Author Archives: Joey Lott
Author Archives: Joey Lott
There was a time I thought I was enlightened.
I was experiencing bliss for months.
Which is exactly what I thought enlightenment was supposed to be, I thought.
The only problem was, there was a nagging worry underneath it all…one that I wasn’t aware of until what I had been worrying about came to pass.
That worry was that I’d lose it.
And lose it, I did. The bliss disappeared. In the blink of an eye. And I was devastated.
Everything that happens is a blessing. The loss of bliss included. Because until I lost bliss, I didn’t realize how small that “enlightenment” was. Just how miserable it was.
Even though it was shiny, happy, blissful…even though I was genuinely happy…that worry that it could all be taken away was unmet. I was still making effort to protect myself from it.
When bliss disappeared, I had a choice.
And this is the choice that happens every moment of my life. And I will propose that it happens every moment of your life too.
That choice is not a choice of how I will feel. Not a choice of what I will think. Not a choice of what I will want. Not any of the choices that I think I have to make.
It is simpler. Subtler.
The choice is this: will I tell the truth or not.
And by tell the truth, I mean, in direct experience, what is actually happening? Not what do I think about it. Rather, in direct experience – the simple felt sense of being here – what is happening?
I can’t think my way out of this. No story will save me. No amount of clinging or avoidance will extract me from the unavoidableness of being.
Whatever happens, this is the choice. And it is totally unconditional. Because there are no conditions that can truly obscure this. No matter what the content of this moment – whether bliss or fear or boredom or unworthiness or love or anything else – this choice to tell the truth…to *acknowledge* the effortless truth that is already here as what I call me…this choice is always available.
It doesn’t matter what has happened. It doesn’t matter what I have done. It doesn’t matter how many times I have seemingly forgotten or lost my way or become confused. It doesn’t matter how terribly unenlightened I have been or for how long or anything else.
In this moment right now, equally available to the greatest saint and the greatest sinner, the simple acknowledgment of effortless being.
Bliss comes and goes. It’s nice when it’s here. But it will go. And its presence or absence does nothing to augment nor diminish what is always effortlessly present. Totally obvious. To you. To me. To everyone. We can’t actually miss it. We can only imagine that we could miss it.
But it receives even that. It receives the overlooking and the acknowledgment.
We can’t mess it up.
I’ve always had all my actual needs met.
Air. Food. Water. Shelter.
Yet I’ve lived most of my life as if it was a live or die moment. It commonly feels like I’ve got to get it right, right now.
But when I tell the truth, it’s all just made up in my mind. It’s just story.
Today I heard an interview with a journalist who recently wrote an article in The New Yorker about Facebook.
In the interview, he said that Mark Zuckerberg (CEO of Facebook) and many of the true believers within the organization believe that Facebook is not merely software or a media company…they view it as a means to influence culture and politics in a revolutionary way. That the prevailing view of Facebook as an organization is that individual privacy is bad for us.
Okay, sure, so that’s silly. I mean, it’s obviously silly. Because none of us would believe that Facebook is a vehicle for ushering in virtuous cultural change. Right?
I mean, we’re not so crazy as to believe that we know what is right and that it’s up to us to force the masses to change against their will…for their own good.
Because that’s a crazy story. Obviously.
Funny thing, though. I agonize over money.
And what people think of me.
And whether I’m getting it right.
What if at the end of my life, God judges me badly?
What if I fail?
Crazy stories, indeed.
Sometimes I think I’m getting somewhere.
I think this is complicated by the fact that in some ways I *am* growing and changing. This is obvious, I’d hope. I mean, I’m not the same as I was when I was 5 years old. I’m taller. Heavier. Stronger. I have more facial hair. My voice is lower. I have more wrinkles.
And I’ve developed, hopefully, some modest gains in the emotional maturity department.
So that’s good. I mean, it would be weird if I was still 4 feet tall, 50 pounds, and throwing tantrums every time I don’t get seconds on ice cream.
But there’s another level in which I fool myself into believing that I’m getting somewhere. I still fall for the old belief that I’m going to get the “get out of jail free” card in life. I alone will master death and sickness and unpleasantness.
Whereas everybody else might have to get sick and die, I’ll be healthy forever. And perhaps much more seductive is the notion that somehow I’m going to get to finally be done with all the feelings and sensations and thoughts and whatever else I don’t like.
Okay, so maybe I haven’t matured very much emotionally after all. 🙂
Because it’s insane. I look around, and I don’t see a single person who gets to be superhuman.
Oh, sure, I read Autobiography of a Yogi. And dozens of other books. I know the promise. I’ve been led around with that carrot dangled in front of me long enough to be familiar with the sales pitch…”In a land far, far away there once was a perfected sage who lived always in equanimity and who healed people with a mere thought and who never had to eat and who had angels flying around him all day and all night…”
But still, I’ve never met any such person. And believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve looked. I’ve wanted to believe fully.
At the end of every day, as I would get into bed, feeling weary from my continued failures to get rid of even the smallest of my unwanted experiences, I would pray, “Please, let me be gifted complete enlightenment tonight so that tomorrow when I wake I will finally be free.”
As usual, the joke was on me. Because I was already free. Freer than I understood.
So free that I was and am free to have *this* experience too. Not only the experience that I deemed acceptable. But *this* experience too.
That’s freedom. And it was already given.
What if I’m just feeling stuff? What if that’s it? What if that’s all that’s going on? What if I’m not transcending it or evolving beyond it or learning to let go of it and be rid of it?
Man, that’s a relief.
I remember learning about Buddhist monks creating intricate mandalas out of sand…only to then destroy them.
I got it on one level. But on another level, it felt strangely threatening. Why put so much work into something without capitalizing upon it? It ran counter to my very Western, very capitalist upbringing.
Because, dammit, I want to have a legacy. I want to achieve something great and lasting.
At the very least, I want to take satisfaction in seeing the fruits of my labors for years to come. Or at least days. Or at least hours.
Now, I see the wisdom in the practice.
No matter what I do, it seems that I quickly succumb to the insidious belief of personal security, personal achievement, personal legacy, and personal power.
The most divine, mind-blowing, heart-opening revelations and realizations…soon become claimed by this insidious belief in mine, mine, mine. My revelations. My realization. My power. My life. My immortality. My security.
And that’s suffering.
It’s not that it’s bad or morally wrong. I’m not suggesting that some God somewhere condemns us for that or that we earn bad karma from some totally indifferent force of reality.
It is just that that insidious belief in personal power is in and of itself suffering. Not cause and effect. Just as plain and simple as possible: belief in personal power = suffering
I’m not saying that everybody should start making intricate sand mandalas and destroying them. The mere act of doing that isn’t a guarantee of anything. In fact, like all things, it can be used in service of the belief in personal power. As in, “Look at me, look how important and enlightened I am making all these awesome mandalas and then destroying them. Boy am I amazing.”
Rather, here’s my question: Am I willing to let go of the belief in personal power, personal accomplishment, personal merit, personal worth? And am I willing to do that right now? And then again and again and again. And if I become deluded again, am I willing to let go again? And can I let go even if the belief that letting go will earn me anything? And that I will be special for letting go?
See what I mean about it being insidious?
It leaves through the front door and then comes in through the back door. I let go, but then there’s a secret belief that I’m doing the right thing by letting go…like it is a way to prove my value, my worth, my specialness.
Letting go in the way I’m talking about is so ordinary. It’s not getting anything. It’s giving up everything. What if I die right now? What if I have failed to achieve my aims of being a successful person? What if I don’t get to be right and good and just and respected? Can I still let go? Can I let go as if there’s no more chance of getting it right?
Can I be totally ordinary? Totally raw? Totally transparent?
And can I do that without expectation that it will give me anything?
Can I allow this present experience totally without expectation that it will become something “better” as a result?
Can I let go of the idea of progress or evolution?
And can I let go of the idea that letting go of the idea of progress or evolution means that there can’t be progress or evolution?
Can I just stop trying to figure it out? Can I just stop trying to be right? Can I stop trying to protect myself against being totally found out?
That’s what I’m talking about.
I’ve squandered an awful lot of my life with a fool’s errand: trying to feel good all the time.
Oh, now, sure, I wouldn’t have admitted that I needed to feel good all the time. But I was deceiving even myself. Because in reality, even if I felt great 99% of the time, the 1% of unpleasantness was unacceptable to me.
So the truth is, I wanted to feel good all the time.
And, to be even more honest, I wanted to feel more than good.
I moved to Los Angeles after I’d dropped out of college. I’d recently broken up with my girlfriend, and it gave me the extra push that I needed to finally stop going to college – something I was unhappy with from the start.
Once in Los Angeles, as I have written previously, I fell in with pot smokers and psychedelic drug enthusiasts. I smoked pot for the first time. Then again. And again. And again.
I called my ex-girlfriend one day while high and declared that I was the happiest I’d ever been.
Not to be mean. But because it seemed like the truth.
And marijuana encouraged me to believe that I could really maintain that euphoric state.
Then LSD encouraged me to believe the same.
Maybe, somehow, I’d get to escape unhappiness. For good. Forever.
I’m not sure how I imagined it would work. Maybe like escape velocity. If I could just get high enough, I’d beat the system.
Later, I believed meditation would do it. Maybe with a boost from kirtan. And adhering to a sattvic diet.
Yada yada yada.
Here’s the thing: that’s totally crazy. And wrong.
It just won’t work. At least it has never worked for me. And I don’t personally know anybody who it has worked for.
I guess it is possible that some people somewhere may have been successful in that endeavor. Maybe somebody managed to achieve escape velocity. Maybe they are completely euphoric all the time.
But it doesn’t work for me. And it probably doesn’t work for you. And, frankly, I doubt it works for anybody.
Because from my perspective, it’s a misunderstanding.
Here’s what I mean. Day is followed by night is followed by day, etc. This is not a problem. It’s not even personal. Day isn’t happening because I’m a good person and night isn’t happening because I’m a bad person. It’s just happening because that’s how it works.
But let’s say for a moment that I have decided that night is bad, unacceptable. Every time day happens, I think, “Hallelujah! I’m doing it! I’m winning! This is going to be the ultimate, endless day! I’ll finally be free of night!”
Then night comes. And I despair, “Why is this happening?!”
I know, I know. Day and night aren’t exactly the same as euphoria and despair (or any of the other polarities of human feeling experiences). And yes, I do have an intrinsic dislike of despair (as well as other negative feeling experience). And I’m not advocating for treating euphoria and despair in the same way. Obviously, that would be ridiculous. (Though, let’s be honest, we’ve probably all thought that was the goal of Eastern-influenced spirituality, right?)
What I’m trying to get at is this: what I’ve noticed in my own experience is that day and night happen and so too do euphoria and despair. In my own life there are ups and downs, lefts and rights. This seems to be the natural flow of things.
If I mistake the flow of life (and the landmarks along the way) as being indicative of my shortcomings in some kind of cruel fashion – in other words, if I take it all really personally – I suffer. Or, put another way, if I am reactive without conscious awareness of the impersonal nature of even that reactivity…I suffer.
But I have noticed that reacting in that way is like reacting to day and night.
Yes, day and night happen. Yes, euphoria and despair happen.
Why did I think I was going to change that? It’s an innocent confusion. A confusion that led to a lot of suffering.
But in the blink of an eye…right now…where is the suffering? Where is the suffering of the past? Where is the future suffering? Where is present suffering?
In this moment right now, the second that I see that it wasn’t ever intended the way I interpreted it…I recognize that I have always been okay. I am okay right now.
That doesn’t mean I cannot learn and grow. Paradoxically, perhaps, I learn and grow most when I’m not taking it so personally. When I see that what’s being reflected is not a condemnation. It’s just a reflection of this as it is.
That makes a world of difference.
I thought for so long that I needed to feel good all the time. But it now seems to me that trying to feel good all the time only prolongs the suffering. Whereas, this simple recognition right now instantly dissolves the suffering.
Not that it gets rid of feeling states. Not that it produces new, more desirable feeling states. Not that it removes all challenge, pain, or discomfort.
Because the recognition doesn’t seem to do that.
But it does do one thing reliably: it reveals that the insistence that this shouldn’t be as it is, is unnecessary. And upon letting that go, I am free to receive this present moment, this reflection of this as it is rather than my delusional, personal interpretation of it.
That sure does lighten the load.
My wife and I have historically had quite different views of regarding money.
When I was in my 20s, I worked as a freelance web developer and instructor. I was in the right place at the right time. My day rate was approximately the same as my average monthly income has been over the past five years.
I was so anxious at the time, I pissed away the money I made. As an example, I purchased several very expensive mattresses in succession, decided that they were somehow toxic, and I gave them away on craigslist.
That was my life. I was hemorrhaging money.
But not as fast as I was making it.
Money surplus gave me plenty of opportunity to continue to indulge my compulsive behaviors so as to avoid facing the underlying feelings and fears.
Anyway, strangely, even having gone through all that, I didn’t learn the lesson: money isn’t real wealth. Money doesn’t equal happiness. Money doesn’t give true security.
So over the past eight years that my wife and I have been together, I have continued to hold to the idea that if only I could make enough money, my family would be happier. I’ve often viewed money as the solution to most problems. And, conversely, I’ve seen a lack of money as the cause of many challenges in our lives.
My wife, on the other hand, has often advocated for reducing our expenditures. She has made strides toward developing self-sufficiency.
In theory, I have shared her ethic: sustainable, human scale, DIY. But when under stress (and I’m easily stressed), I have frequently fallen back on my old position: money is the answer.
The reason that I’m sharing this is not to suggest that money is good or money is bad or that capitalism is good or capitalism is bad or any such thing.
The reason is this: only recently did I realize on a much deeper level that the core insight regarding the directness of direct experience (which I have written about many times over the years) is applicable to most if not all domains of life.
Here’s what I mean, using money as an example. I recently realized – and yes, I know this is a remedial insight – that money is a terribly indirect strategy for happiness. Or love. Or okayness. Or security. Or any of the other things I have used money as a strategy for.
By virtue of being indirect, it is also inefficient. And furthermore, it is often completely hopeless and flawed. In other words, in most cases it will never work. Or, put another way, no amount of money will lead to true happiness or true love or true peace.
I know that should be obvious. And maybe most readers of this blog already know this. But for me, seeing how I had continued to silo off domains of life – spiritual, psychological, somatic, achievement, financial, health, etc. – is eye-opening.
The principal of directness seems to apply to all domains. And, in fact, all domains would seem to be one, not fundamentally distinct.
Again, most readers of this blog may have already realized this. And perhaps had you asked me this a few years ago, I would have been able to see that there is no meaningful distinction between these so-called domains of life. But somehow it hadn’t sunken in as deeply as it has recently.
This principal of directness is profound and powerful. And simple.
The principal is this: Whatever I desire is best available through the most direct route possible. In other words, the quickest route to happiness is to access happiness. The quickest route to peace is to access peace.
Mediators are not really necessary. At best, they are crutches. At worst, they lead to unnecessary suffering.
Here’s what I mean. Let me give you a practical example from my life.
I rent. And thus far in my experience as a renter, renting has meant heightened insecurity (the owners could sell or decide to stop renting) and diminished self-determination (the owners may not agree to all things that I wish to do).
I want greater security and greater self-determination. And furthermore, I have the underlying belief that if I have greater security and self-determination, I’ll have greater happiness.
The means by which I have sought to solve this puzzle is…acquire more money.
In other words, I have been acting under the belief that the way to greater happiness is to acquire more money. Which is indirect and inefficient. And, by the way, doomed to fail, ultimately. Not because more money can’t buy a property title. (Because it can.) But because that’s putting the cart before the horse.
If happiness is the aim, what is the most direct route? Obviously, go right for happiness!
What stands in the way of happiness? Nothing. Happiness, or we could call it contentment or okayness, is readily available. All I have to do is cease looking for it somewhere else, stop making it conditional.
Even at the next level up, however, this same principal applies, making this a very practical principal on many levels. Because once I directly access happiness, which is the ultimate aim, I am also free to explore the next level up – in this case wanting greater security and self-determination.
What is the most direct route to security? Obviously, the most direct route is to access security. And what about self-determination? Obviously, the most direct route is to access self-determination.
This is perhaps so obvious as to cause some people to role their eyes. But at least for me, the more I welcome the profundity of this simple truth, the more it blows my mind and puts me at ease.
What stands in the way of my access to security? Only my insistence in the reality of insecurity. To the degree that I play the victim, I am giving power to insecurity, which has no power on its own. The moment that I cease doing that, it is completely evident that security is the primary reality. It is already given.
Or, if I prefer, I can see it in the inverse. Let’s say that there is only insecurity. This is also a valid way to perceive it. After all, I can never have a guarantee that anything will last But when I fully let that in, I access the security of utter insecurity. In other words, I can be completely secure that there is no security.
This is not a mind game. It’s not just some psychological babble. What I’m suggesting is ways to perceive something and open up to a reality that is primary – that contains and precedes the apparent reality of belief. Belief – such as the belief that I need to do something (like make a bunch of money) in order to be happy or okay – is limiting and divisive and blinding. What I am proposing with these inquiries is to see through the blinding beliefs to what precedes the beliefs.
And, by the way, this principal of directness also applies to the next level up. The next level up in this example is “I need to make a bunch of money”. But we could more broadly call that abundance. Money is really just symbolic of abundance.
I can apply the principal at the level of abundance. What is the most direct route to abundance? Accessing abundance directly, of course. And what stands in the way of me accessing abundance? Nothing. Only my belief that I lack can cloud the present, inalienable reality of abundance.
After all, I have air, water, sensation, experience…all in abundance. And this is perfectly clear the moment I cease to insist that I lack abundance.
I see it again and again the more I look: trying to solve problems from the top-down – starting from the assumption of separation and a hostile reality – doesn’t work. But when I start from the bottom-up and directly access the primary reality…things are much better.
My wife and I were having a disagreement about goats for the past couple of days. It wasn’t really about goats. But it involved goats.
This seems to be how things go in my life, and I assume the same is true in your life. We feel things. These things come up in relationship with others. So in an effort to communicate about them and figure things out so as to live harmoniously, we come up with stories.
But the stories are always around the actual matter. They don’t get to the heart of it.
Anyway, until we got to the heart of the matter, we were having this conflict that had to do about goats. And I was feeling frustrated and discouraged.
When I first got into the whole meditation, self-help, spiritual thing, I did it because I wanted to escape my unwanted feelings.
I didn’t realize it at the time, of course. And had you asked me, I probably wouldn’t have had the courage or the insight to be able to admit it. But in hindsight, it’s clear that I just wanted to escape stuff I didn’t like.
Like frustration, stuckness, discouragement. Plus anxiety, anger, fear, worry, obsessiveness, low self-esteem, etc.
When I was 19, a friend of mine loaned me a Ken Cohen qi gong meditation cassette tape. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I’ll mention it again.
I listened to that tape. I think I’d probably burned some sage that I’d gotten at the new age bookstore first. Then I listened to the tape. Eyes closed. And I followed along with the guided meditations.
I had an experience that blew my mind. After some time…maybe half an hour of the guided meditation, I disappeared.
It was a bit like I had fallen asleep. Deep sleep. And maybe I did fall asleep. I guess that’s possible. And maybe I just made up a story upon waking that something else had happened.
But in a sense, it doesn’t matter because waking from deep sleep is kind of the same thing. Not there. But…but…but upon waking realizing that I was there. Just not the usual way I have identified as being this person, this collection of memories, this collection of ideas and beliefs. But still there. Still present so that upon waking I could say, “I was just in deep sleep” or, in this case, “I just had some far out, mind-blowing meditation experience.”
Anyway, I got hooked. Because that experience was so profoundly restful and such a paradigm shift for me.
And because I was convinced (though I wasn’t fully aware of this at the time) that if I could somehow attain that experience while simultaneously maintaining a sense of my habitual identity (i.e. still claiming that I am the source of my own experience as a separate person)…well…then I’d get rid of all the unpleasant, unwanted experiences/feelings.
I tried so many things to attain what I thought I wanted. I’ve listed them off plenty of times, but it’s fun, so I’ll list a few yet again: Rebirthing (i.e. hyperventilation), LSD, Transcendental Meditation, affirmative prayer, kirtan, Holosync (a very expensive binaural beats meditation program), sitting in satsang with every teacher I could find.
Sometimes I got a taste of that same goneness-but-present experience. But since I still had unpleasant/unwanted feelings that returned, I thought that something “hadn’t worked”. Because, after all, I assumed that when “it worked”, I wouldn’t have unwanted feelings anymore…ever.
For such a long, long time I chased after this fantasy. I wanted to get to continue to hold on to all my dysfunctional ideas of who I am, what I need, how important I am, how I’m right…and simultaneously be happy. And furthermore, I had this dysfunctional and deluded idea that happiness meant an absence of disharmony or conflict or unpleasantness.
Yesterday, as I was feeling frustrated and discouraged, I reflected on what it is that I really want. Not what I think I want – which is the absence of disharmony, conflict, and unpleasantness. Rather, what I really want.
As in, what actually is satisfying.
The answer to this question is at once completely surprising and completely expected.
What I really want is exactly what is happening.
Because life isn’t about acquisition. It’s not about winning. It’s not all about me, my ideas, my preferences, my wants, my hedonism, my impatience.
Life is about this present relationship. This is what truly satisfies.
All I have to do is say yes to it.
When I was in college, I undertook a misguided fast. I started by only consuming water for a few days – perhaps three days – I don’t remember exactly. After that, I drank only freshly-pressed juices for what I believe must have been considerably more than a month.
I had already been surviving on primarily raw vegetables and fruit – with occasional cooked beans – for a year. So I was thin to start. But I grew considerably thinner during my fast.
My heart rate slowed to under 40 beats per minute.
I was exhausted by the smallest effort. I would have to pause between flights of stairs in order to regain enough strength to ascend another flight. My apartment was up two flights, and sometimes I had to pause a few times on the way up.
I was cold all the time. I was nervous. I was depressed.
Basically, I felt terrible.
If you’d asked anybody else – even a complete stranger who’d never seen me before – they would have diagnosed the problem right away…I was starving.
Once I finally got a little bit of sense back in me a month or two later, I recall walking past a building and catching a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror. I was shocked to see what looked like a walking skeleton staring back at me.
Because until that moment, I had no clue why I was feeling so awful.
I kept reading more books that told me about how filthy I was on the inside, how many dangerous toxins I had accumulated in my handful of years on Earth. How I needed to fast even more to purge myself of all those toxins.
I thought I had toxins in me that were causing my problems. It honestly had not occurred to me that I was responsible for bad choices that were directly producing my symptoms – that I was starving myself.
Even after I saw that reflection of the walking skeleton in the window and even after I started seeing a counselor for help with an eating disorder, I still didn’t fully believe that I was causing the problems with my choices. I still believed my mind and its distorted reality.
Given all that, you might think that once I finally gave up on that approach and I started eating adequate amounts of food and felt better that I would have seen through the delusion of my stories. At least the stories having to do with toxins and “curing” myself with food restriction.
But I didn’t. Not even close. I continued to eat in highly disordered ways, often returning to starving myself, for over another decade.
When I got sick with Lyme disease, I doubled down on my restrictive eating disorder. Because it gave me an excuse. I was afraid, and when afraid, I fell back on my old stories.
I had no idea that I was doing it.
I say that I had no idea that I was doing it. And that’s not completely true. What would be true is this: Out of habit, I completely ignored the wisdom that is always available that has nothing to do with conditioned thinking and reactivity. I identified as the conditioned thinking and reactivity, and therefore, as that identity, I was ignorant.
I could go on to cite dozens of other examples in which I behaved in similarly deluded fashion. How those bad and deluded choices harmed me and often other people.
But here’s the point: I didn’t understand what I was doing in any of those cases. I was so identified with my stories of me as a victim – I had deluded myself so greatly – that I didn’t understand that I was responsible. And that I was abdicating my responsibility.
I was misusing my one true power.
That one true power came out in all kinds of sideways and perverted ways. Suicidal ideation. Resentment. Vengefulness. Manipulation. Restriction. Abstention. Isolation. Compulsive research.
Because I wasn’t owning that one true power. I wasn’t telling the truth about it.
What is that one true power? It’s the power to recognize what the true order of things is. It is the power to discern between what is false and what is true.
And how do I do that? Just look relentlessly. Allow it all to flow as it does, and see that the person I thought I was never had any other power. I never had the power to stop it or control it or manipulate it. That as all merely delusion.
The truth stands on its own. It doesn’t need to be propped up by story.
I don’t need to tell a story to make it so. I just need to stop telling a story long enough to recognize it.
In my life, I learned to think, not feel.
Oh, I still felt. I felt plenty. Lots of anger, fear, resentment, sadness, hurt. Sometimes excitement, enthusiasm, happiness.
But especially with the unwanted feelings, I learned to turn to thought. I learned to view the feelings as problems that I needed to try to solve.
Not only did I learn to think instead of feel, I learned to think like a victim – to blame, shame, hide, etc.
So it’s probably not surprising that my chaotic, disorganized, victim-based thinking that I used as a way to get rid of strong, unwanted feelings has resulted in a lot of bad behavior over the years.
When I was maybe 8 years old…maybe a little younger…I got so angry that I punched a hole in the picture window in the front of my house.
I once was so angry that I threw a chair through a wall in my bedroom.
I seem to recall punching a hole in a door.
Later, as a teenager and young adult, I realized that I couldn’t continue being so outwardly violent. So instead I turned that violence inward.
I was still angry, scared, confused, sad, hurt. And my strategy was still the same at the core: try to think my way out of the problem that I perceived my feelings to be.
But instead of throwing chairs through walls, I contemplated suicide. I starved myself. I had elaborate fantasies about how I would escape everything and everyone.
I had turned feelings into the enemy. And feelings won every time. I could never win. Not truly. Because I couldn’t outwit feelings. I couldn’t outrun them. I couldn’t hide from them.
Finally, I had to admit total defeat. It wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I finally waved the white flag. And even then, I actually had no idea how much more I would lose. I thought I had lost all the way. But I hadn’t even begun to truly lose. That was only the beginning.
So learning about feelings has been a long, difficult, confusing thing for me. Which is ironic because, as I’ll share, one of the qualities that I’ve discovered about feelings is that they are effortless. Having and feeling feelings doesn’t require skill.
What requires skill – at least in my experience – is learning how to stop over-complicating things.
Everybody is feeling feelings all the time. And in my experience, I don’t have to do anything more than that. I don’t have to label the feelings. (I don’t have to avoid labeling the feelings, either.) I don’t have to dig deep into the feelings. I don’t have to probe for hidden feelings. I don’t have to hold on to feelings. I don’t have to amplify feelings. I don’t have to diminish feelings. I don’t have to get over feelings. I don’t have to get past feelings. I don’t have to do anything.
In fact, the less I do, the better.
Because at least for me, old habits die hard. And I still hold out the crazy hope of winning. And by winning, I mean getting rid of feelings I don’t like and only having feelings I do like. Secretly, in the dark corners of my mind, I still view unwanted feelings as the enemy.
So anything I do, I am almost certainly going to do it with the intention and hope of getting rid of the unwanted feelings. I’m sneaky like that. I fool myself and think that I’m trying to allow feelings or welcome feelings, but actually, I’m trying to get rid of them.
Which leads to more thinking and more chaotic, disorganized thinking. And more violence. And that’s not how I want to live.
So the less I do, the better.
There may be much more evolved, better people than me. In fact, I fully expect that many, many people are much more evolved, better, more conscious, more awake, more generous, happier people than I am. And maybe for those people, there are things they can do that facilitate the flow of feelings and welcoming them and spreading love and joy into the world.
But for me, less is more. The less I do, the better. And maybe, if you find that you are a little like me, you’ll find this is true as well.
So I cannot pay attention to my thoughts, because those thoughts will tell me that I’ve got to do something. Figure something out. Understand something. Know what it is called and where it came from…so that I can fix it, get rid of it.
See? I’m sneaky. So I cannot pay attention to my thoughts if I want peace.
I release the tension in my head. And then there is only space and feeling.
If I do anything, I muck it all up. So I have to keep doing nothing.
And bit by bit, clarity dawns. The light rises up over the horizon. And in a flash, reality is fully illuminated.
There is only space and feeling…and light. And I cannot tell you what differentiates them. Because they seem to be undifferentiated in that moment. And the insanity and misery of having tried to get rid of the feeling gets illuminated and I see the big joke. Or “The Big Joke”.
Because it was me all along. The space and feeling and light. It was me all along. I’m not going to get rid of it because it’s me.
And it’s perfectly evident. I don’t have to search for it. Or understand it. Or grasp it.
It does not require skill to manifest this. It only requires great trust…or resignation…or both.
Because in doing nothing – making no effort, letting go of the tension, the armoring – I don’t acquire anything. I just lose what was never true to begin with. I lose the sense that I am this thing separate from my feelings and that my feelings are my enemy and that I need to think my way out of the pain and misery I feel.
And that is a miracle.
For many years I used to wash my hands compulsively.
I wasn’t a “wash-em-till-they-bleed” sort. I didn’t scrub them bare because I didn’t have a germ phobia.
Instead, I “washed” my hands by rinsing them under running water. And I did it because I was trying to wash away the bad feelings.
I had bad feelings. And those bad feelings were everywhere in my body, but I felt them most strongly in my hands.
I was terrified to touch anything when I had those bad feelings in my hands because I didn’t want to contaminate anything with those bad feelings.
By grace, I discovered how to stop doing that. I learned how to let go of the inner tension that I used as an armor against the bad feelings. And by doing that, I stopped having the compulsion to wash my hands.
For years since, I have experienced almost no compulsions to wash my hands…except normal, presumably healthy compulsions to actually wash my hands for hygeinic purposes. When appropriate.
I still experience bad feelings, though. Not to the same degree. Not even close.
But when I am still and quiet, I recognize the same basic thing still at play. Something happens that provokes some fear or discomfort in me. And I still have the same kind of reflexive armoring – the inner tension, the compulsions to get rid of the bad feelings.
Much subtler, but still happening.
Perhaps that will always be the case. And to be honest, I am so grateful for the act of grace that has transformed my life and allowed me to be here today and write this and have a family and sometimes be happy…instead of obsessed with trying to get rid of overwhelming bad feelings all day long by way of compulsive hand washing…I am so grateful for that, that I can’t complain about anything, really.
I am deeply grateful.
Still, I see the same pattern playing out subtly. For example, if I feel frustrated or if I feel that I’m being judged unfairly by someone or if I feel hurt or sad or like a failure…I try to get rid of the feelings. I cling to inner tension because I still hold out hope that it will do something good for me.
And so I see the possibility of letting go even more.
I know from experience that is the way to true happiness. Not short term fixes. Not just getting rid of unwanted feelings. But a deeper okayness.
It’s tempting sometimes to fear letting go “too much”. All kinds of fears, reasons that I might need that inner tension to stay safe or to be a good person or whatever other thoughts I might have.
But ironically, holding on to the inner tension has the opposite effect. It doesn’t keep me safe – it isolates me. It doesn’t make me a good person – it makes me distant. It doesn’t make me likable – it makes me a fraudulent people pleaser. It doesn’t make me happy – it deadens me. It doesn’t make me social or dynamic – it makes me overwhelmed and insecure.
Every day I have many opportunities to practice what I know to be true. And every day I fail many times. A small voice in me encourages me to do what I know is the right thing – to make contact, to lend a hand, to open my heart, to give the time, to make space, to pause, to comfort, to have patience. Whether that is for my wife, my children, my parents, my neighbors, friends, strangers, or myself. I know what the right thing is in every moment.
And often, my fear and resistance get the better of me. I remain guarded. I cling to that inner tension. I don’t let go. I don’t open. I don’t act with humility and generosity and kindness.
But sometimes I do the right thing. Sometimes – and it’s many times every day – I open, I pause, I connect. I let go of the clinging. I let go of the armor. I let go of my way or the highway. I let go of my ideas of how things should be. I embrace the gift of this moment as it is. I open my eyes and see clearly.
It’s the hardest thing and the easiest thing. And it’s always the best thing. It is the one choice I get to make. And when I make that choice, my life is better, richer, happier.
Sometimes I get caught up in thinking that I have to do something big or be someone great. I sometimes think that I have to get everything right and never mess up.
But the truth is, all I am really asked to do is to show up fully right now. Bad feelings. Good feelings. Or any other kind of feelings. It doesn’t matter. And risk it all. Risk contamination. Risk failure. Risk humiliation. Risk not being enough.
Just show up fully. Just say yes. Just open now.
And that’s it. That’s all that is asked.
I cannot undo what has been done. I cannot guarantee what will happen. But I can show up fully now anyway. No matter what I’ve done. Or what you’ve done. Or what I fear might happen. No matter how much I hurt or how ashamed I feel or how flat or angry or sad or worried I might feel. No matter how good of a person or how bad of a person I might be…
All that is asked is to show up fully now.
And if I mess up? Well, there’s always now.