind.
Inquiry into beliefs a invites a release of what creates and recreates tension and trauma. It’s not situations that creates stress and trauma, but taking certain interpretations and assumptions as true. (Being chased by a giant ape is fun when I tell myself it’s a movie, but terrifying if I tell myself it’s true, happening to me, and wrong and terrible.)
I can inquire into beliefs about experience – I need to escape this experience, I’ll die if I allow it, something terrible will happen if I meet it. And I can inquire into beliefs triggering fear and reactive thoughts and emotions, such as something is wrong, something terrible has/will happen.
Life itself brings beliefs to the surface and offers an invitation to inquiry, and it brings fears and experiences to the surface with an invitation to welcome and meet them. Nothing more is really needed.
But in some cases, body-oriented approaches may help release stored tension and trauma in a gentle way. It may help the process along.
There are many approaches to healing here what I see in the world. It may not “need” healing in an ultimate sense, but wishing for healing is a natural impulse. It feels good and right, and may even reduce suffering for myself and others, and make it a little easier for us to make more wise choices.
I have recently explored ho’oponopono, a new and revised version of an ancient shamanic practice from Hawaii and other pacific islands. I see something in the world that needs healing – coming out of suffering and confusion. I find in myself what creates this, connect with it, and forgive myself for it. I forgive myself for having created the causes that brought this about. One way of doing this is to say I am sorry, I love you, thank you. Or simply, I forgive myself for having created this. Ho’o may sound odd, but it makes immediate intuitive sense to me.
The essence is (a) to take complete responsibility, and (b) invite clearing of what creates suffering and confusion. This is similar to other approaches such as The Work, the Big Mind Process, tonglen, bearing witness, and perhaps even techniques such as TRE if done with the same intention.
In order to develop love ~ universal love, cosmic love, whatever you would like to call it ~ one must accept the whole situation of life as it is, both the light and the dark, the good and the bad. One must open oneself to life, communicate with it.
– Chögyam Trungpa, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism
Attention goes to knots. It goes to wounds and hangups, and beliefs when reality rubs up against them.
It goes to whatever is still unresolved in my stories about the past, future or present, and this takes the form of recurrent thoughts, rumination and day- or night dreams.
I don’t always appreciate it, but I find that reality is kinder than my preferences. Reality invites me to clarity and a more complete resolution, while my beliefs often would rather avoid it.
Whenever attention goes to a knot, it is an invitation for clarity. And for me, it is an invitation to allow, be with and be the emotions it brings up. To find and inquire into the beliefs behind it and find what’s more true. And to see how it is to life from this – including doing my part to resolve whatever needs to be resolved in my relationship with others.
When I notice churning thoughts or complaints: Write it all down uncensored. Find themes and underlying beliefs. Investigate those, and find what is more honest for me. What happens when I believe those thoughts? Can I know for certain they are true? What’s more true for me? (I can answer any of these questions from the view of Big Mind/Heart.)
When I notice strong or uncomfortable emotions: Set the thoughts and images aside. Connect with my heart. Bring attention to the breath in the heart area. Breathe and feel, breathe and feel. Notice the experiences – emotions, sensations – flowing through.
The times images and strong emotions come up and I take them as true, it is easy to slip into fueling the stories and resisting the emotions they create. I try to push the experience away or escape it, often through distractions. I act from and create confusion, and the images and emotions gets balled into a difficult-to-deal-with mess.
When I instead take a step back and open my mind and heart to one at a time, I make it easier for myself. I write down the thoughts. And take time to breathe and feel the emotions and bodily sensations. An invitation for clarity comes from meeting one at a time.
When we truly hate what’s happening, our instinct is to flee from it like a house on fire. But if we can learn to turn around and enter that fire, to let it burn all our resistance away, then we find ourselves arising from the ashes with a new sense of power and freedom.
– Rapahel Cusnir in Unconditional Bliss
It can mean external simplification, such as cleaning out the closets, getting rid of the second car, reducing obligations and work hours. Or it can mean inner simplification, through simple activities, meditation, or alignment with what is more meaningful in life. And one often leads to and feeds into the other.
For me, the most attractive starting point is clarifying what is meaningful for me. What is most important to me? At the end of my life, how would I have liked it to be? What is my ideal obituary? What does that mean for how I live my life now? How would my ideal day be, down to the small details? How would I like to reprioritize my life? How do I stop myself from doing it? What do I fear may happen? How likely is it? What is more likely? What is the lowest hanging fruit, the easiest place to start? What resource do I have for making these changes? What support, if any, do I need? How can I get that support?
This inevitably leads to changes in my external life. I may decide to do something else for pay, either something that makes more money, or something that is inherently meaningful for me. I may decide to work fewer hours for pay so I can have more time for family, friends, volunteering, or other activities. I may decide to make more money, save, and retire early. I may decide to sell off things I don’t need, and require money and time for upkeep. I may move somewhere else, where I may find more support to do what is more meaningful for me.
From lead to gold. It’s a familiar analogy, but still useful. And it is a slight variation of a familiar theme of this blog, but I’ll still mention it.
When I resist emotions, they become lead. And when I allow them with kindness, they are gold. Resisting emotions, or any experience – such as sensations or images or gestalts such as pain – there is a battle. There is an image of an “I” opposed to the experience as an “it”, and there is a sense of the battle dragging me down. It becomes a weight on me. When I allow experience as is, with kindness, it is revealed as experience. Ephemeral. Insubstantial. I may even notice the quiet joy in experience itself. And there is also a sense of fullness, of coming home.
When I believe a story, it is lead. When I inquire into and clarify it, it is gold. Taking a story as true, it is inevitably at odds with (my stories about) reality, and there is stress, tension, a sense of having to defend the viewpoint of the story, a sense of being right, and all of that is tiring and a weight on me. Inquiring into the belief and finding what is more honest for me, there is relief, receptivity, kindness, perhaps even a measure of wisdom. What appeared as a problem – whether it was the topic of the belief, or the belief itself, is now revealed as a guide and support.
When I take the mental field as substantial and real, it is lead. When I recognize it as what it is, it is revealed as gold. Taking my own world of images as real and substantial, there is stress. I create an imagined world as overlay of the sense fields – sensations, sights, sounds, smell, taste – forget it is imaginary, and get weighed down by it. The images of I, the wider world, and their relationships, appear as real and substantial, and I experience those relationships as precarious, slightly uneasy, and at times tense. When recognized as my own world of images as it happens, the edge goes out of it. Now, it is all recognized as images, interpretations, questions about the world. Innocent. Insubstantial. Ephemeral. They are still very useful for orienting and navigating in the world, but I don’t need to scare myself by them. The images of I, me, the wider world, relationships, and a world beyond these images, are all images. Helpful, and an overlay of images.
When I explore, I can allow, change or notice, and those three are really facets of the same. Only the emphasis is slightly different.
I allow experience, and notice what happens. There may be a shift from being identified with resistance, to identification with that which (already) allows all experience as is it, including the resistance and identification with various images w/in content of experience. In allowing experience as is, there can also be a shift out of identification with a doer, and a noticing of this doer as an image of a doer causing thinking, decisions, shifts in attention, and action to happen.
I can change something. For instance, I can invite in a shift from resisting to allowing experience. And notice that is really just a shift of identification, of what I temporarily take myself to be. As first-aid, I sometimes visualize stuck energy going down my legs and into the center of the earth and invite a shift that way. I may inquire into belief to find what is more honest for me than the belief, and allow time for it to sink in, to feel it and who I am without the belief, and allow it to sink in. This doing is a thought, a choice, a shift of attention, perhaps an action in the world, a story of how these go together and one leads to another, and perhaps identification with the doing – as a doer, or just noticing that the doer is a story and an image, happening within content of experience.
I can notice what is already here. I can notice shifts. What happens when I take a story as true. What happens when I find what is more honest for me. What is happening within each sense field, and how overlays of images tie them together and create gestalts. What happens when I take myself to be something within (an imagined boundary within) content of experience, and what happens when I notice myself as that which already allows all content of experience, and its play in the form of this field of experience.
When I notice something – an emotion, story, sensation etc. – there is a softening or release of identification with it. I find myself as what notices, and less as what is noticed.
It is very simple, yet with a lot of complexity as well.
For instance, I may notice an emotion – allow it as it is, be with it. Yet, if that emotion is triggered by a story – as they often are – and I don’t notice that story, it means I am still identified with the story.
So whenever I notice an emotion, I can first allow that emotion as it is, with heart and kindness. And when look for the story behind it. Which story do I – somewhere – take as true, which triggers that emotion? Is that story true? What happens when I take it as true? Who am I without it? What is the validity in its reversals?
Anything can be used as a distraction, a way to escape noticing what we really are – that which already allows experience as it is.
And that includes anything that we label spiritual, such as talks and practices.
I may listen to a spiritual talk while going for a walk or before falling asleep at night, and notice a slight compulsion to do so. A slight resistance to allow experience as it is. Listening to a talk becomes an escape from noticing what is here in experience, including physical pain or certain emotions or images surfacing.
A common metaphor for how we relate to experience is digestion.
When a certain experience is digested well, there is some clarity around my stories about it, an allowing of the experience as is and with kindness, and acting with some integrity from what seems most mature, wise and kind in the situation even from a conventional view.
When it is digested less well, there tends to be a resistance to the experience, a holding onto certain stories about it as true, and acting from less integrity. And in this case, the undigested experience will tend to come up again to be digested more fully.
It may come up when a current situation or event triggers the memory of it. Or when there is receptivity for it, for instance through allowing another experience (this one may come along, hoping to be digested as well), or when we are not able to distract ourselves from it – for instance at night in bed, while on retreat, or in nature for a length of time.
Some emotions are reactive and created by beliefs. They come about through friction between a belief and reality, or more accurately through friction between our stories of what should be and what is or may be. In this case they come with some of the other symptoms of being caught up in beliefs, such as tension, stress, unease, sense of separation, sense of having to protect a viewpoint or identity, sense of precariousness, and more.
My main practice these days is island practice and fear practice.
I notice islands of density, of contraction, identification with viewpoints and images. Then a shift into allowing them as they are, and as if they would never change, and with heart and kindness. And then noticing what they really are. How do they show up in the sense fields? Is it really what it appears to be? Is it solid? Substantial? Lasting? When I bring attention to them, can any label easily be put on it? Is it anything else than awareness itself, awake no-thing appearing as something?
Hence, you should stop searching for phrases and chasing after words. Take the backward step and turn the light inward. Your body-mind of itself will drop off and your original face will appear.
– DogenfromEnlightenment Unfolds (1999)
I noticed the symptoms of solidifying a story, taking it as real. I noticed a solidified sense of a separate I, a center located in space, boundaries appearing as real, slight unease, tension, sense of precariousness, a viewpoint to defend, and so on. It was just the beginning movements, but still quite noticeable.
I could see that one option is to enhance, elaborate, support and defend the story, making it appear even more true. This is the forward step and it solidifies the story, and the sense of a separate I, even more.
The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.