Shifting center of gravity into more universal identities

 

In some ways, any challenging life situation is an invitation to release identification with more superficial identities (roles, work, gender, preferences etc.) and shift the center of gravity into more universal ones.

– from a previous post

This is a part of healing and awakening, and – to some extent- sustainability and creating a society that works better for all, including future generations and ecosystems.

We all have a mix of different identities. Some set us apart and some are more universal. Some are conscious and some are less so. Some have strong identifications and some not so much. And they come from culture, family, and personal experience (sometimes reactivity).

Life tends to challenge the identities that set us apart, and the more strongly we are identified with them the more stressful and dramatic we may experience those challenges. For instance, we may be identified with being young but we inevitably get older. We may be identified with being healthy, strong, and active, but get sick. We are identified with a political orientation but realize something else makes more sense. And so on. The identities that set us apart typically have to do with roles we play in life, whether it’s relationships, work, age, gender, or different political, religious, or other orientations.

There is nothing wrong with these identities. They all serve a function. We couldn’t live without them. But when life challenges them, as it tends to do, it is painful to have invested them with too much energy.

And that’s an invitation to notice and question these identities, and perhaps shift our center of gravity into more universal identities. These more universal identities include being human, part of life, part of the Universe, being awareness, that which all happens within and as, and so on.

As usual with these type of things, we cannot consciously shift the center of gravity into more universal ones. Any shift requires a ripening that largely operates outside of our conscious awareness and largely comes from influences far outside of us as individuals. And yet, we can invite it to happen through various practices or explorations.

We can identify and question identities through inquiry (Living Inquiry, The Work). We can engage in practices that come from and help us shift into more universal orientations such as heart centered practices (ho’o, jesus prayer, all-inclusive gratitude practice). We can help more universal identities come alive for us through Epic of Evolution type experiences and practices (Practices to Reconnect). We can do energy work that tends to, over time, shift identifications into more universal ones (yoga, tai chi, chi gong, Vortex Healing etc.). And there is a great number of other approaches that similarly helps us shift our center of gravity to more universal identities.

Note: When I say “influences far outside of us as individuals” I mean influences from the past and from the wider social and ecological wholes. Anything that happens has innumerable causes, and these stretch back to beginning of time and out to the furthest reaches of the universe. And that includes any ripening that happens in us and any shifts in identifications.

No self or other?

 

It’s common – in some circles – to hear people talk about “no self and no other”.

It can sound very cryptic and mysterious if it’s not our immediate experience. And it’s very simple and obvious when it is.

This human self, others, and the world is still here. And yet, it’s all happening within and as awakeness.

When awakeness is identified with or as the human self, it’s really identified with certain thoughts and mental images saying (a) there is a human self and (b) that’s what “I” am.

And that identification happens through thoughts being associated with certain sensations. The sensations lend a sense of solidity, substance, and reality to the thoughts, and the thoughts lend a sense of meaning to the sensations (they mean “I am this human self”).

That makes it appear as if there is an “I” that’s this human self, and there are others who also are “I”s in their own experience, and a world full of objects and things. It seems very real and true. And it is, in a certain sense.

When awakeness is not identified with or as this human self, it’s all revealed as happening within and as awakeness. This human self, other beings, the whole world, happens within and as awakeness. There is no “I” in any of it. It’s all life happening as life.

This release of identification can happen temporarily as a transcendent experience (which will then turn into a memory), or it can happen more stably and thoroughly through a clear seeing through the mental dynamics holding the identification in place, and through a corresponding release of the energetic “veils” holding identification in place. When we explore this, we can work on it from either side – for instance through forms of inquiry (e.g. Living Inquiries, The Work) and energy work (e.g. Vortex Healing).

This is very simple, and it’s also an infinitely rich topic.

Realignment. For instance, as long as there is identification as this human self, it will align itself with the experience of separation, and that can be quite traumatic. So when there is a softening or release of identification, this human self is invited to realign with this “new” context of all as awakeness. And that realignment includes healing, maturing, and embodiment.

Whatever is unhealed is invited to heal (which can be quite challenging when unprocessed psychological material surfaces). Whatever is unloved is invited to be loved. Whatever is unseen is invited to be seen. Whatever is unfelt is invited to be felt.

There is also an invitation for this human self to life from this “new” context more consciously, stably, and in more and more situations. And there is an invitation for it to mature in a very ordinary and human sense, and the healing and embodiment is part of that maturing.

Localized. Awakening is, in a sense, localized. Everything is happening within and as awakeness. And yet, that “everything” is (mostly) sensory information received through this human self. In that sense, the awakening is localized.

Independent of traditions. This is independent of traditions. Spiritual traditions may talk about and offer insights and practices to help us explore this, and perhaps have a taste of it or invite a more thorough and stable awakening. But this is about reality and traditions are human made. They can offer pointers, at most. This is more than and different from any tradition, or anything we can put into words.

Ripening. Any opening or more stable awakening happens through ripening. That ripening can be invited through conscious explorations – through various forms of prayer, inquiry, meditation, body-oriented practices, relationships, social engagement, and more. And it seems that most, and really almost all, of the ripening happens outside of conscious awareness.

The ripening happens for innumerable reasons and with innumerable influences, and we are aware of only a tiny part. We could say that our conscious practices is only a small part of the influences on this ripening. We could also say that our conscious practices is an expression of this ripening that’s already happening.

And this ripening is living its own life and happens on its own schedule. How it looks and how fast it happens is independent of how our minds tells us it should be, and it’s often very different. It can be faster or slower, and is almost always very different in character.

Ongoing. Awareness of and releases of identifications is ongoing. Identifications may be released out of what’s more individual, and shift into something more universal. And that keeps happening. Reality keeps revealing itself to itself.

Different labels. There are different labels for what I here called “awakeness”. We can also call it Spirit, Big Mind, Buddha Mind, Brahman, Life, the Universe, or whatever else resonates with us. None of the labels are very accurate. They are all just pointers.

Lila. Is there a goal of “us” awakening? Is life a “school”? Not really, as far as I can tell. To me, this all seems more like the play of the divine. It’s life expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways. Identifications is part of it. As is a desire to awaken. And awakening itself. It’s all part of the play. Any other “reasons” for all of it happens within and as this play.

And any thoughts or ideas we have about it, including anything and everything written here, are all human notions. Reality doesn’t conform to our ideas. It’s more than and different from any of our ideas, however smart or intuitive or traditional or innovative or resonating they may seem.

Very ordinary. What happens to our human life in the world in all of this? There can be disruptions for different reasons (dark nights etc.). But mostly, and in the longer run, our human self continues to live it’s life in the world. And it tends to look very ordinary. It looks like an ordinary life, and ordinary healing, maturing, and whatever measure of clarity and wisdom is there. It’s all very ordinary and human. That may initially seem disappointing. And then, it may seem deeply fascinating, rich, and awe inspiring.

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Lessons from losing a bag

 

I left my Timbuk2 messenger bag on the train a couple of days ago, and have not had it returned. It contained several things important to me and some that are difficult (or impossible) to replace.

Here are some things I have noticed:

I did experience some shock right away. It seemed unreal, especially since I have never lost anything important in this way before.

It’s helpful to be kind to my own experiences – the shock, sadness, frustration. They are like creatures that just want some presence, kindness, and respect.

I reminded myself that most or all can be replaced in different ways. And that they are just things. I can get by without any of the specific things I lost.

It’s a reminder that everyone and everything comes and goes. In a few decades, everyone alive now will be dead. In a few decades or centuries, everything I have will be gone. In a few millenia, everything humans have now will be gone.

I don’t “own” any of it. I don’t even “own” my own body. It’s all here temporarily. At most, I am a steward of this life and these physical things. And it seems that now, that particular bag with it’s content has passed on to someone else. Just as they came into my stewardship, they are now in someone else’s stewardship.

I get to notice some beliefs and identifications coming up from this situation. Life is rubbing up against them, so I get to notice them more clearly. I don’t consciously believe any of them, but somewhere in me they are believed. Here is a selection:

I am a victim. I am unlucky. Things go wrong for me.

I deserve to have it back. I always return what I find. Life should be fair.

I own those things. They are mine.

It’s hard to live in a world where people are so crude and lack empathy.

It shook me up and gave me a boost to get certain things in my life more in order.

Whenever life goes against our shoulds, we can use it to fuel stressful and painful beliefs. Or we can use it to open to our experience and meet it with some kindness, notice and examine our painful beliefs, and see that we are all in the same boat.

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Fear expressed as anger

 

I have mentioned this as an aside in other posts.

Fear can take the form of anger.

Or, rather, one response to fear is anger. And for some, anger can be a habitual response to fear.

Conversely, we can say that behind anger, is – most likely – fear.

It’s good to keep this in mind when we do any kind of exploration of anger or fear. If there is anger, is there fear behind or within it? If there is fear, does it sometimes take the form of anger?

Also, anger can take different forms besides what we, in our society, usually think of as anger. It can take the form of frustration. Blame. Harsh judgments (of self and others). Reactivity. Defense. And much more. And all of it may trace back to fear.

And fear can take a great number of forms besides anger and obvious fear. To me, it seems that a reaction to fear is behind most stressful experiences and dynamics, including going into beliefs and identifications. Our reaction to fear tends to create a wide range of different stressful experiences.

As always, these are questions. Starting points for exploration. Whatever we find is what we find, whether it fits our expectations or what’s suggested in pointers or not.

Note: I should mention that when we find the fear behind anger, identifications, etc. it often feels quite vulnerable, and as a confession. A hidden secret that we finally admit to. The anger, identifications, or whatever it may be often serve as a protection against facing this fear. So it can be helpful to explore and befriend the fear of meeting the fear.

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Thoughts, charge, identification

 

Finding clarity often has to do with differentiation. And here is a very basic one.

There is a difference between thoughts, bodily sensations, and identifications.

Thoughts are mental imitations of the senses – whether they are images, sounds, taste, smell, movement, sensations, or something else. When we talk about thoughts, we usually mean images and words, and words are typically a combination of mental images (of the words) and sounds.

Sensations are bodily sensations. When the mind associates certain thoughts with certain sensations, the sensations tend to lend a sense of charge (reality, substance, solidity) to the thoughts, and the thoughts lend a sense of meaning to the sensations.

When there is identifications with a thought, it seems true. The mind identifies with the viewpoint of the thought. Thoughts that are not identified with pass through and are recognized as just thoughts. They are seen as questions about the world. Temporary guides for orientation and action in the world, at most. It’s clear that they don’t reflect any final or absolute truth. Thoughts that are identified with tend to seem true and real. And the mechanism for identification with thoughts is for the mind to associate sensations with thoughts, as described above.

When it comes to tools for exploring these, they each seem to work on certain aspects of this thought, charge, and identification dynamic. They each use a slightly different angle to invite a release of the charge out of the thoughts, and soften the identification with these.

For instance, Living Inquiries tend to release the association between thoughts and sensations. Thoughts are then more easily recognized as thoughts, and the previous associated sensations may still be there but now with less or no particular meaning. The Work helps us recognize that previously believed thoughts are not inherently or absolutely true, and that other angles are as or more valid. Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) tends to release the charge from the body which is associated with stressful thoughts and trauma, and the thoughts behind the stress and trauma tends to seem less charged and less true, and there may be less identification with them. Vortex Healing seems to work from both the bodily charge and consciousness side of this dynamic.

A footnote about mainstream psychology: I have for a long time noticed that mainstream psychologists sometimes don’t differentiate between these. For instance, many psychological questionnaires ask about thoughts but not how much charge they hold, or how identified the person is with these. And that’s one of many ways questionnaires can be interpreted in a misleading way.

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It’s not what we are?

 

In non-duality circles, it’s popular to say that our emotions, thoughts, identities, body etc. is not who we are.

That’s true enough, but also a little simplistic and possibly a bit misleading.

First, there is typically an identification as (some of) our thoughts, emotions, and identities. We have stories that tells us that some of these are what we are, and there are sensations associated with these stories that give them charge and lend them a sense of substance and reality.

Then, we may realize that it’s not what we are. Emotions, thoughts, identities and everything else comes and goes. It lives its own life. It’s not what we are. We are not any content of experience. We are what it happens within.

And then, we may realize that we actually are it. What we are is what any content of experience happens within and as.

The first is identification with thoughts saying we are some emotions, thoughts, and identities. There is a duality where thoughts and sensations tells us we are this particular human being, and not the rest of the world. Looking at how people talk about it, we see that even awareness or consciousness (or “soul”) is seen as others. There are a lot of contradictions in this duality which are pretty easy to point out.

The second is still a duality. We are that which content of experience happens within. And this content is other. This is a more clean and simple duality.

The third is more aligned with reality. We are all of it – awareness and awareness taking the form of its own content of experience, whether we call this content this human being or the rest of the world.

So when nonduality folks say it’s not who (or what) we are, that’s partially correct. It’s a pointer that’s useful in a particular phase of the process. But there is no absolute or final truth to it. It does reflect a duality. And if held too tightly as a truth, it may temporarily prevent us from noticing that we actually are all of it. None of it is wrong at all. It’s all typical parts of the process.

For me, this process has been slightly unusual in some ways and typical in other ways. And that’s typical too (!). When I was 15, center of gravity was pulled out of identification as this human being and into consciousness as the witness. There was a clear and simple duality between what I experienced myself as, which was the observer or witness, and the rest which was this human self and the rest of the world. It was very strong and slightly disturbing. I went to a great number of doctors and specialists to see if they could figure out what was going on. I was convinced something was seriously wrong. (At the time, I was an atheist although I had a long standing interest in parapsychology.)

About a year later, there was a shift into everything being revealed as consciousness (Spirit, God), love, wisdom, and home. Everything without exception, although there was still a thin thread of identification as this human self and there was an awareness of that remaining identification still being there.

I had no interest in spirituality at the time, and although it was very clear that all is consciousness/Spirit/love/wisdom and it was profoundly familiar when it was revealed, it also took some adjusting at a human level. Both shifts were very sudden. The first happened over a few minutes January 1st around noon when I was out in the sun. The second happened at night, walking along a gravel road with the bright stars above me and a big wind blowing through (I think awe of the wind and the stars somehow triggered the shift.)

Since then, I have mostly just tried to learn to navigate and live from it. And over the last several years, there has been a “dark night of the soul” with a lot of unprocessed psychological material surfacing to be seen, felt, loved, recognized as Spirit, and healed.

And that too is a typical phase or part of the process.

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I am not useful?

 

Sometimes, we feel we are not useful. Maybe even that the world would be better without us in it.

Inquiry. This comes from thoughts, and it can be good to investigate these thoughts.

The Work. What stressful stories do I have about myself? How others see me? What the world expects from me? How I should be to be useful? What do I find when I examine these thoughts through The Work?

Living Inquiries. What does it say about me that I am not useful? Make a list. Find the statement that has the most charge and examine it. See what thoughts (images, words) and sensations make up this identity. If guided through this process by someone experienced in this form of inquiry, it can help release the stressful charge behind it.

Lila. Also, if it’s real to us, it can be helpful to remember lila. It’s all the play of the divine. The universe and us within it is life – the Universe, the divine – expressing, experiencing, and exploring itself. We are the play of the divine. Our life – as it is right now – is the play of the divine. Nothing is out of order. Nothing is wrong. There is no lessons to be learned. Nothing we are placed here to achieve.

Don’t know. We may discover this through inquiry, or we can remind ourselves, that we don’t really know. All my stressful stories and thoughts about myself and the world are stories and thoughts. They don’t reflect an inherent or absolute truth about myself or life.

The two last reminders – lila and don’t know – can be helpful reminders if they remind us of something that’s real to us. Something discovered through a spiritual opening or awakening, or through inquiry. Otherwise, they may be a pointer, something to explore for ourselves, for instance through inquiry.  Or it may be something not so useful for us right now.

TRE, Breema, Vortex Healing. I should also add that other tools can be helpful if we feel that we are not useful, our lives don’t matter, or that the world is better off without us. TRE can help release the tension, stress, and traumas behind it or created by it. Breema can help us find and experience the wholeness are already are. Vortex Healing can help clear the identities, beliefs, and traumas creating these experiences.

And there are, of course, innumerable other approaches that can help release the charge in the identities and beliefs behind this pattern, and help us (re)find our clarity. The ones I mentioned above are just some of the ones I have found most helpful.

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Core, ground, periphery

 

Here is one way to map out the discomfort/suffering dynamic.

Core. The core is identifications and beliefs. It’s holding stories as true and real, and this has energetic, emotional, mental, perceptual, and lived components. It’s reflected in all our human levels of being, in how we perceive, and how we live.

Periphery. These are the consequences of the identifications and beliefs. They include additional beliefs that support the initial ones, reactions towards the pain created by the initial beliefs, reactions towards the life situations the initial beliefs brings us into, and more. There is sometimes a great deal of these more peripheral beliefs, and they in themselves can become core beliefs for additional ones.

Ground. The ground is what we are and everything are, aka consciousness and love.

Identification means identification with or as the viewpoint of a thought. We hold it as real, and perceive and live as if it’s real. This creates a sense of separation. It also creates discomfort and even suffering since it’s out of alignment with reality. Life and reality rubs up against our beliefs and identifications, and this is uncomfortable.

Say there is a belief that there is a separate self. This can have a more peripheral belief that this separate self is unlovable. And this in itself becomes a core belief for a constellation of other beliefs, for instance that I need to seek love by doing what I think other people want me to do, and that her look means she doesn’t like me and that is terrible. All of this creates discomfort and suffering.

And that discomfort is an invitation to – eventually – examine more closely what’s happening and find more clarity and release from it. And that will eventually lead Spirit to recognize itself – and all there is – as consciousness and love.

Why is all this happening? We can see it from a few different perspectives.

At a human level, we can see the formation of the initial beliefs and identification as mimicking the adults in our life. We take on what we see our parents and others doing. It’s a form of love. It’s a form of taking care of ourselves. It’s innocence.

At a multiple-life perspective, we can see it as a habit that is passed on over lifetimes.

At a Spirit perspective, we can see it as Lila, the play of the divine. The universe – and our experience – is the divine expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways. And this includes temporarily experiencing itself as separate, as a separate being. It’s part of the play.

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How we frame

 

After deciding to work on it more intentionally, a particular issue has been more on the surface recently.

The most basic way of framing it is as something I can explore, rest with, and find healing for. I can relate to it more intentionally, notice what’s there, do Vortex Healing on it, and perhaps do some simple inquiry.

In the slightly bigger picture, I can frame it as something that comes up to be seen, felt, explored, and healed. It’s from my past – whether this life, ancestral, or from past lives – and it’s now coming up with an invitation for it to be met with kindness, rested with, allowed as is, and possibly for it to heal and release.

It can be helpful to frame it as similar to a creature – a being – that comes and wants what we all want: To be seen, allowed, respected, and treated with kindness. And then possibly be met with a gentle curiosity, and – if it wishes – find healing and release from its suffering.

This way of framing is not “true” or not. It’s just a pragmatic way of relating to what comes up. It helps me relate to it more intentionally, to release some identification as it, and it feels more comfortable to me than most other ways of relating to it (for instance struggling with it or identifying as it).

Note: What’s been coming up has to do with the collapse that happened when I got CFS a few years back. It was a collapse at all levels, and smaller versions of it happen if I haven’t had enough food combined with some disappointment (only lasting the same day). It comes with a sense of hopelessness and is connected to a victim identity. It feels old and was buried for a long time but is now up so it can be met with kindness and perhaps find healing.

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Dark nights and existential terror is rooted in identification and trauma

 

In my experience, dark nights, existential terror, and even general discomfort is rooted in identification and trauma.

Identification means identifying with the viewpoint of any story, taking it as true, and believing it. And I am using the word trauma in a very broad sense here, meaning what happened when something scared us enough so we created beliefs and identifications to protect ourselves (aka the imagined separate self).

For some of us, it’s easy to either romanticize dark nights and existential terror or see it as something mysterious and intangible that has to run its course and resolve by itself. And while there may be some truth to it having to live out its life, seeing it as rooted in identification and trauma gives us a pointer in how to work with it.

At the root of dark nights and existential terror is identification, and that’s something we can work with in a practical and grounded way. It’s rooted in identification mixed in with all sorts of mild and more serious trauma.

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Is trauma behind most or all distress?

 

To me, trauma seems to be behind any distress or suffering. And it’s a simple formula:

Trauma -> beliefs, identifications, velcro (as protection, to find a sense of safety) -> distress.

Trauma can come from small or big events, and from ongoing or one-time events. In any case, the mind responds to the event by creating trauma, and it does so through forming beliefs, identifications, and velcro. It does so to protect the (imagined) self and to find a sense of safety. These beliefs, identifications, and velcro then produce suffering and distress. When life rubs up against beliefs, as it inevitably does, suffering is typically the result.

I am using a very broad definition of trauma here. For instance, someone tells us we are chubby when we are little and this  creates a deficiency story of being chubby, which in turn can lead to a lot of distress later in life. An apparently innocent comment can be experienced as traumatic, the mind responds by creating deficiency stories, beliefs, and identifications, and this creates distress.

And the reason it was experienced as traumatic in the first place is that some beliefs, velcro, and identifications were already in place. Perhaps initially just from copying adults and others around us.

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Unconsciously identified with vs noticing as content of experience

 

When something charged is triggered in me and I don’t notice it very consciously, I tend to be unconsciously identified with it. I take on the viewpoint of the stories within the charge. I perceive the world through that filter.

Say hopelessness is triggered and I am unaware of the sensations and imaginations creating it. I take on the viewpoint of that hopelessness and I feel that the current situation or my life, in general, is hopeless.

I am a client in an inquiry session. Anger gets triggered. I don’t notice the components making it up, so I feel angry and get annoyed at the facilitator, the inquiry, or anything else my mind chooses to put it on.

A deficiency story of not being good enough is activated. I feel I am not good enough in relation to anything in my current situation, whether it’s work, a relationship, a task, or even being facilitated in an inquiry session. This story will color my experience and influence how I behave.

I may instead notice that something charged is triggered, and I may also notice the most obvious elements making it up (sensations, images, words) as it happens. I notice it as content of experience, and that softens or releases identification with it. I can relate to it more intentionally.

Hopelessness is triggered by a current situation. I notice the sensations and some images of me looking hopeless. I may notice words saying “it’s hopeless”, “nothing will help”. I relate to these more intentionally and recognize it as a combination of sensations and imaginations. I may recognize it’s not anything more than that. I may recognize that it’s coloring my experience, and at the same time is not any ultimate or final truth nor is it my destiny. There is some distance to it. I can explore it further as an experience that’s here now.

And the same goes for anger or not feeling good enough, or anything else with a charge that’s activated. I can explore the sensations combined with imaginations, and relate to it more intentionally.

In short:

When something is charged, it’s charged because sensations become “glued” to imaginations or stories.

The charge functions as glue or a magnet for identification.

When it’s activated by a current situation and it’s not recognized as what it is, there is almost automatically identification with it. There is identification with the viewpoint of the stories making up the charge.

If I instead notice it as an object within experience and notice the sensations and imagination components, there is a softening of that identification. That happens even if I just notice the most obvious sensation and one or two associated mental images or set of words. And it happens more thoroughly if I take time to inquire further into it.

It can sound a bit abstract but it’s also something I can repeatedly notice just about every day.

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Identification and fear

 

Here is a very simplified overlook of how the identification process looks to me:

Our mind learns to identify early on, partly or mostly through imitating those around us, and perhaps partly through genetic or karmic conditioning. It learns to create velcro (combine sensations and imaginations), and through that create beliefs (taking stories as true) and identify with the viewpoint of these stories.

As soon as that happens, there is a sense of a separate self. A small self that is somehow separate from the rest of the world. In our case, that separate self calls itself a human self, and that human self accumulates a lot of additional identities over time.

Identifying as a separate self, in turn, creates fear. A separate self is vulnerable, in danger, at the whim of other separate selves and the larger world. It is born and it will die.

The mind learns to fear that fear. It learns to shun it, avoid it, fight it, distract itself from it. It learns to avoid feeling the scary sensations and looking at the scary mental images and words connected with it.

When the mind fears the fear, it reacts to it and tries to protect itself from it. And it does so in the form of distractions of any kind. It also reacts to the fear by creating anxiety, depression, compulsion, and through reinforcing and creating new identifications. These reinforced and new identifications continue the cycle.

This cycle is a cycle of suffering. It’s the mind struggling with its own creations, and that creates suffering. The mind makes some of its own experiences into an enemy, fights them, and suffer as a consequence. It’s split off from itself, and that’s suffering. It’s not home, even as it is. It’s caught in a cycle of perceived threats, and that too is suffering.

The remedy is for the mind to befriend its own creations. To befriend the scary sensations and imaginations. And also to see how it’s creating these combinations of sensations and imaginations that seem so scary. Resting with these components allows the glue holding them together, making them seem scary, to soften and perhaps even fall away.

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Going to thought to avoid feeling sensations given meaning by thought

 

Most of us go to thought to avoid feeling sensations given meaning by thought. It’s an interesting circularity that begins and ends with thought.

Here is the simple version of what’s happening.

(a) Thought gives a scary meaning to sensations.

(b) Since it seems scary, we want to avoid it.

(c) And the easiest way to avoid it is often to go to thought.

And a more elaborate description:

(a) Thoughts give a scary meaning to sensations. And the same sensations give a sense of substance and reality to those thoughts. These sensations often take the form of a body contraction, and this can be activated in the moment, or it can be more chronic.

(b) Since it seems scary, we want to avoid it. The thought-sensation combination seems scary, so we typically want to avoid looking at it closely. We may be caught in the drama of it, and even that’s a way to avoid looking more closely at the thought component and feeling the sensation component.

(c) The easiest way to avoid it is often to go to thought. These thoughts can be about nearly anything. They can be distracting thoughts. Analyzing thoughts trying to understand the problem. Strategizing thoughts trying to find a solution to the apparent problem. And they can even be the initially troublesome thoughts themselves when we get caught in their content instead of recognizing them as mental images and words.

There is a circularity here. The whole cycle starts and ends with thoughts. It starts with a scary thought held to be true. And ends with thoughts aimed at avoiding taking a closer look at these thoughts, and avoiding feeling the associated sensations and body contraction.

The solution to this and the way out is described in several other posts on this blog.

Unconsciously identified with vs recognizing as content of experience

 

When something charged is activated in us and not recognized, then we are often unconsciously identified with it.

If we instead notice it as content of experience, and notice how it’s made up of a combination of sensations (charge) and stories (meaning), then there is often a softening or even release of the identification.

For instance, resistance may come up in an inquiry session. There is a resistance to doing the inquiry, and this may come from fear and fearful thoughts about what we may have to feel and encounter. If we don’t notice this resistance, or don’t look at it more closely to find the images, words, and sensations making it up, we are typically unconsciously identified with it. It will color our session, and our relationship to the session and the facilitator. A good facilitator will notice this and invite the client to find the resistance and explore its components. Look at the imaginations, the mental images and words. And feel and rest with the sensations. This helps us notice it as content of experience, as made up of imagination and sensations, and it tends to soften the identification with it. We also get to explore the fear behind it. We can relate to the resistance/fear more intentionally.

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Why we resist what can be helpful (sometimes)

 

Why do we sometimes resist what can help us?

I can find quite a few possible reasons:

We are not ready for it. We are not ready to try it, or to have the problem resolve.

We have been disappointed in the past and don’t want to be again, so we reject it altogether. (From a wound, identification, belief.)

We don’t want others to tell us what to do. It may feel patronizing, or as outside pressure. (If it does, it points to beliefs and wounds.)

We don’t trust the messenger or the remedy. (For good reasons, or because of a wound/identification.)

We want to give what we are already trying a go, and don’t want to mix too many things. (This is very valid, especially if what we are already doing is working or has a good chance of working.)

I am sure there are other possible reasons. I have experienced this in my own life. For instance, I knew that some used herbs to heal from chronic fatigue but I had a prejudice about it until a friend convinced me to seek a local herbalist. It was a turning point in getting back to health. (The prejudice was that herbs wouldn’t have much effect, and that it was mostly used by naive new agey people.)

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Why does attention go to painful memories/stories?

 

A client asked why she can’t stop thinking about a painful situation that happened several months back.

More broadly, why does attention sometimes repeatedly go to painful memories or stories?

There are several answers, each with some truth to it.

Symptom of trauma. It’s a common symptom of trauma. Its common with obsessive thinking about the initial traumatic situation or similar (real or potential) situations. Trauma can come from ongoing or acute situations and the obsessive thinking tends to reflect the traumatic situation in either case.

Velcro. When attention goes to certain stories in an obsessive way, it’s because these stories have a charge to them. (Or the mind tries to avoid stories with a charge to them by going into daydreams.) Sensations combine with imagination, lending them a charge and sense of reality while the imagination gives the sensations as sense of meaning. That’s how trauma – and any other velcro – is created.

Resolution. The mind goes to these stories because it tries to find resolution. And the only real resolution comes from the mind meeting itself with presence, kindnessn, love, and some insight into the original situation as well as how the mind creates its own painful memory.

Evolution. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense for the mind to return to painful memories to try to learn as much as possible from it and prevent it from happening in the future.

To me, these are all valid. It is a common symptom of trauma. It’s what happens when there is velcro. It’s mind seeking resolution. And it’s built into us through evolution since it makes sense to return to painful situations to try to learn as much as we can from it and prevent similar things from happening in the future.

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Notice push/pull of distractions

 

During any form of meditation, it can be interesting to see where attention goes when it wanders.

This may happen during a training of more stable attention (keeping attention on something, for instance the sensations of the breath at the nostrils), natural rest (noticing and allowing), a heart centered practice (ho’o, tonglen), a body centered practice (noticing sensations, yoga, tai chi, breema etc.), or something else.

When attention gets distracted, it gets distracted by stories that has a charge to them. And these stories have a charge because they are associated with certain sensations. (Sensations lends a sense of reality, solidity and charge to the imagination. And imagination lends meaning to the sensations.) Instead of charge, we can say identification (identification with the viewpoint of the stories), beliefs (at least a part of us taking stories as real and true), or velcro (sensations and imagination associated with each other).

And when I say “distracted by” that can happen in at least two different ways, and there is often a combination of the two.

One is the stories that attention goes to. These may have a charge to them, as described above. And this charge makes them seem important. The charge may be interpreted as a like or dislike. We like or dislike the stories and/or what they are about.

Another is what attention seeks to avoid, which is also a story with a charge to it. When we look, we may first notice the sensation aspect of it (uncomfortable sensations) or the imagination aspect of it (uncomfortable stories). And it appears uncomfortable because a certain story is associated with sensations that makes it appear real, true, and solid.

Explaining it in this way, it may seem complicated, but it can be quite simple in practice.

(a) Keep attention somewhere, for instance in one of the ways mentioned above.

(b) Notice when attention wanders. (This noticing may happen during or after the fact.)

(c) Notice where attention goes. Notice the story or stories it goes to.

(d) Does that story have a charge? Where do you feel it in the body? What are the associated images and words?

(e) What among the sensations in my body did (or do) I not want to feel right now? What did attention want to escape? Find it in the body. Take some time to feel the physical sensations. Notice associated images and words.

This is a simple way to explore it. We can also use inquiry to take it further and explore it more in depth. In most cases, there is a lot of different sensations and imaginations (images and words) connected to what attention went to and tried to avoid.

In the beginning, can be easier to explore it in this setting. It provides a supportive container for the exploration. And really, it can be done in any situation in daily life. Whenever attention gets drawn into a story, I can explore the charge in the story it goes to and also what attention was trying to avoid.

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Victim identity: A cry for attention and love

 

For some of us, the victim identity can be very strong. The mind may even hold onto it as if it’s a matter of life and death.

Why is the need to hold onto something so painful so strong? What is the real need or wish within it? It must be something that our minds holds as very important. So important that it’s willing to create suffering for itself in the hopes of getting it.

To me, it seems that it comes from a deep need and wish for love and presence. For attention, understanding, comfort, love and presence. As long as that’s not met, the victim identification will continue to be fueled by the mind. In it’s trance, it may see it as the best or only way to get what it really needs and wants, which is that presence and love.

It works to some extent. When we go into victim identification, other people may give us some attention, understanding, and love. We may even have been trained by our parents that that’s how we get attention and love. And yet, it doesn’t really work. People may give it to us sometimes and not other times. And even if we get that presence and love from them, it’s not enough as long as we don’t give it to ourselves. We cannot truly take it in and experience it until we give it to ourselves.

So that’s the remedy. Our own presence and love is the remedy.

How do we give it to ourselves? There are a few different ways.

Natural rest. Notice and allow. Notice what’s here in experience and allow it. (Notice it’s already noticed and allowed.) Being present with it. This presence itself is a form of love.

Say “thank you for protecting me” to the part of us in pain. It’s here to protect us.

Say “I love you” to the part of us in pain. Say “you are allowed to be as you are”. Say “I am here with you and I love you”. Say “I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you.”. Say any one of these over and over until it becomes a felt experience.

Imagine ourselves, or the hurting part of us, sitting in front of us. Do tonglen. Visualize that person’s suffering as dark smoke and breathe it in on the inbreath. Breathe out light (love, presence) and into the other person on the outbreath. See the person light up. Repeat many times until you really and deeply feel it.

Examine stressful and painful stories and identities. Use inquiry. (The Work, Living Inquiries. Something else.) This is also a form of presence and love. It cannot be done if there isn’t presence. And it’s a loving attention and examination, which may also reveal love when the painful stories and identities are seen more clearly for what they are.

Take care of the body. Do something soothing. Take a bath. Eat nourishing food. Drink plenty of water. Go for a walk. Be in nature. Be kind to yourself. Do yoga, tai chi, chi gong, Breema, TRE. (All of which are forms of presence and love.)

These are all ways we can shift how we relate to those parts of ourselves in pain. If we suffer, it’s because we tend to avoid or try to push these parts away. They are like animals or children who are ignored, avoided, struggled with, or even bullied. No wonder they suffer and are in pain. No wonder they cry out for our presence and love.

When we meet them in presence and love, they feel seen and honored and can relax. This takes time. We need to stay with it for a while. We need to return to it frequently, especially if these parts of us are used to being ignored or struggled with. An animal or child whose needs have been neglected needs time to learn to trust and relax, and that’s how it also is with these parts of ourselves. Giving our presence and love means giving of our time.

As mentioned above, one way to meet them in presence and love is through inquiry. Inquiry is a form of love. The process of inquiry is a process of presence and kind attention. And the outcome is that we see that what we thought was so solid and real (and painful) may not really be so solid and real. What’s more real and true is also more kind.

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We are born into identities and spend the rest of our life defending them

 

We are born into a body, gender, culture, religion, and more, and spend the rest of our life defending those identities.

– paraphrased, source unknown

I saw a similar quote on Facebook and forgot to write the quote down and also the name of the source. (The reason may be that I liked the idea, but not the way it was phrased.)

There is a lot of truth to this. Most of us are born into a gender, culture, religion, politics, class, and views on all sorts of things, we adopt most or all of these (identify with these identities), and spend the rest of our life defending them. Sometimes as if it was a matter of life and death.

We defend something we were randomly (or so it seems) born into, that were initially created and imagined by someone and then passed on.

It’s understandable, and also a bit silly seen from this perspective.

Velcro = manipulation

 

Whenever I hold a story as true, there is manipulation of myself or others.

Sensations anywhere in the body are sometimes associated with imagination, and this lends the imagination a sense of substance, solidity and reality. It makes the imagination seem true to us. Our mind makes it seem true to itself. This is called velcro in the Living Inquiry terminology. (Velcro = Sensations + imagination.)

This velcro lends a sense of reality and charge to imagination. And this imagination may take the form of a perceived threat, a deficient or inflated self, a compulsion, or anything else. And this tends to leads to manipulation of myself or others.

I manipulate to avoid a perceived threat. To compensate for a deficient self. To uphold an inflated self. To act on a compulsion to fill a perceived hole. To avoid feeling certain sensations associated with a threat, deficient or inflated self, or compulsion.

More generally, my mind manipulates it’s own perception to fit it’s beliefs, and it manipulates it’s own actions to act as if these beliefs are real.

There is nothing inherently wrong here. It’s just the way the mind works. It’s innocent. And it creates suffering, which is why we are motivated to change it to the extent we see and realize what’s going on, and that there is an alternative.

The alternative is to (a) notice what’s going on, (b) be honest about it with ourselves and perhaps others, and (c) examine what’s going on – for instance through inquiry.

Note: Velcro here refers to the same as a belief, holding a story as real and true. And identification, identifying with the viewpoint of a story. And even “ego” as that words is sometimes used in spiritual circles.

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Spiritual identification is a form of body identification

 

Even identification as “spiritual” things such as awareness, Spirit, oneness, Buddha Mind, Big Mind, Brahman etc. actually involve body identification. Any identification requires sensations associated with images and words, so it is a form of body identification. For instance, when I explore “awareness” or “I am awareness” I find an image of awareness connected with subtle sensations in my head, and also other imaginations and sensations making up my experience of awareness or being awareness. Any identification involves body identification, also when it’s a “spiritual” type identification.

– from a previous post

Beliefs ≈ allergic reaction

 

I have often thought that beliefs are similar to an allergic reaction.

There is a stimulus which normally or in itself is harmless. We react to it as if it’s a real threat. And we do so because our mind has a belief about it.

To take an example from my own life: There is a leaf blower outside my window. My mind makes itself stressed and agitated and tries to find an escape – any escape. This is very similar to an allergic reaction. The stimulus (sound from leaf blower) is in itself harmless. My mind over-reacts to it. And it does so based on beliefs (identifications, hangups, velcro).

The same happens in all areas of life. In some cases, as the one above, it’s pretty easy to see. Many don’t respond that way, so it’s clearly nothing about the stimulus itself. In other cases, it may be more difficult to see since a majority responds in a allergic type way.

In all cases, it’s really the mind reacting to itself. The mind produces imagination (images, words) about past, future, or present. Sensations combine with this imagination to give it a sense of solidity, reality, and a charge. The mind takes the initial imagination as real, solid, and true. And reacts to it as if it’s real, solid, and true. The initial imagination is in itself harmless, as are the sensations. So again, this is an allergic type reaction. Since it’s the mind reacting to itself, I guess we could even call it an autoimmune type reaction.

I know what many will think here: Sometimes it’s appropriate to react to things, that’s not an allergic reaction.

Yes, it’s often helpful and kind to take action. What I am talking about here is the additional layer of stress the mind creates for itself through beliefs (identification, velcro). That’s where the allergic type reaction comes in and the over-reaction. That layer is something we can explore, see more for what it is, and find genuine peace with as is. We get to see its innocence, and that it really is OK as is.

As a side-effect of this exploration, this extra layer of stress may even soften and fall away. We see how the mind creates it for itself. We get to see its innocence. We befriend it. We find peace with it. So there is no longer any need for it to hang around.

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Perceptual center = center of sense of self

 

This is something I keep noticing and also explore more intentionally at times.

Our perceptual center often becomes the center of a sense of self.

It’s not so surprising. We need to attach our sense of self to something, and that’s typically our body. It also seems that our mind likes to narrow it down further, so our head is a natural candidate. That’s where we see, hear, taste, and smell from. It’s a perceptual center, so why not make it into a center for identification as well? Why not center our experience of me and I there?

I was very much aware of this during the initial opening or awakening phase, and also noticed that there was still an identification in the roof of the mouth and in the back. I asked Buddhist teachers for advice for how to work on it and explore it further, but they either thought it wasn’t the right time for me to know or they  didn’t know (I somehow suspect the latter).

When I explore this, I see that my mind associates sensations in the head area – and specifically back in the roof of the mouth – with certain imaginations (images and words), and these creates the experience of a self centered in the head area. There is a me centered there – a human self, a man, a friend etc. And an I centered there – an observer, experiencer, thinker, chooser, doer.

By exploring these bundles of sensations and imaginations, I get to see how these selves are created in my own experience. They tend to lose their charge. They seem less solid, real, and substantial.

When it comes to body identification, it can be helpful and interesting to explore the following:

Identification with the body as a whole. How does my mind create its experience of “me, the one who is this body”? (UI on me, the one who is the body.)

How does my mind create its experience of the body as a whole? (UI on body.)

How does my mind create its experience of a threat of being this body? And not being this body? (AI on being the body, not being the body.)

How does my mind create its experience of a command to be identified with this body? Or not be identified with it? (CI on identifying / not identifying with the body.)

How does my mind create its experience of being any particular deficient/inflated self? (UI on deficient / inflated self.)

Even identification as “spiritual” things such as awareness, Spirit, oneness, Buddha Mind, Big Mind, Brahman etc. actually involve body identification. Any identification requires sensations associated with images and words, so it is a form of body identification. For instance, when I explore “awareness” or “I am awareness” I find an image of awareness connected with subtle sensations in my head, and also other imaginations and sensations making up my experience of awareness or being awareness. Any identification involves body identification, also when it’s a “spiritual” type identification.

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The depth of painful experiences

 

It can seem that painful experiences are powerful, deep, and pervasive.

These painful experiences are created by painful beliefs. Or identification. Or velcro. And velcro here means the way sensations appear stuck to images and words giving them a sense of substance, solidity, and reality, and also giving them a charge (dislike, like, or neutral). This is really the same as beliefs or identifications. It’s also how hangups, wounds, trauma, compulsions, and chronic patterns of anxiety, depression, and anger are created.

In a way, it’s true. If the velcro is unexamined, if the parts of it are unloved, if the sensations making it up are unfelt, then it can certainly appear powerful, deep, and pervasive. We become a slave to a master that can seem powerful. It can seem that there is no end to it. It can color our whole experience and life.

At the same time, it’s not completely true. Velcro is created by the mind associating certain sensations with certain images and words. It’s created by the mind, and it can be undone by the mind. It can be undone by (a) separating out sensations, images, and words from each other, (b) recognize each for what they are (sensations, images, words), (c) ask simple questions about each to see what’s really there, and see what’s more may be there, and (d) feeling the sensations.

There are also other aspects, such as finding kindness towards these sensations, images, and words (which is not so difficult when we see that that’s what they are), noticing the boundless space they are happening within (if there is an image of a boundary, that too happens within space), and perhaps using bodywork to help release the chronic tension that typically hold chronic velcro in place (TRE, massage).

It can seem that noticing sensations, images, and words would be insignificant. After all, they are pretty ephemeral. At the same time, they are what make up our whole experience, without exception. (If we take “sensations” to mean sensory input, and images and words as any imagination). It is, literally, our whole world. We can undo any painful aspect of our whole world this way.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t feel anything. We will still experience physical pain. There will, most likely, still be sadness, fear, anger. And yet the overlay created by our struggle with it, and the overlay holding it in place over long periods of time, may have fallen away. My experience is that the sense of connection and empathy deepens and more and more experiences become quite beautiful.

Another angle on this is our own experience in doing natural rest and inquiry. Through this, we may see – sometimes within minutes – that what appeared solid, unquestionable, painful, all pervasive, unhealable, is anything but that. We may see it vaporize as we are watching.

Sometimes, it may take quite a few sessions on any one trauma. That’s quite normal. And yet, with sincerity and actually doing it, it may well undo itself. There is no end to it, and at the same time more and more falls away as we keep exploring.

Pitfalls of openings and awakenings

 

Here are some common pitfalls of openings and awakenings:

New identifications. With an opening or awakening, new identities may surface and the mind may identify with these for safety. These identities include but are not limited to awareness, oneness, spirit, free. These are just more thoughts that the mind identifies with, and it’s good to notice and inquire into these as soon as they arise.

Unprocessed material. With an opening or awakening, the lid may be taken off any unprocessed material. Anything that’s unfelt, unloved and unquestioned comes up to be felt, loved, and questioned. Any unfelt emotions or feelings surface to be felt. Any unloved parts of us or our experience (including our whole world) comes up to be loved. Any unquestioned stories surface to be questioned. This can lead to a version of the dark night of the soul.

Kundalini. With an opening or awakening, kundalini may activate. For some, this may lead to a kundalini overcharge. It may feel like high voltage is going through regular house wiring, and as if parts of us – and perhaps our brain – is fried. This can be prevented and reversed.

What do I mean with an opening or awakening? I mean that we realize what we are, or what we are realizes what it is. This is what the mind may call awareness, oneness, no separation, spirit (or even Buddha Mind, Brahman if it’s so inclined). This may be a glimpse, or it may be a more stable recognition. Often, there is a mix of this recognition and remaining identifications which partially obscure this recognition. We then live partially from noticing what we are, and partially from remaining identifications. This is very natural, and there is not really any problem here, but it’s good to be aware of and acknowledge, and also to have ways to work with these identifications.

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Fear and identification

 

When I was in training to become a Living Inquiry facilitator, I would ask the is a threat question whenever I sensed there could be a threat or fear connected to a particular image, word or sensation. Whenever I checked in with myself, I could usually find a threat or fear connected to any velcro (any belief, identification). I learned to dial this back a bit since I seemed to perceive threats where others didn’t. That may partly be because of my PTSD which tends to bring the whole system on high alert so threats are perceived just about anywhere.

And yet, I still wonder if fear is not behind or connected with just about any velcro, belief or identification. Why would the glue be there if not for fear? At the very least, there is fear about how it is to live without any particular velcro or identification.

It also seems that the velcro is often initially created through fear, and then recreated through fear in the moment. It may not be obvious, but when I look I find it for myself.

Compulsively avoiding velcro

 

I know this sounds simplistic, and it also seems quite accurate.

Compulsively avoiding velcro is what creates discomfort and suffering, and what keeps it in place. When I avoid velcro, I avoid feeling certain sensations and looking at images and words associated with it.

Velcro here refers to the sticky conglomerate of sensations and associated images and words. When sensations stick onto images and words, it makes these images and words seem real and solid. It’s another word for belief, or identification, or even “ego” as its sometimes used in spiritual circles.

When I compulsively avoid velcro, I compulsively seek something else. That helps me avoid the velcro. It gives me something else to do, and it may even appear to promise deliverance. They are two sides of the same coin.

I go into compulsive avoidance, overthinking/intellectualizing, rumination, hopes or fears about the future, regrets about the past, eating, entertainment, spiritual practice, work, wanting to be a good person, being liked, being admired, and more. For some, the compulsion may even involve drugs and alcohol.

The remedy is to do the opposite. To feel the sensation component of the velcro. To rest with it. To examine the associated images and words. To look at what’s really there, and already there.

This approach supports us in noticing what we are, and in the healing of who we are. As velcro (identifications) soften or fall away, it’s easier for what we are (presence, what experience happens within and as) to notice itself. It’s easier for the natural rest that’s already here to notice itself as what’s already here, and more consciously rest in itself. And it supports the healing and maturing of who we are, as an ordinary human being.

In this way, what a thought calls spirituality and psychology are both included, and the thought-created division between the two becomes less or not important.

Note: This experience, as it is, independent of how peaceful or turbulent it seems from a conventional view, is already natural rest. Sometimes, that’s noticed. Other times, it’s not. It’s still natural rest. And when that’s noticed, independent of the content of experience, something shifts. There is a sense of coming home. Of release. Of relief.

In what sense is it already natural rest? It’s already happening within and as presence. It’s already happening within and as what we are. It’s already sensations, images, words, each of which happen within presence and natural rest.

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It’s not easy to believe a thought

 

It’s not easy to believe a thought.

It takes a lot of effort.

It’s stressful.

It needs to be maintained here and now.

And more than that….

 It needs to be elaborated upon. If it’s true, other stories follow from it, and these needs to be taken as true as well, and maintained as true.

It’s underlying assumptions must be reaffirmed and supported.

We need to filter our experience of the world through it.

We need to defend the truth of the story, since it is or will be out of alignment with aspects of reality. We need to defend it against other stories which may invalidate it.

We need to contract muscles to create persistent sensations which can support taking the thought as true, through lending the thought charge, and a sense of solidity and reality.

That’s why there is often a deep sense of relief when any particular belief is seen through and – even in temporarily – falls away. And it’s why there is even more of a deep relief when beliefs in general fall away, even if temporarily and in a glimpse or for a period of time.

From this perspective, the primary question isn’t why is it so difficult to awaken? (Although that’s a valid question.) It’s more, how come we go through all this effort to stay in our own dream world, specially considering it’s often painful? 

I don’t really have the answers to that. Although I suspect part of the answer is a combination of two quite simple things.

We do it because that’s what those around us do. As babies, we look to the adults in our life for cues about how to live here, so we follow them. In Rome, do as Romans do. It’s very innocent and understandable.

Also, intentional thought is a relatively new tool in our evolution. We are still grappling with how to use it effectively. We still stumble in how we use it. We take our own thoughts as real and true, even if they are simply thoughts and are better used as practical tools for navigating the world. This too is innocent and understandable.

Shame as a pointer

 

Shame is an excellent pointer to something in me that’s still unloved and unquestioned.

The only reason, it seems, that something feels shameful, is that it’s still unloved and unquestioned. The stories creating the beliefs around it are unquestioned, and perhaps as yet unseen.

Shame is just one of many pointers: stress, discomfort, unease, guilt, depression, reactivity, compulsions, trauma, “sticky” sadness, anger, and fear, and body contractions.