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What awakening really means

On Friday I had the privilege of visiting a young adult relative of mine who has just been moved into a hospice to live out her final days/weeks.  I say ‘privilege’ because nothing gives me greater humility and opportunity to really live my awakening experience than being in the presence of someone I care about who is dying, all the while remaining fully present- to her.

I have been in the presence of death before, as I sat with my dying father until the very end a few years ago. He didn’t want to know he was dying, didn’t want to talk about it, and had very specific views on what death meant to him. I completely respected his wishes and focussed on making him comfortable and cherishing the memories of our relationship through photo albums and quiet discussions.

That was a very profound, healing experience which changed me in many ways. It has also inadvertently prepared me for my niece’s diagnosis, which is similar in some respects (she has cancer, albeit a different type to the one my father had), in their suffering, but also very different in their coming to terms with their fate.

On the contrary to my father not wanting to know, my niece has demanded to know the outcome from day one. She has also been open about her emotions, telling the family she does not want to die (naturally, as she is young and has children), crying, raging and falling into depression, constant hospital visits due to severe pain, sepsis, stent and other surgeries in an attempt to cure and then manage her cancer, and eventually, upon realising the inevitable, having to sort out legal arrangements for her children and arrange her own burial plot. All of this she has done with the utmost strength that she didn’t believe she had.

Seeing her on Friday, bone-thin and frail in her wheelchair, left me sad of course but in deep reverence for the grace she has shown in managing her terminal illness. Unfortunately we were not  close growing up due to family circumstances, but I am only a few years older than her. Yet that day we sat in the beautiful hospice grounds in baking sunshine, my mum also with us, and talked about our memories of my grandmother who died many years ago. I was surprised to find that even as a very young child at the time my nan died, she remembered things about her that I did not.

We also talked openly about death. She has paid for a double grave and wishes my mother to be buried with her when the time comes, to which my mother agreed. My niece then said she didn’t know what she believed any more. My mum immediately jumped in with ‘Well I do, and I’m expecting you to be waiting for me!’ reminding me once again that me and my mother share a very similar sense of humour and approach to life, despite our very different experiences and personalities. My niece laughed and said ‘What makes you think I will be waiting for you?!’ changing what could have been a heavy atmosphere into a lighter one.

That is not to say there was no room for the heavy stuff – on the contrary, my niece’s oncologist arrived to see her while we were there. I’ve known from all accounts he’s a lovely genuine man who also makes her smile and laugh, but even I was touched beyond belief when he hugged her and told her he would be there for her even though treatment had ended. it was a beautiful moment of raw humanity, one human being reaching out to another, the deepest act of love. I am not obviously referring to romantic love or any sort of attraction, but the willingness to be with someone to the end no matter how hard it gets, this is the love that is no less than pure Divine.

And isn’t this really what awakening is about? Beyond all labels of spirituality and what may happen after death, it’s about being completely open to the experience of life and what it means to be here in our human clothing, for however long we have. It’s being prepared to meet our experiences head on, however bad it gets. And most of all, being there with others even when it could be easier and perhaps more understandable to turn away from their suffering because it scares us that it could become our own.

Being present to ourselves and others in the deepest pain is the love that ultimately frees us all from the binds of this world. As my niece nears her physical end she knows that we have been there for her, hearing her, loving her for who she is, and that is the greatest gift of all.

 

 

 

 

 

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Awakening to the present

This is my experience of becoming more awakened to the present moment, which I thought I would share.

I studied the experiences of Eckhart Tolle and other spiritual teachers for many years and meditated on them, but they largely remained just ideas and concepts to me until about six months ago when the depression I had struggled with for much of my life just fell away. It wasn’t as dramatic or instant as Tolle’s, as when I look back it was a long process of letting go of my attachment to the ego and its stories and desires. The depression was like the final, and most withstanding, attempt to create an identity for itself because everything else had failed. I knew about mindfulness and tried to practice it but somehow the desire to be the depressed person was just too overwhelming and I always succumbed because it was familiar and comforting – it made the ego feel validated in the face of difficult experiences. It was a comfort blanket when the world seemed too scary to deal with.

But at Christmas, after another bout of bad depression, something changed. I was becoming mindful enough to see what was happening; the losing in the depression and how ill and unhappy I was as a result. The decision was made to fully accept all experiences and just observe them without resistance. My heart opened to everything I was experiencing because there was understanding that it was okay to feel bad and even the depression was understandable because it served a purpose, even though that purpose was misguided.

Since then, although I’ve not resisted it, my depression has not returned.  There is awareness of the witness most of the time apart from obviously when I get lost in thoughts, but that doesn’t happen for long. I can see how I’m reacting to people and situtions, I observe without judgement, or I observe the judgement without added judgment. I open my heart to myself and other people and even if I have a so-called judgemental thought, I observe it with compassion and let it go without further comment. Again, even the judgement is arising for a reason, whether it’s past conditioning or simply the need for the ego to feel better about itself. I notice this and let it go.

When I do lose myself in thoughts or emotion and become aware of this, I bring myself back to the breath, practicing open awareness of that and my surroundings, and focus on being mindful of what I’m experiencing whether it’s anger, grief, fear, irritation or whatever else. I stay with it without resistance. If resistance does arise, I simply accept the resistance.

I fully realise that who I am is beyond thought or any mental images of myself. In essence I am the same as everyone and everything else; human, animal, insect, fish or plant. I am the One Life that flows through it all. Thought is part of all that, as is the ego construct; none of it is bad or wrong, it’s all part of the journey back to the realisation of the Self. In this knowing, everything can be embraced.

This is my experience and although I can only know that fully, I feel I understand more what Tolle and other teachers have described, with some limitations. I can’t say there is deep bliss or awareness of deep eternal love like others say, so I’m sure there is more depth to be experienced. All I know is deep peace when I rest in awareness. Whilst this more than enough, I am open to more because life is naturally an ever-changing landscape!

I’m very interested in others’ experience of their awakening or simply becoming more aware.

True Inner Peace

 

 

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True Inner Peace needs nothing. It is the state of pure Being. It is resting in the heart of the Divine.

It is being within the world, engaging fully with each encounter and experience, because it is Fullness itself. As free as a butterfly, spreading its wings far and wide, yet grasping nothing, rejecting nothing.

True inner peace is the wonder of life’s pure breath. It enjoys and appreciates All, because they are One and the same. Even in darkness, True Inner Peace shines its beautiful rays of love and comfort, guiding the heart home.

 

*Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay

Purging

I had a rather unpleasant dream last night which was probably in response to yesterday’s post where I let my ego know that the less than positive thoughts, emotions and ways of being are also accepted. This has led me to believe that some purging may be taking place within my being as old energies are processed this way.

In the dream, my ex husband (who represents old patterns such as fear, manipulation, anger, feeling small and unworthy) was colluding with me in plans to stab the residents who now live at my previous address. The details are at times vague, but I recall walking with him along a road near where I lived as a child (this is not the same area where my previous address is, but dreams often combine aspects to make a point) towards my childhood home, which was now the same as my previous address. At some point he disappeared, then returned running saying he had stabbed one to death, but couldn’t kill the others, so we had to get away…fast. I was consumed by fear, and we ran.

The dream changed a bit and I was now inside my current home but I had a complete view of my previous address, which was now boarded up and had police tape around it due to the attacks. I could just see into my old bedroom and I realised my old journals and diaries were still there. I desperately wanted to retrieve them but realised I  could not because I would draw attention to myself and at that point no one knew I was involved in the attacks. There were a few other people around me but I felt completely isolated in my knowledge of what had happened. I wanted to reach out and say how I felt but I was too scared. What if they judged me? What if I was sent down for murder? I had never felt so trapped in my life.

Then I found myself outside a building where I was going to see a woman about my upcoming trial. Presumably I had been charged with something but the dream did not show this. Somehow I knew the woman was not a lawyer. I walked in and she told me to simply tell it as it is…tell the truth.

There was a trial but some of the dream is vague. However, I vividly recall taking a break and going to the toilet. While sitting on it my ex husband appeared outside and asked me what I was saying to the jury. I was scared because I knew deep down he would be charged with murder but I would not. He pulled the toilet door open and started to attack me. He lashed at my face and so I turned and lashed back at him. As we were engaged in this fight, I saw a face at a window watching us. Again, I felt intense fear, this time that the man watching would see that I could be violent and believe me capable of the terrible murders. Maybe I would be charged after all and sent to prison.

Unfortunately I don’t know how the dream ended, but perhaps that is the point. In dreams as in life, the power is in my hands. I don’t feel any obvious animosity towards my ex in my waking life. However, what he represents in me is most significant: fear. The references to my childhood home and my old address both point to old identities and ways of being that perhaps feel under attack as I move to healthier ways of being. The need for my diaries and journals, in which I recorded my emotions since I was 16 years old, suggest attachment to certain energies and experiences that I use to define my self.

Feeling trapped and fearing prison re all about judgement, feeling on trial, which both have their foundations in fear and limitation. Underneath it all is a terrible sense of disconnect and separation, feelings so extreme that I colluded with my ex to murder someone (a part of my being) and felt such shame that I feared being sent down for it. I notice that using the term ‘down’ can also be understood metaphorically as I travel into the depths of my subsconscious! The toilet also points to shame and the need to let go, but also, conversely, feeling unable to do so (ex throwing open the door).

I am grateful that my subconscious has thrown up these energies in my nightly dream: In making the subconscious conscious, I can be aware of what demands my attention and welcome it, even those things which refuse to leave or pull me into thoughts and feelings I would prefer not to have. In the depth of my being, everything is accepted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note to self

Most people are doing the best they can with what they have/know, even if it doesn’t seem like it (and it often doesn’t!). This doesn’t mean one can’t feel angry/frustrated/sad/peed off/whatever in response to another person or situation, or have to be understanding or grateful no matter what! It’s about being aware of ourselves and others, aware that no one knows what is going on with someone else, or what brought them to where they are today. Above all it’s about being gentle with yourself even if you don’t feel the way you wish you did or behaved how you wanted to. You are where you are for a reason even if it makes no sense, and you’re doing just great in this mysterious game we call life.

Ultimate okayness with everything

I’ve been noticing how my bid to nurture a more positive and grateful mindset on a daily basis has provoked the ego into making judgements about the darker thoughts and feelings that also, naturally, crop up from time to time.

To my limited ego, focusing on happiness and gratitude is like saying ‘Sorry, you can’t feel sad/angry/jealous/frustrated/inset other word anymore.’ It tries very hard to get it right because it thinks it is always getting it wrong.

I want my ego to know that it isn’t getting it wrong at all. I understand why it feels that way. As the witness to my thoughts and emotions I completely accept that it fears being abandoned by the wayside as I gradually move out of depression and into a healthier state of being.

I will not ignore my painful feelings, I will sit with them if they so need and let them take me where they need to go, but I will also not let them take over my existence. Depression is not, and will not, become my identity as it has in the past. Who I really am, or I could say what space within really is beyond all ideas of ‘me’ is more than those thoughts, indeed more than any thought, even the happy ones, but happy  and grateful thoughts are more conducive to my natural state of being, which is peace and acceptance.

The space is vast enough and loving enough to include the ego and its fears and judgements; there is space for emotional pain and even for depression, nothing is rejected or ignored, everything is accepted, because I know they are not the Life that sees and welcomes it all. It may believe it is, or want to be, but that is okay as well.

Gratitude is the ultimate okayness with everything, even the worst kinds of inner and outer experiences because, at the heart of it all, nothing has gone wrong.

 

 

 

Darkness and unknowing

It’s certainly not been an easy year. I’m slowly coming out the other side after a long period of emotional hibernation. I had no energy or inclination to put anything ‘out there’ while I was being pulled within to get intimate with my darkness and accept it. I can’t really say I understand it any better; in fact, the one thing I can say I’ve learned without a doubt is that I don’t really understand a thing. Maybe, though, that is the whole point.

My beliefs are being stripped away. All I am left with is the essence of my being, beyond all thoughts and concepts. I have spoken of this many times. I have explored it in depth. But all the so called knowledge has fallen by the wayside as the experience of unknowing knocked me to the ground.

I’m no stranger to myself; I had years of counselling where some extremely difficult memories and their associated emotions came to the fore. I’ve grown massively since then and feel I possess a large degree of self-awareness and understanding. But in the last few years something even deeper has been asked of me. Whilst therapy took me to a place of relative safety, a new awareness of who I was and what I represented, this is now crumbling away.

Where does that leave me? I feel I’m in a place of total emptiness, but it is okay. There is no sense of ‘me’ like there used to me, but at the same time I notice more clearly how my mind and emotions respond to people and situations. I see my depression as it claws into me, desperate to make its voice heard. I still sink into it and disappear for days, months, on end. There try not to hold onto ideas of spirituality other than what I experience in meditation, the silent awareness within and its connection with everything that exists. I experience and continue to experience many strange phenomena, but let them flow through without identification.

I am not able to force anything through a mental position. My mind says I should feel compassion for this or that, for this or that person, for humanity. Instead, I go into my heart, which is the centre of our being. I visualise it opening out to embrace everything including the deepest darkness, enveloping myself in the process.

I don’t really understand anything but I am learning not to fear it. All I can do is notice what my mind is doing, be intimate with my darkness, and remain open to it – as much as is possible on any given day. There may be a dramatic transformation but maybe the transformation is more in the slow gradual letting go of all I thought I knew and understood.

 

 

 

 

Spiritual awareness and depression: my experiences

Most people have triggers and issues that pull them into spiritual unconsciousness over and over again. For me it is depression. I have made the decision to mention it here because it’s something I need to write out so that it doesn’t fester in my mind. As I’m sure others with depression are aware, when those feelings are stuck inside you, they hold more power to suck you in deeper and deeper.

I am a very self-aware individual due to my long-term meditation practice and dedication to self-development. For that reason I have been able to study my mind and body, if not during a period of depression (although recently I have been able to do this) but after the darkness has lifted a little bit. From these inner explorations I have found that, perhaps inevitably, my depression is multifaceted. It is biological, mental, emotional and spiritual. Quite often it coincides with a significant worsening of my physical health, since I also suffer with a debilitating chronic illness. This may happen overnight and the root cause does not appear to be triggered by negative thinking or difficult emotions.  I believe the link may be inflammation, as is the case for other chronic illnesses that are associated with depression. But I am not a doctor; all I know is how I experience the link.

Once the depression takes over (as that is how it feels, like I have been taken over) I have to remain exceptionally mindful in order not to let the negative thinking take over and pull me further the black hole that is depression. During a typical episode, I wake up and experience the usual heaviness, fatigue and pain that is part and parcel of my physical problems, however, with depression in the mix it’s as if a thick grey curtain has been pulled over me so that I no longer sense any light. I have no desire or motivation to start the day, even though I force myself to get up and walk my dog who thankfully gives me that incentive to move.  My body has slowed down, I have no appetite, I couldn’t care less about doing the things that I enjoy despite my ill-health, such as playing the piano and reading. When I close my eyes (as I always feel exhausted) my mind pulls me back into various memories of the past, nothing difficult or substantial since I have spent years working through issues with a lot of success, but snippets of people or places, good and bad, as if to convince me my life is over now and all I have is the past, as hard as it often was. Other times it pulls me into the future, convincing me that I am doomed as every terrible thing that could happen, will, or reminding me that everything is temporary and there is no security to be found.  Sometimes I end up crying (often a difficult thing to do when really depressed, actually) when I picture life without my dog, or without any material security at all.

If I remain unaware at this point, a running commentary starts to accompany my bodily misery, such as ‘I don’t matter’ or ‘no one cares’ or ‘I’m so lonely’. If my mind really deteriorates which to be honest it has done a lot lately, I start to reinforce those painful thoughts by looking up quotes and images of depressed and lonely people.  I may listen to sad music that reinforces my depression and before I know it I’m questioning the point of my life, of all life despite my spiritual experiences, and feel profoundly separate and disconnected. Meditation feels pointless even if I could focus which I can’t, I can’t resonate with spiritual quotes or texts, can’t talk to anyone as they wouldn’t understand, and I feel the deep pain of inner emptiness. I have not gone as far as thinking about suicide, but I have found myself hoping that my life is not going to be a long one because I simply can’t bear this any longer.

How do I deal with this? Well as yet, I have no easy answers, but most often what happens is that a trickle of self-awareness seeps in and I’m able to step back, usually just for a few seconds, and realise I’ve spiralled into spiritual unawareness. Sometimes it takes me a few weeks before I have this moment of awareness, other times it can be just a day.  But regardless of how long it takes, there comes a time where I catch myself and witness what I’m doing. By witnessing, I don’t mean I can always pull myself out. I’m not talking about solutions or cures. Depression is an extremely complex illness and I have come to believe that it may not leave me completely, especially if there is a biological association with my existing problems. But there is freedom to be found in stepping back, remembering that I don’t always feel like this. Once I embrace this knowing, it becomes far easier to resist being pulled back into the darkness.

Just as the mind is enticing and addictive, so is depression. I find myself taking an almost masochistic pleasure in my painful feelings, needing to indulge them for all they’re worth. As I surrender into the misery, there’s a weird kind of relief that I don’t have to do anything more. No more effort, no more fight, no more craving, just nothingless. I can find others with depression and share how horrible it is. I can assume the identity of a depressed person; it’s a suit that is well-worn and understood. I will belong there in the hellpit. I can go back to sleep for ever and ever…

Only I can’t. I have awakened, and as many spiritual teachers say, once you’ve awakened you never really go back to sleep. You may try, but you never really can. This is absolutely true of my experience. This is also why I see a spiritual side to my depression, or what is called a dark night. There is a biological root to it, but like with many depressions, from my personal understanding, there takes many triggers and environmental issues to reinforce their role in someone’s life, which are unique to everyone. For me, depression is a recurring issue, and perhaps there is a message there in learning to understand how to deal with it and accept why it is in my life. After all, it is part of me, and born from a series of wounds that demand attention. There may come a time when I no longer need my depression, or I can hope.

In the meantime, I am meditating regularly, watching my thoughts and emotions, and reminding myself that everything is transient, including a depressive state, and I am aware of it all flowing before me like a river down to the sea of life which encompasses every thing and rejects no thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The light never goes out

Although I am more of a summer person, I do love the prettiness of autumn colours;  the rich red and earthy browns everywhere.  I see and experience each season for its unique part of the wholeness of life, as well as its reminder that forms are transient and ever changing.

However this year I have been aware of a sadness in me as the season turns. I have found myself shedding a few tears as we say goodbye to bright summer days and hello to cold, dark winter evenings.

Thus I am reminded of my favourite quote ‘In the depths of winter I finally learned that there lay within me an invincible summer’.

I often use the quote symbolically, but here it is greatly relevant to me in its literal form too.

Even when the light and warmth of the Divine appears to have left us, it never really has. Even when we are lost in the clouds of illusion, we only need to see a tiny sparkle of light behind the greyness to know that we are always okay in the truest sense.

The process of awakening is perhaps straightforward for some, but for others it is full of peaks and troughs;  sudden realisations among the pain and longings and attachments that we can’t let go of. It’s all okay, all of it, even though it may feel sometimes like we’re not getting anywhere, or have outright failed in our intentions.

More often than not lately, I find myself back in the dark night, wanting something to be different, longing for some particular path that will lift me out of this experience and into the light once more.

This will never come because…I am the path. I am the light. And so are you.

It’s easy to forget this and fall back into illusion. Yes, fall (sorry, I know I’m overusing this image, but it is relevant).

It is easy to look in the wrong place, to rely on some external path or solution, or simply to rely on what our senses tell us, not what exists within our hearts and inner wisdom.

And so, the evenings draw in, yet we can be reminded that the light that we are never goes out.

 

 

 

 

The story of my heart

I’ve never been someone who likes a lot of ‘stuff’ per se. But over the years I have accumulated a massive amount of personal bits in the way of stories, poems, diaries and books. I have loads of books that I owned and read as a child and am struggling to part with. However lately I have felt the need to ‘declutter’ my life and get rid of what is outdated or I simply don’t want or need any more. I’ve made a good start in giving some of my books to charity and throwing away a few really torn ones. What I can never part with is the stories and journals for they reflect the totality of who I am; the young lonely child, the confused and depressed adolescent, the struggling adult…all leading to who I am today. The story of my heart.

All my writing means more to me than any material stuff ever could. What this says about me and my attachment to my identity is perhaps a topic for inner exploration. For what seems to bother me, a lot, is what will become of my stories and journals when I die? This seemingly rather odd question was emoted in last night’s dream:

I was in a public library, having travelled there by coach. I carried with me a large red folder bulging with old discoloured paper upon which I’d written some of my many stories as a child. In contrast, the library was very colourful. There was a lady at a desk. I went up and showed her my folder of stories. I wanted her to take them, explaining there was no one else. Perhaps they would be useful for the library?I told her that once I left the Earth I had no close family to speak of, no one who would want my writings. No one who would read them.

I wanted the lady to care about them.  I wanted them to be useful somehow. I wanted them to mean something.

I woke up with the raw feeling of something deep and painful prodding closer to the surface.  My death has never bothered me; in some ways I even welcome it. I love the thought of freedom from current limitations, to find out for myself what it means to be out of the human realm.

But I care about my life at the same time. More than that: I care deeply about the people I have been, and never will be again. All my writing serves to reflect the person I was at the time, and for a very long time I rejected her because everyone else did. Now I care about her. I care about all of me. It saddens me to think that when the time comes that I will die, everything that I have written, the deepest outpourings of my heart, will be likely burnt or thrown away by some unfortunate person left to sort out my belongings -perhaps a member of the local council if I’m really unlucky – and gone forever.

Does this mean that none of it ever mattered?  That my life meant nothing? I hope and trust that it does not. And I think the library in my dream symbolises that. For what is a public library but the accumulation of all human knowledge and wisdom and perhaps in a more mystical sense; the Akashic records. I hope that my stories and journals and diaries, which are not good enough to ever be published in any conventional sense, will nonetheless have contributed something valuable to…what, I don’t really know. The human race. The human heart.

On a base level maybe I am simply saying I hope that my life mattered, that everything I felt, experienced, loved and dreamed mattered. Matters. Everyone wants to feel that they matter. For many this is already known and reflected in the amount of people who will miss them when their time comes. That is not true for me, but I hold onto my spiritual understanding that each of us are valuable and part of the Whole. And that none of what we are or do is ever wasted.