I haven’t been getting around to writing articles for the site recently, so I thought I’d share excerpts from some recent emails. Most of my writing at the moment takes place through email dialogue with seekers who contact me through the site. This was how I communicated with my own teacher, Art Ticknor, and found it to be a good method for spiritual dialogue.
I actually grow more when my heart becomes engaged.
I wonder what you mean by “grow more”. Do you feel happier? Do you feel more authentic? and what is it that grows?
I find that for me, self-inquiry can become too detached (I mean: lacking in compassion).
Self-inquiry is your mind looking at your mind, observing its contents, looking to see where each content came from and analysing or testing its veracity against spiritual teachings. I don’t know if you call this detached, detached from what, or who?
Compassion – I also wonder what you mean by this – is it an ideology or belief? True compassion is one of the attributes of Self-realisation, but I suspect that other than that it is based on some belief. I am not suggesting that kindness or empathy are not to be practised but it is necessary to be aware of what is driving them, the underlying motives.
It’s hard to describe what I do. I basically centre myself. My mind becomes totally quiet. Sometimes, I experience a sort of pleasure or bliss. Like the spirit comes upon me and I can rest there for a long while.
Other times, I feel no pleasure, but my mind is basically quiet.
Great practise! Centring I think is basically placing our attention on being present and this puts the ego to sleep. It’s like taking a break from ego’s non-stop vigilance and image maintenance. Yes, it does often feel pleasurable, but once off the mat, ego comes back again.
I noticed that my frustration and anguish had a lot to do with insecurity about my future. You’ve heard the phrase “existential angst”. It tends to manifest as: fear for our security (ultimately death), lack of feeling loved or lack of meaning in life. It can roam between all of them, but for some individuals one version is dominant. For me it was about death.
Frustration comes from a lack of trust in the Divine, feeling that we will not be taken care of, at least not in the way that we want. Fundamentally it is a case of My will and not Thy will. You know the Jesus story about the lilies in the field. And, frustration is a version of anger, forcing, or wanting to force my will on the situation present.
And CAN I TRUST GOD/Spirit really?
What choice do you have? And you were given direct evidence to assist you in this matter! This is the language Self speaks, by alleviating situations or putting an opportunity our way or presenting us with a book or something that points the way for us. Sometimes hints come in dreams. Do you pay attention to your dreams?
Prayer is a two-way conversation. We speak/think in our language. The Self, or God responds in it’s language, an example of which you shared.
I do understand your situation and know how hard it is to let go of our sense of control. This, of course, is the essence of spiritual development, letting go and letting God as they say in AA.
When this arises in you, maybe you can find some practise, meditation or something to take the attention away from the angst until it alleviates it. The frustration and anguish are symptoms of ego in full flight.
There’s an exercise I found helpful, was to separate needs from wants.
What we need from the world is a lot less than what we want. Wants come from ego, needs are the natural needs, to sustain the body in a basic way and to have some genuine friendships as opposed to a lot of acquaintances and legacy connections that may not be healthy, and so on.
Sometimes the Advaita teachers and disciples speak so abstractly about life, as if our needs and feelings and cares are unimportant.
This was also a problem for me. Our actual daily lives are the fodder for spiritual growth, for self-inquiry, for prayer and so on. Paying attention to ones own experiences, all the trials and tribulations is paying attention to spirit.
However, it’s moments when I feel carried by life, emotionally, and in my needs as a human person (limited body/mind) that I feel closer to the truth.
The trials are how Self alerts us to ego claiming a power that does not belong to it, (my will) and the tribulations are Self showing us that we are going in the right direction, aligning ourselves with ourSelf, so to speak. Learning to read life in this way is how we are guided.
The Self/God is always doing what it can to guide us home. Do you know the Francis Thompson poem, The Hound of Heaven? This is what he is saying in it. God never gives up on us, we give up on her, or ignore the messages in favour of egos’ influence.
You said, about my ACHE, my gnawing pain, “Speak to it,” — and “honor it,” what did you mean there? I’m really curious about that?
The ache, the longing, the unnameable longing deep in our hearts is another version of angst, it is our inner compass pointing us towards that for which we long most, what we miss most, our own true nature. I am encouraging you to not suppress or dismiss it to to turn it towards prayer, towards conversation/connection with your inmost Self. It’s the true guide. It doesn’t have to have words associated with it. Feelings, as opposed to emotions, which are felt in the body, is like a magnetic draw that you can’t quite define or name but nevertheless you feel it. It’s subtle but this does not make it unreal. Let it grow in you. And as I said, recognising it as Self’s language, rest with it, and this can be done right in the middle of daily life.
But, I now feel that I held back, when he would have benefited from my being fully present and caring to him.
No need to beat yourself up over this. The ego loves guilt, remorse, embarrassment etc. It’s one way it feeds itself, the inner critic but what actually happened is how Thy Will played out, so let it go.
I wonder if the sadness of his loss hasn’t been taken over by the ego, presenting its so called findings as remorse?
Of course, we feel sad to lose someone we had a good relationship with. This is a natural feeling. My lovely husband died 10 months ago. The thing is the ego promises that it can make everything alright, happy, for us and so it takes over what it sees at failures and morphs them into some other emotion. Sadness is part and parcel of the human life. And like all true feelings, it arises and passes in an organic way, unless ego gets hold of it and prolongs it in order to feed itself.
The real search started initially with Nisargadatta Gita which stated “You are not the body . . you were never born and you will not die”. I was shocked, intrigued and hooked.
Yes, shocking indeed! I speak of this in terms of being mis-identified. We think we are something that we are not and in trying to live as the false identification, suffering occurs. I also use the Buddhist language of ego being the false self/identification and the ego is the sum total of the ideas we picked up from the world around us as children, the conditioning. We think we are our conditioning, or our conditioned selves.
The tricky bit is that we also need this conditioning in order to survive in the world, but it is not all that we are. It’s our relative condition or aspect, in our relative dimension, and as such is not to be dismissed either. The body/mind is the instrument of experience and what we are doing here is uncovering or reconnecting with what it is the instrument of. I tend to use the word Self rather than God for this, as I feel that we have been programmed to think of God as external, whereas the word Self turns the attention inwards.
I realized I was on my own and I had to take responsibility for the journey . . . no one was going to give me a free pass.
Yes, this is a great realisation and necessary too. No-one can find yourSelf for you but spiritual teachings can point the way – help you with ideas and practises that have proved beneficial over time. This is how I hope to help you, but you have to do the work.
In a recent talk, at TAT, I suggested that there are three legs to the journey: Pray, Meditate and Contemplate (self-inquiry)
Prayer I see as making connection with Self, developing a relationship with our inner Selves. This means learning to understand the language of the spirit, which is not English(!) but manifests as alleviations in our situation or synchronistic events or in dreams or simply coming across a teacher or book that points the way.
Do you pay heed to dreams? This was beneficial to me in letting me know that something was happening in the psyche and by learning to understand symbols I came to get some clues that were relevant to myself. Dreams are specific to the individual and are always current.
Meditation I see as taking a vacation from the ego. It, and I am inclined to think, that all meditation practises fundamentally have the benefit of teaching the ego to take a rest from its constant vigilance, maintaining our image in the world and the survival agenda, which is its basic function. It takes some of the energy away from the ego, puts it on a diet.
Self-Inquiry or Contemplation is the business of using the mind to observe and test the veracity of the beliefs, motivations, assumptions, expectations of conditioning in relation to the ideas we get from spiritual teachings, such as: the Nisargadatta one you mentioned. The teachings are alternative ideas, not beliefs, to be tested in your own experience.
There is an element of faith, trust, in taking on wisdom teachings and statements. You don’t just simply believe what any teacher or teaching says, you give it a chance but you test it in your own experience.
This means that everything that arises for you is up for inquiry and in this way one becomes more discerning in themselves.
What you seek is within you, always has been but somehow it is being overlooked so you must observe and test every aspect of your inner life in order to find the doorway.