A snowstorm hit the town last night and it has not stopped snowing since. I love snowstorms. I love the heaviness of them and the way they close in on you. I love the way they enhance the coziness of houses and the indulgent feel of certain foods. The light reflects off of the flakes, making everything glow. I had to go out into it to make it to an appointment today and I had a very girly moment. Having just painted my toenails, I couldn’t put on boots without destroying the paint job. So, I put on my five inch, open toed, clear acrylic high heels and stepped off of the sidewalk right into a foot of snow and slush. Graciela and I were laughing hysterically. Having been raised in the high alpine mountains all my life; I’m a bit desensitized to cold and to snow. Winter lasts too long to be practical all season long. Sometimes, you just want to wear a mini dress with a great pair of high heels, regardless of what the weather is doing or not doing.
I spent the better part of the day cleaning the house. For some reason, cleaning and organizing your home environment has a ripple effect. It seems to purify your internal life as well. While I was cleaning today, I started thinking about the ebb and sway of life. Having just come out of a major downswing in my own life, I started thinking about the ups and downs of life in general.
For thousands of years, the ups and downs of our daily lives have been referred to as the samsara wave. For this reason, I have often said that it is beneficial to think of people who are dedicated to spiritual practice as surfers. Our practice is the practice of riding those waves so that we may one day master our relationship to them. Just like a surfer, in the beginning we fall into the surf and get tossed and turned in it over and over and over again. But the more we practice, the better we get at finding our own alignment in the midst of those waves. Eventually with enough practice, it becomes rare that we fall from our surfboard. We can manage bigger and bigger waves while still staying on the surfboard. Enlightened beings are like master surfers. But it is important to notice that in no version of this story do the waves stop coming. The enlightened being did not become a master of riding the waves and then turn around and push a magic button to stop the waves from coming. This is because the big waves no longer cause him or her to suffer. The enlightened being sees those waves as responsible for the very enlightenment they now maintain. And so, these waves are welcomed.
The spiritually enlightened person still experiences the full range of emotion, just like any other person. All that has changed is that they have gained the awareness of how to utilize their own thoughts to maintain alignment with their higher self. They have gained the conscious ability to move up the scale from one emotion to the next at will. In other words, the true story (which is one we don’t like telling) is that Buddha still had bad days. Mara did not vanish for eternity when Buddha faced him beneath the Bodhi tree; he kept coming back throughout Buddha’s life. What changed after enlightenment is that Buddha recognized Mara. Mara was just the embodiment of the negative aspects of Buddha’s own ego. And when the Buddha recognized that, even though the Buddha initially felt the sensation of things like fear and temptation and doubt, he was able to not get caught by those projections. In fact, according to many ancient texts, Buddha befriended Mara, even to the point of inviting him in for tea. The Buddha recognized Mara as his most precious teacher, the teacher that had continually taught him the very most. After all, without Mara, his enlightenment would not even have taken place.
Most of us have a clear idea of the goal that we are headed towards. We want to be enlightened. We want to be absent of ego. Most of all, we want to be free of suffering. We have a picture in our heads of what we think that enlightenment looks like, our perfect image of the spiritually enlightened person. But what most people don’t know is that this image we are holding on to, is a lie that we keep telling ourselves. Enlightenment is not like that. Enlightenment is no kind of retirement from life itself. It is no kind of retirement from the ups and downs. We create the illusion of enlightened retirement from the ups and downs when we feel resistant to the ups and downs. We invent the idea that enlightenment means perfect bliss twenty-four hours a day only when we are suffering and we want an end to that suffering. Enlightenment is only the beginning, because after enlightenment you still have to engage with physical life and physical life was designed to be a means for creating expansion.
Physical life is a learning hologram. No one who is alive is exempt from expansion and so, no one is exempt from contrast. And as long as there is contrast, there is the recognition of what is unwanted as well as the recognition of what is wanted present within you. If we were to reach a state where we were magically transformed into a permanent state of bliss, it would mean ended-ness. There could be no further expansion from that place and that would not serve the universe at large. What serves the universe at large is eternal expansion. So even once you have attained enlightenment, you still have to integrate what it has taught you. You still have to integrate the spiritual awareness you have achieved into your day-to-day life. Even though the samsara waves never stop coming, the more enlightened you become, the more your thoughts change. Your perspective changes to match the vibration of source perspective. And so the meaning of your experiences changes. The way you think about and deal with the ups and downs is what changes and so those ups and downs are not experienced the same way that they once were.
All religious traditions and belief systems have their own inherent pitfalls.
And one of the biggest pitfalls in the spiritual community is the pitfall that we call “bypassing”. What I mean by bypassing is that we often bypass ourselves. We bypass our true feelings. We ignore or deny our true thoughts and feelings based on the spiritual beliefs and truths that we are trying to live up to. Most of us, who are aware that we are creating our own reality by virtue of what we are paying attention to, fear that if we focus on the way we feel, it will get worse. We have been taught to ignore what doesn’t feel good to think about or to look at. But what we miss is that we are already focusing on what doesn’t feel good to think about. And when we try to ignore it or deny it and rush in the other direction, we are actually resisting the way we feel; and anything we resist persists. So we are holding ourselves in those bad feeling places by trying to avoid and ignore them. The best way to deal with these kinds of negative states is to flip around to face them and embrace them completely. They exist for a reason. Negative emotion is always the red flag alerting you to the fact that there is something there to learn. It is always alerting you that you have come to the crossroads of personal expansion. But if you avoid the negative feeling, you also avoid the lesson and the expansion.
If you were driving along a road and your tire went flat, you would not keep driving and ignore the flat tire. You would stop, acknowledge the flat tire and then improve the state of the tire. But continuing to drive on a flat tire is symbolically what we are expecting ourselves to do when we try to avoid the way we really feel and what we are really thinking in favor of how we think we should feel and the way we think we should be thinking. In the spiritual community, it has become a kind of unwritten cultural expectation that we need to act like what we think a spiritually enlightened person would act like; even if it is not true to how we really feel. In other words, it has become a cultural expectation that we should ignore where we are in pursuit of where we think we should be. The result is that most of us feel as if the only acceptable emotion to feel is happy. And if we feel less than happy, we feel as if we have somehow failed. As if the pain of the struggle we are facing in and of itself is not enough, we frost the cake of that struggle with shame and embarrassment that we are suffering in the first place. We go out of our way to keep up appearances and not tell anyone if we are having a bad day. Because of this shame relative to struggling, we do not want to own up to the depth of our suffering in the current moment. So, the words that come out of our mouth are not true to us, they are rehearsed principals we are beating ourselves up with. For example, the truth of where you are right now may be that what you’re experiencing hurts. Sometimes it hurts so bad, you can’t believe you’re still breathing. You’re in pain emotionally or physically and you don’t know what to do about it. If this is the case, it is self-abusive to gloss over the reality of that experience you’re having by saying something like “Oh, so many other things are going well and I know something great is going to come out of all of this”. Because at this moment, right here and now, you don’t know that! What you’re doing is regurgitating that spiritual principal because that is the way you’ve been taught that spiritually ascended people see struggles.
Our emotional selves are children. This never changes regardless of whether or not you have reached enlightenment. Our emotional selves never grow up. We just learn how to parent our emotional selves better. If you deny the way you actually feel, you are invalidating the small crying child within you, which is desperately trying to express the way he or she feels. If you deny the way you actually feel, you cannot ever get to a better feeling space. You have to know where you are as well as where you want to go if you want to know which direction to start walking. Could you imagine trying to use a map to find out what direction to walk if you were unwilling to admit to where you were? Could you imagine a doctor trying to help you to feel better but being unwilling to assess your current state to discover what is causing you to feel bad?
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to own up to how you feel and to say, “I am where I am”. Saying this does not mean that you have failed. It does not mean that you’ve given up and that you’ve surrendered to feeling crappy. It means that you are brave enough to embrace where you are so that you are no longer resisting where you are. And because of this, ironically you will no longer be stuck where you are. There is no shame in struggling. Having problems is not a character flaw. You have not failed if you have a bad day. Buddha had bad days. Jesus had bad days. Muhammad had bad days. You will not meet a single physically manifested being (whether they are an ascended master or not) that is exempt from contrast and so you will not meet a single physically manifested being who is in alignment twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. To expect this from anyone is cruelty. To feel embarrassment or shame if you are out of alignment is cruelty. To expect yourself to be in alignment twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week is cruelty. And it’s time that we stop perpetuating cruelty in ourselves as well as within this spiritual community that we ourselves are responsible for creating. Spiritual practice is just that… It is a practice. It is still a practice for those who are spiritual masters. Alignment is something that we have to maintain. It is not a prize that we reach and then we are granted alignment forever no matter what we think or do. Alignment and enlightenment is not something that is done to us once we prove ourselves worthy. It is something we constantly maintain. We choose to come into alignment or not in each moment. And denial is no kind of alignment.
So the question for today is: Are you bypassing yourself?