Life 101: Playing roles in life

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely Players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,

– From As You Like It by Shakespeare

One of the Life 101 topics is playing roles in life and what happens if we identify with these temporary roles.

TEMPORARY ROLES

We all play many roles in life, and different ones at different times and in different situations. The roles may be of a son, daughter, parent, friend, lover, employee, employer, student, teacher, and so on.

These roles are temporary and we go in and out of them depending on the situation, and this is one way we make society work.

MAKING AN IDENTITY OUT OF A ROLE

We can also identify with roles. We can create an identity out of a temporary role.

I not only take on the teacher role in the situation where I actually am in a teacher role. (When I work with students.) I take on the teacher role as an identity. It’s who I am, whether or not I am in that situation. I make my life into the stage where I am a teacher.

When this happens, it comes with several downsides. And it’s often a sign of trying to cover up or fulfilling a personal need. We use the identity to feel better about ourselves and feel safer.

RECENT EXPERIENCE

I was recently reminded of this. Someone I have known for many years has recently taken on the role of a spiritual teacher, guide, and therapist. And when she is in situations where that’s expected of her, that’s appropriate.

I also get the impression that she has generalized this to other situations. For instance, when we speak these days, she seems to take on the role of a spiritual teacher and guide and place me in the role of a student. She seems to have taken on these temporary and localized roles as a more general identity.

For me, this feels a bit uncomfortable. We have been friends for a long time. We have had very good conversations as equals and fellow explorers. And now, she seems to create a distance by playing the role of a spiritual teacher, placing me in the role of a student, and offering guidance I didn’t ask for.

I don’t have anything against being in the role of a student. If anything, it’s a role I have created a bit of identity out of. I expect to always be a student and learn more. But in this situation, we meet as friends and fellow humans and I prefer to not have other roles on top of it.

THE UPSIDES & DOWNSIDES OF MAKING A ROLE INTO AN IDENTITY

The upside of making an identity out of a role is that it can make us feel safer. We know who we are. We know what’s expected of us. (At least, we know what we expect from ourselves.) We can feel better about ourselves, at least if the role is one we like. We can use it to cover up a sense of lack.

Doing this is natural and understandable and we all do it to some extent and in some situations and areas of life. They are also band-aids and come with significant downsides.

What are some of these downsides?

It can be disappointing or annoying to others. They expect to meet us as fellow human beings. And instead, they meet someone who is identified with a role and who places them in a matching role. They meet a role instead of a human, and they get placed in a role they don’t necessarily want in that situation.

We get stuck. If we are identified with a role, we lose flexibility. We are unable to drop it when we are outside of the situation where it’s appropriate. And that means we are also less available to take on other roles when they are appropriate.

It can be distressing when life doesn’t match our expectations. We expect to live out the role we are identified with and find ourselves in a situation where that’s not possible or doesn’t work. We don’t know who we are anymore. We cannot live out the familiar role we are so used to and had learned to rely on. This happens, for instance, when someone is identified as the role of a parent and the children leave home or otherwise cannot or won’t play the matching role.

WHAT’S THE REMEDY?

So what’s the remedy?

The first step is to be aware of some of these dynamics.

Any role we take on is temporary and only relevant in a specific situation.

A role is really a verb. We are teaching. We are parenting. We are guiding. Our culture likes to make roles into nouns which encourages identity-making, and we can choose to not follow that. We can choose to say “I am teaching” and not “I am a teacher”. When we talk about roles as verbs, we are more honest and less likely to make them into identities. It becomes more clear that they are roles we take on for a while and in some specific situations, and then leave.

In general, we can intentionally go against the tendency to make the roles into an identity. We can talk about them as verbs and not something more solid. We can intentionally leave them behind when we leave the situation where we played them. We may even experiment with dropping the roles in situations where we are expected to play them, or we can experiment with playing them in a different and more human way. We can bring our humanity to the forefront and make the role more secondary. (The more comfortable we are with ourselves, the more we tend to do just that.)

If we notice an impulse to make a role into an identity, we can explore what’s going on. What do I hope to get out of it? What lack or need am I trying to fulfill? Does it really work? What are the consequences? What are the downsides? What’s more real?

To support all of this, we can make an inventory. Which roles do I play in life? Which roles would I be more likely to make into an identity? (Parent, work, etc.) And then we can pay extra attention to these roles.

If we want, we can also take this a step further. The roles we play are not only the ones of being a child, parent, student, teacher, plumber, and so on. They are also the roles of being the outgoing one, the peacemaker, the happy one, the sad one, the victim, the fixer, or whatever it may be. These are also roles we can, and often do, make identities out of.

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Perception of doership when we notice our nature

I find myself writing a short series of articles on how our perception of different things – distance, movement, time, and so on – may change when we notice our nature.

Here is one on our perception of doership.

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY

In the world, it’s important for me to take responsibility for my actions, words, and choices.

It helps me live in a slightly more mature way. It’s more in integrity. And it helps me see things about myself more accurately which may lead to changes. (There is a lot of room for improvement.)

If I don’t take responsibility, I can notice it through some of the telltale signs (blame, victimhood, etc.) and I can use it to find the fear behind it. What’s the scary story? What am I afraid would happen if I took responsibility for my own words, choices, and actions in this situation? What’s the identity that’s threatened?

THIS HUMAN SELF IS LIVING ITS OWN LIFE

I can then find myself as capacity for the world as it appears to me. I can find myself as that which the world, to me, happens within and as. This is what I more fundamentally am to myself.

Here, I notice that all content of my experience lives its own life – this human self, thoughts, feelings, choices, actions, other people, ecosystems, the wider world. It’s all living its own life. It’s all happening on its own.

Within stories, I can tell myself that everything has infinite causes stretching back to the beginning of time (if there is any) and the widest extent of space (if there is any).

And in my immediate noticing, it’s all living its own life.

IN DAILY LIFE

In daily life, there are both.

I aim at taking responsibility for my own choices, actions, and life – and don’t always succeed. (Any time I go into a stressful story, it’s a sign I am not taking responsibility as much as I could.) This helps me live with a bit more integrity and it helps me mature a bit more.

And I notice that this human self is happening on its own like anything else. This takes some of the stress out of it and there is less interference from the idea of fundamentally being a doer.

SHIFTS HIGHLIGHTING THIS

As I have written about elsewhere, in an awakening process, there are often shifts that highlight certain aspects of what we are.

In this case, I experienced several shifts around fifteen years ago that brought the “this human self is living its own life” aspect to the foreground. These were shifts into a stronger disidentification with any content of experience, and they made it blindingly clear that this human self is happening on its own. (There were many similar types of shifts during that period.)

And these shifts have helped me notice it later on, even when this aspect is less obviously in the foreground.

Note: I have written similar articles on distance, movement, time, the physical, and this human self.

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This human self is happening on its own

When our nature notices itself, there is a sense that any and all content of experience – including this human self with its thoughts, feelings, experiences, words, and actions – is happening on its own. It’s all living its own life.

That’s how it always is, whether we notice or not.

When the mind identifies with the viewpoint of thoughts, it creates a sense of I and Other, and of being and doing whatever this human self is and is doing.

And when our nature notices itself, there is more of a release of this identification and it’s all revealed as living its own life. As it always and already does.

For me, this shift initially happened in my mid-teens so what it reveals is familiar to me. It’s the water I have swimmed in for a long time. And a part of me is still slightly unnerved when I bring attention to this human self happening on its own. Somewhere in me, there is still a part that assumes that there needs to be identified with or as a doer for things to happen, even if all the evidence shows the contrary.

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Why do we tend to be identified with the head area?

Most of us in the current western world are identified with the area where our head is. We have a general identification with or as the body and a slightly stronger identification with the head area.

WHY THE HEAD AREA?

There may be some physical and practical reasons for this head-identification.

Some of our most used senses are located in our head: Eyes, ears, nose, and tongue.

And others tend to look at our face and eyes when they look at us, suggesting that’s where we are mostly located.

CULTURAL COMPONENT

At the same time, there is a cultural component here.

Our head-identification is not inherent in who or what we are. It’s not inevitable.

We happen to live in a culture where most people are identified with their head, so we naturally adopt it as well. We learn that’s what people here do, so we do the same, mostly without even noticing or questioning it. It’s natural and innocent and even sweet. (Our culture’s value on the intellect and, indirectly, the brain, may also play a small role here.)

We can imagine a culture where it’s different. For instance, a culture where we are most identified with or as the heart area. If we grow up in a culture that values the heart, and where people are mostly identified with or as their heart area, our main sense of self would likely be there as well.

EXPLORING IT THROUGH THE SENSE FIELDS

How is this identification created? How does the mind create a sense of an I or me mostly in the head area?

If we explore this through the sense fields, we may find that the sense of self in the head area is created the same way the mind creates any other identification with a mental representation.

We have mental images, in this case of our head area. We have words saying we mostly are in the head area. The mind associates these images and words with certain bodily sensations, often in the same area. The sensations lend a sense of solidity, reality, and truth to the mental images and words. And the mental images and words give a sense of meaning to the sensations.

As we discover this, we can more easily recognize the mental representations as mental representations, the sensations as sensations, and we are less blindly caught in the temporary appearance of a sense of self in the head area – or the body in general.

And this allows us to more easily notice our more fundamental nature as capacity for the world as it appears to us, and as what the world to us happens within and as.

HAPPENS WITHIN CONTENT OF EXPERIENCE

In general, what do we find if we explore this for ourselves through, for instance, inquiry or basic meditation?

We may find that any sense of an “I” or observer or doer in the head area (or anywhere else) happens within the content of experience. It comes and goes like any other content. Since it comes and goes, it’s not what we more fundamentally are.

It happens within and as what we more fundamentally are.

HEADLESSNESS

This typical head-identification is, I assume, why Douglas Harding created the Headless experiments and the Headless Way.

If we are mostly identified with the head, then pointing out basic headless nature is the most direct remedy.

In our own first-person experience, we don’t have a head so we cannot be a head. There is a pink blob where my mind tells me the nose is. If I am in front of a mirror, there is a face out there in the mirror behind the glass. If I look at my mental images of myself, I see a head but that’s just a mental representation. That’s not me. Others may tell me I am this body and head, but I cannot find that in my own first-person experience.

I know this can easily sound silly, childish, and just like an oddity to mention at a party.

And if we explore it for ourselves, with sincerity and diligence, and see how it is to live from it, it can be profoundly transformative. It shifts our deepest sense of identity. It transforms our perception. It transforms how we live our life. And it, over time, transforms our human self and psyche.

Drawing: Self-portrait by Ernst Mach, 1886.

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Do you like anime?

People sometimes ask these kinds of questions. Do you like rap? Classical music? French movies?

For me, those questions don’t make so much sense. I like some things within any category. It’s not about the category.

I suspect these types of questions are related to identity. We like to create an identity for ourselves based on what we like and resonate with, and in this case, categories of arts and entertainment.

One of the benefits of finding more freedom around this is that we can enjoy a much wider variety of music, literature, movies, and more. The label we put on it doesn’t matter in this context.

Who or what believes a thought?

We can obviously hold a thought as true at a conscious level. We may genuinely assume these thoughts are true and perceive and live as if they are. (At a deeper level, we know better, but it may take some sincere exploration to find it.)

We can also hold a thought as true in a less conscious way. Our system holds a thought as true, or a part of us holds a thought as true, while at a conscious level, we may know it’s not true.

That’s why it’s important to work deeper, through deep inquiry, parts work, somatic work, energy work, and so on.

It’s also why it’s important to look at our actual behavior and life to find these beliefs, in addition to the beliefs we are already conscious of.

And it’s why we can have a conscious awakening, while parts of us still operate from separation consciousness. We may notice what we are while parts of us still believe certain thoughts. They may come to expression in certain areas of our life, they may get triggered and come to the surface by some situations, and they likely color our perception and choices and life in general.

MORE DETAILS

As usual, there is more to say about this.

Why do parts of us operate from beliefs when we consciously don’t?

These parts may have been formed early in life when we did take it as true at a more conscious level, and they still operate from these beliefs even if we consciously moved on.

What’s the problem with beliefs?

There is no fundamental problem with them. They are part of life, and they are understandable and ultimately innocent. They function as coping mechanisms for us.

At the same time, they create stress and unease for ourselves, and they bring us out of a more sober and reasoned approach to life. When we act on them, we can also trigger stress and suffering in others.

Also, if there is an awakening here, then these parts will surface and want to join in with the awakening. They come with an invitation for us to recognize their true nature and support them in aligning with reality and oneness, and find deep healing and transformation.

What’s the difference between a thought and belief?

A thought is here as a question about the world. It’s invaluable in helping us orient and function in the world. And it’s incapable of giving us any final or absolute truth about anything.

A belief is what happens when we – at some level – hold that thought as true, as an accurate representation of reality. We try to make it do something it cannot. And when it’s active, it tends to narrow our perception and choices. It closes us down for our natural receptivity, curiosity, kindness, and wisdom.

Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven

it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God

– New Testament, Matthew 19:24

We can interpret these pointers in a myriad of ways, and when we do, we usually make them fit our existing views on life and reality.

I do that too. I tend to take this one as complementing this pointer:

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

– New Testament, Matthew 18:3

If we are rich in deep-seated assumptions and beliefs about what we are, it’s not easy to enter the metaphorical kingdom of God. We need to find the place in us that’s receptive and innocent as a little child to enter that kingdom.

What is the kingdom of God?

For me, it’s noticing that all is the divine, and that what’s seeing and hearing and sensing here is the divine.

Said another way, it’s to find ourselves as capacity for the world. My world happens within and as what I am. My true nature is this awake space full of the world.

How do we enter it?

To notice what we are, we need to temporarily set aside our assumptions of what we are, find receptivity and innocence, and be honest with ourselves about what we find. We need to become like a child. We need to set aside the riches we have in our world of ideas and assumptions.

How do we become like a child?

It can seem almost impossible to do this. How do I set aside my assumptions about what I am and reality?

For me, one answer is practical pointers, and the best ones I have found so far are the Big Mind process and Headless experiments. These can help us become like a child and notice what we are.

It’s very helpful to be guided by someone familiar with the terrain and skilled in using the pointers. This is helpful in the beginning and also at times later on in the process to help clarify and look more closely.

These practical pointers are like training wheels helping us notice what’s already here.

The kingdom of heaven makes us like children

Entering the kingdom in this way also tends to make us like children.

Of course, we still have whatever maturity, development, experiences, and skills we as adults have.

At the same time, the kingdom of heaven invites us to be childlike.

It opens us up to live more from receptivity, curiosity, awe, and a heart open to the world.

Byron Katie: As you lose identity, you discover yourself

As you lose identity, you discover yourself.

– Byron Katie

Yes, this is true in two general ways.

I assume Byron Katie talks about losing our identification with identities. We can use and relate to identities without being identified with them.

When we lose an identity – any identity – we find more freedom, fluidity, and flexibility as a human being in the world. We are more free to bring out sides of ourselves that didn’t fit our previous identity. We have a larger repertoire in how we live our lives and respond to situations. We discover more of who we are as a human being in the world.

As our identifications in general thin out, we may also more easily discover what we are. If we have many and strong identifications, the mind tends to be fascinated by and transfixed by identities and taking itself to be these, and that leaves less room for the mind to notice what it already is. It takes itself to be something within the content of its experience (usually this human self), and overlooks what it already is: that which all experiences happen within and as. We discover what we already are.

How do we lose identification with identities?

It can happen to some extent, and over time, through….

Noticing and becoming more familiar with what we are, for instance through forms of inquiry like the Big Mind process and Headless experiments. As we become more familiar with ourselves that which our experience happens within and as, identification as something within this content tends to soften.

Basic meditation, through noticing and allowing whatever happens in our experience here and now, and notice it’s already allowed (by mind, life). Again, we find ourselves as that which our experience happens within and as, and we notice that all content of experience comes and goes – including that which we habitually identify as. This allows identifications as something particular within content of experience to soften.

Heart-centered and projection-related practices like tonglen, ho’oponopono, metta, and heart prayer. This too helps to soften our identification with our habitual identities.

We can also identify and investigate particular identifications, and especially our most central and habitual ones, through…..

The Work of Byron Katie. Here, we identify and examine beliefs to find what’s more true for us, and this helps identifications to soften.

Living Inquiries, where we examine how the mind creates its experience of identifications, compulsions, and fear. This is based on traditional Buddhist inquiry and similarly allows the glue of identifications to soften.

Vortex Healing where we invite in deep healing and unraveling of emotional issues and identifications.

These are obviously just a few of the approaches I personally find useful. There are many others out there.

Here are a few more notes on this topic:

We can’t choose to “drop” identifications. They soften and perhaps fall away through investigation and healing.

Identification means identification with or as a thought. The mind believes a thought, which means it identifies with the viewpoint of the thought, and makes it appear true for itself. This is also how emotional issues are created, so working on and finding healing for emotional issues helps soften identifications.

There is no “should” in any of this. We are free to explore this or not, and one is not inherently better than the other. It’s just that identifications – and beliefs and emotional issues – tend to be stressful and uncomfortable, so it’s more comfortable to invite identifications to soften.

There is no quick fix. This is a lifelong exploration and process. Even with the most effective tools and most helpful orientations, it takes time. And that’s completely OK. It’s a fascinating process.

There is not finishing line or endpoint. It’s an ongoing investigation. At least, that’s how it looks to me now, and I find it easier to have this as a general guideline for myself.

There are some orientations that support this process. For instance curiosity and sincerity, and a wish to befriend ourselves and our experience and the world as it appears to us.

The Treachery of Images

The Treachery of Images by René Magritte, 1929

To our conscious mind, it’s obvious. It’s not a pipe. It’s a painting of a pipe. We know that an image of something is not the thing itself.

And yet, at some level, we often don’t understand this. Somewhere in us, we tend to hold certain mental images and thoughts as not only telling us something true about reality, but what they tell us as reality itself.

We are confused. We may not even notice what’s happening. And we create a lot of stress and suffering for ourselves that way.

What’s the solution? The first may be to be aware of what’s happening. Identify stressful thoughts. Notice they are thoughts and not reality. Investigate the thoughts.

How do we investigate thoughts? It may be easiest to start with a slightly structured process, for instance The Work of Byron Katie or Living Inquiries.

The Work helps us see what happens when we hold a thought as true, how it would be to not, and to find the validity in the reversals of the thought.

Living Inquires helps us see how our mind combined thoughts with sensations. Sensations lend a sense of substance, truth, and reality to the thoughts, and the thoughts lend a sense of meaning to the sensations. Through this examination the “glue” holding thoughts and sensations together softens and there is more space to notice what’s going on.

If we want to go one step further, identify and investigate your most basic assumptions about yourself, others, and the world. Question what seems the most true and obvious. What do you find?

Questioning our most basic assumptions may seem like a luxury or something we do mostly out of curiosity. But we may find it’s surprisingly liberating.

Adyashanti: Everything you define yourself as is an image

Everything you define yourself as is an image. Behind that is not a better version of yourself.

– Adyashanti

I couldn’t help laughing out loud when I read this. As so often, it’s funny because it’s true.

Everything I define myself as is an image. Everything I define anyone or anything as is an image.

And behind that image isn’t a better version of me or any version of me. Behind it is the silent awake mystery that everything – all my experience of myself, others, the world – happens within and as.

There is always a lot more to say about this.

My mind creates an overlay of images and words on my sensory experiences to make sense of it all. These images and words sort the world into me (this human self) and the wider world, and then continues sorting and creating labels and identifications on just about everything. This is essential for us to be able to orient and function in the world. We wouldn’t be here as individuals or a species unless the mind did this.

And yet, these images and words are questions about the world. Suggestions. If we take them as anything more, we misguide and mislead ourselves and create stress and suffering for ourselves and others (we serve as triggers for this in others). They are not complete since what they refer to are different from, more (far more qualities, characteristics, and fluidity), and less (silent mystery) than our words and images.

We can know this to some extent and understand it intellectually. And any time something in us is triggered – any time there is a charged reaction to something – it shows us that something in us doesn’t quite get it yet. That’s OK. It’s natural. It’s the human condition. And it’s good to be aware of.

And if we are so inclined, we can explore what’s happening through inquiry, parts work, energy healing, or any other approach we have access to and find helpful. For me, Living Inquiries (based on Buddhist inquiry), parts work (Voice Dialog, Big Mind process) and Vortex Healing, are the approaches I use most right now.

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Thomas Keating: The spiritual journey… is a series of humiliations of the false self

The spiritual journey… is a series of humiliations of the false self that become more and more profound.

Thomas Keating?

Yes. This is not the usual sales pitch of spirituality, but it’s real and true. It’s what we realize after a while on the spiritual path. 

What he calls humiliation is what I see as life rubbing up against any thought we hold as true, any belief or identification. These are the ones that create a sense of being a separate being, so these are the ones that gradually go. It’s not a comfortable process. It’s not what many think spirituality or awakening is about. But it’s what happens. It’s what’s needed for life to wake up to itself more as it is, without the filter of identifications and taking itself to be separate in any way, or anything else than all there is living a local life as this human self. 

Healing, awakening, and aligning with reality

Healing, awakening, maturing, and embodiment all have to do with aligning with reality. 

Of course, everything is reality so everything is already aligned with reality. But sometimes, we are consciously and less consciously aligned with our ideas about reality rather than reality itself, and these ideas can be a bit weird. So our alignment is a bit weird. Which means we create stress for ourselves (and others), and life situations will rub up against this conscious alignment which is an invitation to notice and realign.

Misalignment creates emotional wounds, hangups, and trauma. And more simply, it creates and comes from identifications, and these identifications create both stress and emotional wounds, and distractions so the mind doesn’t notice what it already is. Identification here means that the mind identifies with, and becomes in its own experience, the viewpoint of certain thoughts. This creates a sense of being a separate self. 

A few things make a thorough realignment a bit difficult. The misalignment goes through all of us (mind, body, energies) and is a living system, and as any living system, it adjusts to preserve itself. It also makes it difficult to know what reality is, or what’s more real, so we may not have a good internal guide. (Unless there is a spiritual opening which can provide such a guide.) We may have been taught to mistrust reality. (Especially in our Judeo-Christian culture.) And unless life rubs up against our misalignment quite strongly, we may not be motivated to invite in changes. (Life may invite it in anyway although it can take time.) 

I have written about the details of this misalignment in other articles, and also how we can invite in alignment in the form of healing and awakening. I have written less about maturing and embodiment since those tend to come over time and from experience, although I may write more about them in future articles. 

See part II of this article

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Physical tension to maintain beliefs, wounds, and trauma

It’s common to see physical tension as created by stressful beliefs and trauma. At the level of our regular everyday experience, that’s true enough. We have stressful thoughts and with that comes physical tension. It can be stressful thoughts that are recurrent and comes with recurrent tension, it can be more chronic and ongoing, or it can be something that happens rarely.

When we explore this through some forms of inquiry (e.g. Buddhist, Living Inquiries) we may find another connection between beliefs and physical tension. We see how any one identification and belief is associated with tension or contraction somewhere in the body. The thoughts give meaning to the tension, and the tension and contractions give a sense of solidity, reality and even truth to the thoughts. The physical tension is required for the thought to seem true. In a certain way, the mind creates physical tension in order to be able to believe a thought.

This is an abstraction from what I notice regularly in inquiry. I explore an identification or belief. I notice it’s connected with a particular sensation, tension, or contraction in the body. I notice how the thought gives a sense of meaning to the sensation (it seems to mean something when it’s there), and the sensation gives a sense of substance and truth to the thought.

For instance, the thought may be I am not good enough (identity as someone not good enough). I feel it as sensations in the throat. When I feel the sensations, they seem to tell me I am not good enough. And when I look at the thought I am not good enough it seems substantiated by the feeling in the throat.

This all happens without too much conscious noticing. It happens relatively automatic and at the edge of what we are consciously aware of. When it is brought into conscious awareness, through inquiry, the mechanisms are revealed. The man behind the curtain is revealed. And through noticing and resting with what’s noticed, with patience, respect, and curiosity, the connections between these thoughts and sensations tend to weaken and eventually fall away. Thoughts are recognized as thoughts and not inherently true. Sensations are recognized as sensations and not inherently meaningful.

Also, it all seems a bit silly. The mind believes a thougth just because it’s connected with some sensations? It creates these sensations (through tension) just so the thoughts can seem substantial and true? And yet, that’s how it seems to work.

These dynamics can be explored and addressed in a wide range of ways. We can explore the thought-sensation connections through Living Inquiries. We can find what’s more true for us than our initial belief through The Work. Therapeutic tremoring (e.g. TRE) can, over time, release the physical tension giving substance to stressful beliefs and identifications. Vortex Healing can address both the mind (thought) and physical (contraction) side of the equation. We can help the relationship between these thought-sensation “beings” through parts and subpersonality work. We can change our overall relationship to them (allowing them to relax, reorient, and partially resolve themselves) through heart-centered practices. We may notice these dynamics and giving them space to resolve themselves through noticing, allowing, and giving it time (basic meditation).

Note: When I say “stressful beliefs” or “stressful thoughts” here it really refers to identifications. When the mind identifies with the viewpoint of a thought, it takes it as true and make it into a belief. And any identification (or belief) is inherently stressful.

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The energy bound up in identifications, beliefs, wounds, and trauma

We bind a great deal of energy up in our identifications, beliefs, wounds, and trauma.

First, what do I mean by identifications? An identification is when the mind takes itself to be a certain viewpoint created by a story. It takes itself to be that viewpoint. It becomes that viewpoint, in its own experience. That’s how a belief is created, including stressful beliefs. (And all beliefs are stressful or become stressful eventually.) And this is also an important component of how emotional wounds and traumas are created and maintained.

And why do they require energy? Our body-mind needs to use energy to create and hold these in place. It needs to consistently fuel and recreate the identifications. It needs to create and hold onto stories creating identifications. And it needs to create physical tension to associate with these stories to make them appear more real, solid, and true. Both require consistent use of mental and physical energy.

What are some of the effects of this bound up energy? The identifications in themselves can create fatigue, depression, anxiety, compulsions, and more. On top of that, these tend to be stronger and more visible when our general energy level is lower because some of our energy is bound up in this way. Over time, having energy bound up may also contribute to the characteristics we sometimes associate with aging (fatigue, lethargy, stiffness, chronic illness).

When do we notice this energy-binding dynamic? Sometimes, we have glimpses of how much energy is bound in identifications. It may be in a smaller way when a specific belief or wound is released. Or it may be when we are released out of identifications as a whole – whether temporarily (spiritual openings or glimpses) or more stably (more stable awakening).

And how have I noticed it? I have noticed it in a few different ways. Most clearly during spiritual openings  when the mind trancends many of the identifications and hangups. In healing and inquiry sessions. And also when I have combined a daily meditation and yoga practice, or have done Breema regularly, and I find the bodymind wholeness that’s whole and healthy in spite of identifications, wounds, and physical ailments.

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Fascination with stories

It’s understandable that people, including me, sometimes want to know how a TV series – or a movie, book, or any story – unfolds and ends. At the same time, it’s slightly amusing since if it’s fictional, it’s all made up anyway, and the ending of the story is somewhat arbitrary. It’s an ending the writer or writers decided on out of many possible fictional endings. It doesn’t really matter how it ends.

It’s a reminder that our curiosity about the world, and how stories unfold and end, is built into us through evolution. It helps us survive to learn about the world. To learn about how people work, and how the world works, and how specific types of situations sometimes unfold.

Fictional stories sometimes depict a truth about human interactions and dynamics. Real life stories show us how things sometimes unfold in the real world. And any story is a reminder that they are stories. They are made up. They are our own interpretations and reflect our own backgrounds and viewpoints. They are not in any way final and they don’t reflect an absolute truth.

In our post-postmodern world, or whatever it is, that may seem obvious. And yet, there are areas of life where many of us sometimes don’t take it to heart. Any time we identify with a viewpoint, with an identity, with a story about others, the world, or ourselves, we haven’t really – and thoroughly – taken it to heart. Any time we take any story for granted and how it is, we haven’t taken it to heart.

Sometimes, we hold onto these stories because we are hurt and we think we protect ourselves through holding onto certain stories. Sometimes, we hold onto them because those around us do the same and we haven’t seen a need to question it. And sometimes, they are so basic and apparently obvious that we haven’t even thought of questioning it. (E.g. I am a man, a human being, content of my experience.)

Our minds are fascinated by stories. It may be because conceptual thought is relatively new in our evolution and we are still learning about it and how to use it and relate to it in a sensible way. It may be because this fascination has helped our ancestors survive (most likely it did). It may be because those around us are so we take a cue from them.

In any case, our current habit of identifying with thought does seem like something a young species would do. A species that is still figuring out how to use and relate to thoughts effectively. A species that currently is stumbling because it does tend to identify with thought and take them as more true and final than they are. A species that creates suffering for itself because of it, and may even bring about its own extinction because of it.

A species that, if it continues for long enough, may eventually learn to use thought as a guide of temporary practical value at most, and inherently free of any absolute or final truth. As a question about the world. And recognizing that all thoughts are like this – a question, a pointer, a temporary guide – including our most basic thoughts and assumptions about the world and who and what we are.

Note: It’s obviously only in fiction that stories end. In life, there may be chapters and storylines but no story really ends.

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What is identification?

What do I mean by identification?

Identification is with a thought. With a mental image and/or words that create a story, interpretation, assumption, and so on.

When the mind identifies with a thought, it takes on that perspective, it becomes that perspective in its own experience. So instead of seeing a thought as a thought, as an innocent question about the world, it becomes the viewpoint of the thought and takes it as not only solid, real, and true, but as what it is. If this identification is questioned, it can feel like it’s existence is threatened.

For instance, the mind has the thought that “he is wrong” and the mind then identifies with that thought. That means the thought is invested with energy, which – in turn – means its associated with sensations lending the thought a sense that it is real, solid, and true. The mind views the situation, the person, and even the world, from the viewpoint of that thought. It becomes, in its own experience, that viewpoint. It sees itself as the viewpoint. So if the validity of that thought is questioned, it may feel that its existence is threatened and it will fight that possibility. It will come up with evidence supporting the apparent truth of the thought and reject anything that doesn’t fit.

This dynamic is sometimes called the “ego”. I prefer to not use that word since it can be confused with the psychological ego which is more like the operating system for the mind and essential for our functioning in the world. And it also makes it sound much more solid and as a “thing” than it is.

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No preferences?

The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.

– quoted in archival footage by a young Ram Dass in Ram Dass: Going Home, from Hsin Hsin Ming by Sengcan

I assume this may be a translation mistake. Preferences are natural, inevitable, and required for us to live a life as a human being. I prefer a lot of things from a society that works for everyone to strawberry ice cream. We need preferences to create the society and life that makes sense to us, and they also add up to the unique expressions of life that we all are.

What’s equally natural, but not inevitable or required, is identifications with these preferences. Beliving they are needed for our survival or happiness. Having sensations associated with these preference-thoughts that the mind then interprets as meaning that they are solid, true, and perhaps final.

I see there is another translation saying “The Great Way is not difficult for those not attached to preferences” and that makes more sense. That’s what I wrote about above, although I prefer (!) to not use the word attachment. It comes with a bit too much baggage. 

This is not something we can will into (or out of) existence. At most, we can notice what’s happening. Notice the dynamics of the mind. Invite the association between certain thoughts and sensation to fall away. Inquire into beliefs and find what’s more true for us. Rest as that which all of this happens within, and then within and as. Shift our relationship with these dynamics (from seeing them as a problem to befriending them). And so on.

Walking through myself

I am walking through myself.

Whether there is a spiritual opening, or a more stable shift in identity, or a taste through explorations such as the Big Mind process or Headless experiments, that’s a common noticing.

I – as a human self, am walking through myself – as the One (aka Big Mind, Spirit, Buddha Mind etc.). When I walk, I walk through myself. When I drive a car, I drive through myself.

I move through myself as this space I am moving through. This room. This landscape.

And as mentioned above, we can notice this through a spiritual opening where our identity is temporarily shifted out of our human self and more into what we are. Through explorations inviting in a similar temporary shift. Or through a more stable shift of identity out of identification as a separate self allowing our more real identity as the One to shine through or come more to the forefront.

And, for some reason, even if this can be noticed anywhere in any setting, it seems easier to notice when we are in a car and the landscape moves past us a bit faster than usual.

We can also experience being still and the landscape moving through us. That’s another aspect of this noticing. We are that which this human self moves through, and what the landscape moves through. We are all of it – the human self moving, the landscape moving, and what it all moves through.

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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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The rigidity of beliefs and identifications

Why is it appropriate to use a strong word as trauma in this way? Because beliefs and identifications are inherently stressful and – yes – traumatic. There is a low-level trauma inherent in any belief and identification. And in some situations, when life pushes up against the rigidity created through beliefs and identifications in just the right way, it can create a full blown trauma as trauma is understood in a conventional sense.

– from a previous post

There is a lot of information in that paragraph, and it may seem a bit opaque.

What does beliefs and identifications mean? A belief is when we hold a thought to be more or less absolutely true. And identification means that we are identified with the viewpoint of that thought. We – as strange as it may sound – take ourselves to be that viewpoint.

Why does it create rigidity? Because the mind goes from the fluidity of being able to consider and recognize the validity in any thought and viewpoint on a subject, to holding one or a few thoughts and viewpoints are true and real and excluding the validity of other – now apparently opposing – viewpoints. And this creates a certain rigidity of the mind.

It also creates a rigidity of the body since it needs to contract certain muscles to support these beliefs and identifications. (See the previous post for more on this.)

Why is this rigidity stressful? When life pushes up against these beliefs and identifications, it’s stressful. And life will since life is inherently uncontrained by any belief or identification, so it naturally creates situations that goes against any belief or identification.

How does this create trauma? It creates trauma, as trauma is understood conventionally, when life pushed up against the rigidiy of the body-mind in a strong way, or a way that’s especially stressful to that particular body and mind.

The role of society and culture. I should add that society and culture plays a significant role in this. Society and culture comes with a blueprint for most of our beliefs and identifications. The ones that may appear more uniquely individual are variations of themes set by culture and society.

Rigity and life flow. This rigidity of mind and body, in a sense, limits and blocks the flow of life. It limits our perception. It limits how we perceive opportunities and make chocies. It limits how we live our lives. And it even limits the mind’s and body’s natural and inherent capacity to heal itself.

At the same time, in the bigger picture, this rigidiy is the flow of life. It’s life creating this rigidy within itself. And in the even bigger picture, it does so in order to express, experience, and explore itself in its richness and in as many ways as possible. Including through temporary rigidity and what that temporarily creates.

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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Why we feel lighter

Why do we sometimes feel lighter? For instance, if something desirable happens, or we have a release through inquiry, Vortex Healing, TRE, or something else?

Stressful beliefs (identifications, trauma) come with muscle contractions. In order to believe a thought, the thought has to be associated with sensations, and these sensations give the thought a sense of substance and reality. The thought feels true. The easiest way to have these sensations readily available is through muscle contractions. So when the mind needs to believe a thought, it contracts associated muscles to provide sensations, and these in turn give the thoughts a sense of solidity and reality. These muscle contractions feel dense and heavy. We – almost literally – feel the weight of our stressful beliefs or identifications.

So when we are either distracted from these stressful beliefs, or they are released, there is a sense of lightness. The muscle contractions lighten up or go away, so we feel lighter.

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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.