We may have even established a meditation or mindfulness practice, but it begins to dawn on us that we are not really ‘living’ what we are talking about. The problem is that we are still, to a certain extent, identified with our body, emotions and mind. We know ourselves to be beyond the body as we’ve had glimpses of the magnificence of the soul, but we still get stuck sometimes in addictions and comfort eating. We still seek distraction and entertainment in order to numb our awareness as we recognize how painful enhanced awareness can be.
The Pain of Existence
'The Pain of Existence' is a term coined by Open at Openhand. It's a term to describe the fact that sometimes our very existence seems like pain. It is the original pain which comes from this paradox:
As souls we have a continual movement of two flows of consciousness within us. Firstly there's the flow out from the source (which we could call God). It's the flow which set the events of the big bang into motion. It's what causes our experience of being an individual, in a world of relativity. Then there's the flow of consciousness which goes 'back to the source'. This is what I have based the name of my website on and more information can be found on my home page. It's what causes us to give and seek love and to seek greater awareness of who we are. The pain of existence is born from the paradox that no matter how close we come to the source, there is no direct way of experiencing it, as to experience is to be in separation (relativity). This causes us to experience a great pain and this is the reason why we seek comfort and distraction in our lives.
You can read more about the pain of existence in Open's article.
Yes, this part of the spiritual journey, when we are beginning to realise this, is not an easy time. We are beginning to see that we are, in actual fact, pretty messed up. It seems so overwhelming. How to confront everything? Well there are a number of simple steps we can take to work with all of this so that we become the true spiritual beings that we have always dreamed of being.
Switching from 'Doing' to 'Being'
This is a fairly simple step, yet it can drastically change your perspective on life. If persisted with, there will be a hugely heightened sense that you are a soul having a human experience. It will no longer be a mental concept but a liveable experience. Here’s the difference. When we are ‘doing’, there is a tendency to try to control and manipulate our surroundings according to our own desires. Its a sticky trap to fall into. How many times per day do you find yourself saying ‘what should I do now?’ Or perhaps your day is already crammed with planned activities. Yes, having nothing to do can be very disconcerting as it forces us to look within.
But what is it the Gurus say? Ah yes, the outside world is just an illusion. Our inner world is the true reality. Consciousness creates our reality and the ‘law of attraction’ configures the world to provide us with what we need (NOT necessarily what we desire). You would not feel drawn to these teachings if a part of you didn’t feel them to be true. So why not live it? All you have to do is start, right here, right now. Yes, it will be painful at times as the universe conspires to show you where you are stuck – where your ego gets in the way. But, it will also be the most uplifting, profound and expanding experience you can have.
Here’s a couple of things we can do to enhance this change in perspective:
Let’s be clear. This is not the easy option. It is not filled with ‘love and light’. But it is a truly powerful way to unravel all your blockages and realize yourself as the divine being that you are. To be or not to be? THAT is most certainly the question!
This is Open's perspective on the pain of existence and how we can act from a sense of 'being' rather than 'doing'. I've included it here in it's original form rather than trying to put my own take on it as it's his concept and I really couldn't say it better myself. In it he takes this one step further and talks about how we can both 'be and not be' at the same time. Pretty mind blowing really:
So there is a place where there is nothing. Infinite stillness. Peace. It's a non-experience now dispersed throughout the universe, within the experience. You can be in this void, but as long as you still exist, you as an individual can no longer turn off the noise, not completely. And when you penetrate really deeply, through all layers of the cosmos, you might even taste the sense of bliss as an irritation!
But in the penetration of it, of the irritation, a sense of 'nirvana' can still be found through, above, below and around it. Then interestingly, if you stay connected to reality, then you can 'be' and 'not be' all at the same time. And when you're in this place, the very grounding of your beingness, just might change the physical material circumstances to something more favourable too. As long as you're not attached that is, as long as you don't need it.
To me, this Pain of Existence will never go away, but I'm able to work with it so it feels less and less like pain. You can become awesomely okay with it.
Ending on a Light Note
Of course, talking about entertainment and distraction, there is nothing wrong with being entertained as long as it is in a conscious way. Humour is a gift given to us to lighten the load and bring the light into darkness. So, here's a mostly irrelevant but none the less hilarious sketch on the subject of Hamlet.
To be or not to be, that is the question....
... and now for something completely different!
Now is the time of dark invitation
Beyond a frontier that you did not expect;
Abruptly, your old life seems distant.
You barely noticed how each day opened
A path through fields never questioned,
Yet expected deep down to hold treasure.
Now your time on earth becomes full of threat;
Before your eyes your future shrinks.
You lived absorbed in the day to day,
So continuous with everything around you,
That you could forget you were separate;
Now this dark companion has come between you,
Distances have opened in your eyes,
You feel that against your will
A stranger has married your heart.
Nothing before has made you
Feel so isolated and lost.
When the reverberations of shock subside in you,
May grace come to restore you to balance.
May it shape a new space in your heart
To embrace this illness as a teacher
Who has come to open your life to new worlds.
May you find in yourself
A courageous hospitality
Towards what is difficult,
Painful and unknown.
May you use this illness
As a lantern to illuminate
The new qualities that will emerge in you.
May the fragile harvesting of this slow light
Help you to release whatever has become false in you.
May you trust this light to clear a path
Through all the fog of old unease and anxiety
Until you feel arising within you a tranquility
Profound enough to call the storm to stillness.
May you find the wisdom to listen to your illness:
Ask it why it came? Why it chose your friendship?
Where it wants to take you? What it wants you to know?
What quality of space it wants to create in you?
What you need to learn to become more fully yourself
That your presence may shine in the world.
May you keep faith with your body,
Learning to see it as a holy sanctuary
Which can bring this night-wound gradually
Towards the healing and freedom of dawn.
May you be granted the courage and vision
To work through passivity and self-pity,
To see the beauty you can harvest
From the riches of this dark invitation.
May you learn to receive it graciously,
And promise to learn swiftly
That it may leave you newborn,
Willing to dedicate your time to birth
Hi everyone. This is a quick post to tell you of some of the things going on hear at Back to the Source at the moment.
You may have noticed that I have not written very many new articles in the last month or so. That is because I've started work on creating 2 new books! I'm really enjoying the creative process and look forward to where this goes.
Book 1: A book on 'coping with change' - the themes of 'loss of identity' and 'working with the concept of death' will be prominent in this book. It's going to explore exactly what causes us to have difficulty with change, and how we can embrace the small and large changes and losses in our lives. It's going to show a way beyond the limiting identities that we have - a way that makes us whole, all of the time.
Book 2: I've recently been given the opportunity to write a children' book! I'm very excited about this project. It's really proving to be a valuable exploration and I'm learning a lot about myself through it. It will be a set of short, magical stories, based on real life but set in the context of 'myth'. It will be aimed at children of around 7-10 years old. It's going to be about finding 'real' magic in everyday life, connecting with spirit and the earth. I'm also doing my own illustrations for it, so I'm very much looking forward to dusting off all the old paint brushes!
So stay tuned! I'm going to be creating a separate blog for the children's book, which I'll link here soon. Also, keep checking in as I'll post some more articles soon and maybe some 'sneak peaks' at what's to come in the books!
Continuing the theme of wisdom from children's books, here's a quote from 'Tuck Everlasting' a children's novel about what being immortal means. I find this quote great because it states such an obvious and simple truth, and our conditioning causes us to forget this time and time again.
Stephen Levine has an extremely in depth knowledge of the human psyche, and seems to ooze compassion in the way that he writes. Yes, there are many deep psychological concepts which are explored, which may need to be read more than once if you aren't used to such deep exploration. However, this is broken up with many beautifully engaging stories which will have you turning pages and confronting your own emotions as you follow the cases that he writes about.
If you're interested, here is the link to the amazon page: Who Dies?
So far in this series of articles on overcoming fear, we've explored how each fear can be traced to a fear of death and also, how our 'web of identity' affects the way we approach our fear. Now, let's go deeper still into the caverns of who we are and look at the source pain behind our fear of death.
Dying - whether a final death or an every day challenge to our sense of self, it confronts our identity causing us to be afraid. Thus we often cling to certain traits/identities within us when others are challenged, especially our world view and belief system. It's been shown over and over again that when reminded of our fear of death, we react generously to those who reinforce our beliefs and harshly to those who call our beliefs into question.
What causes us to behave this way?
Unity Vs, Individuality
This causes great pain to an infant, which we call separation anxiety. It is the first time we experience death in our lifetimes; a loss of identity. So, we begin to search for our own identity - what is our place in the world? And here begins the apparent conflict between the two opposing currents of love (unity consciousness) and individuality (separation). Thus a child will flip several times a day between needing to be supported and nurtured and needing to assert their independence, which of course continues into adulthood, if only in a more subtle way.
The two 'flows of consciousness' conflict because of fear - we fear to lose ourselves in unity consciousness, to lose our uniqueness, that which defines us. This is the underlying cause: the 'source pain', of our fear of death. It is the reason so many are not able to meditate deeply - to hit that point where we blend effortlessly into the vastness of the universe.
So how do we consolidate these two apparently opposing flows so that they work together in our lives, so that fear arises less and less? Well, I'm afraid there's no method I can give you. The answer lies in the opposite of method - surrender.....total and utter surrender.
Surrendering into Nothingness
We have to let the fear arise. We have to make friends with it. We have to let go of our clinging. We have to be prepared to dissolve into nothingness. It takes a deep surrender to let go of our identities. The parent, the musician, the football player, the intellectualist, the lover, the carer, the comedian, the warrior - they must all go. They have to all be thrown into the black hole of nothingness - to my knowledge there is no other way to overcome fear! We have to literally become the black hole. Emptiness.
Here's the thing - this emptiness, this nothingness. There is actually a wholeness to it. A purity of life. Some call it unconditional love. It is not really nothingness but no-thing-ness. There is no object (there is not even a subject) to cling to and produce duality. ..
...and out of this nothingness, this pure potential, comes our real uniqueness. It is not something that can be easily described, easily labelled, and therefore there is no identity with it. It is just you, pure and simple. It is felt as a kind of 'rightness' in every moment. It is not the rightness of right and wrong, this is a judgement, a duality which leads to identifying with a certain point of view. It is a spontaneous 'knowing' of how to respond to any given situation. It is beyond the mind and yet it is alignment for you and those around you, even if it makes people uncomfortable.
The Magic of the Moment
From here we begin to see how truly magical life really is. Check out this amazing short video with Alan Watts.
"So therefore, in the course of nature, once we have ceased to see the magic in the world anymore, we're no longer fulfilling natures game of being aware of itself. There's no point anymore. And so we die" - Alan Watts
Life is truly magical - the way it works, all the little miracles, the coincidences, the interactions.
How can we cultivate this feeling inside of us? We have to dive right in. Embrace the good and the bad. Find a passion, what makes you tick and do it without guilt. Dive right in. But don't cling, don't identify - our passions are simply ways of expressing our uniqueness which comes form pure potential, they are not who we are. We are the magic of the universe made incarnate.
In the first article in the series we have explored the perspective that each and every fear that we have can be ultimately traced to a fear of death, and that it is caused by our conditioning from our upbringing and our societal norms and expectations. In this article I'd like to delve deeper into the psyche so that we can explore ways of overcoming our conditioning and our fear of death.
Fear of Loosing 'Who We Are'
This is a very simplified model of a random person within society. Yet taking a closer look, we can clearly see the things we may identify with in our lives, how there can be smaller identities within them, and how they can be connected. We can also see that there are two types of identity:
All of these identities have been built up through a desire to know who we are. So, the question is who are we in all of this? Does being a Nurse, a Tennis player, a parent and a lover define who I am? Or are they simply outer scenarios in which we can express our characteristics: love, playfulness, caring, creativity. Are even these characteristics a definition of who we are? What happens when I don't feel playful or caring? Am I not me then?
It is not easy to let let go of identity, but seeing that you are identified and that the object, person or situation of identity doesn't actually define you is the first and most powerful step.
A Neuro-scientific viewpoint
Check out these two articles by Olivia Goldhill. They show us how the Buddhist perspective of ever-changing self can be linked to Neuroscientific research and that our personalities change over the course of our lives. What is interesting about this second study is that most of the research out there suggests that personality is fairly stable. However, they have all been conducted up to middle age, and this study went all the way from ages 14-77. It suggest that the bigger changes in personality begin to happen after middle age. Of course this is the period in our lives when we will have to say goodbye to many of the people, objects and situations that we have identified with. It shows how losing these things can affect who we are. We may become different people as the things that we hold dear get ripped away from us.
"People use the language of death and grief and loss whether they're talking about failing a class, breaking up with somebody, getting a scary diagnosis or burying a loved one"
- Jeanine Staples
How does embracing death all fit into this? Well, you see death is just a concept. Yes, we have our final deaths, there's no avoiding that, but we can embrace the concept of death by embracing every little death that we die along the way. In this way we don't cling, we don't become misers and we drink in the fullness, the richness of the moment, whatever that may be. Even during times of great pain or misery, there is an underlying peace, like an easiness because you are simply going with the flow.
In the 3rd article in the series 'Overcoming Fear by Embracing Death' we will look at the two opposing flows of unity and uniqueness and how these can either lead to attachment and clinging or to great inner peace and magical manifestations.
Fear of death is so prevalent in our psyches that it can be argued that it governs much of the way we think and react to our environment. It is the underlying cause of dependence on security and one-another, and drives us to cling to conditioned identities in order to give us some permanence. It is behind the idea of 'legacy', that we wish to leave a part of ourselves behind after we die, which causes us to fixate on an 'idea' rather than feeling who we are in each and every moment. In fact it is my perspective that it is possible to link ALL of our fears in some way to the fear of death. So, why is it so prevalent, what happens to us when we are conditioned this way and how can we overcome it? Here is the first in a two part series on overcoming the fear of death.
Fear of Death in Society
I have worked with a number of medical and caring professionals from doctors, nurses and paramedics to therapists, carers and social workers. And over time I have noticed that when at work, most of these professionals (especially medical ones) have a between a moderately strong to extreme fear of death, which dramatically affects the way they work. Each and every time I heard someone bring up the subject of death to a paramedic, the response, without exception was "I don't want to hear that" - This is literally what people said! In fact this has been a major influencing factor for me to go into the work that I now do - the look of relief on peoples faces when they said to me "I think I might die soon" and the response was "Okay. Talk to me about it" was quite literally life changing for me.
This is not by any means an attack on medical professionals. It is very understandable that when one comes to a job that has a primary function of preventing death, that one may see death as a 'failure', and that when confronted regularly with people dying in front of you that emotional reactions will continue to influence the way that medical practice is approached.
So, where does this conditioning come from?
From an early age, we strive to discover our unique place in the world. Through positive feedback ("That was very kind of you, well done" or "Aren't you good at drawing!") and negative feedback ("That wasn't nice!" or "why can't you be more....?") we begin to build up a web of conditioning and a picture of who we think we are. Then we go out into the world and are taught that one has to be secure to be happy. To do this, we have to provide for ourselves and our dependents, and the most secure way to to this is to get a job and a house. We see homeless people on the streets - people who have not been able to meet societies expectations - and we become afraid that that could happen to us.
Thus, we seek some form of legacy. As Ernest Becker postulates in his book, 'The Denial of Death' the function of society is to help us believe that we can transcend death by participating in something of lasting worth.
And, we don't just seek security in the physical world, but also in who we are. We like to say 'this is me'. We attach ourselves to identities, and when these identities slip away we are confronted directly with the fear of death. This is why all fear can be linked to a fear of death, because all fear is, is a reaction to a challenge to this web of identity, that we see that we may lose some part of ourselves. Fear of pain - because we identify with the body, fear of failure because it challenges our self-esteem (the desire to be 'good' at something), fear of loosing status, a job, a partner or a treasured possession - all because of an underlying fear of death. It is a fear of the unknown. It is a fear that we are not permanent. It is a fear of obliteration.
Belief in life after death can help, but the fear of death as a concept extends beyond this and affects everyone, no matter what spiritual beliefs you may have. Death is not just a state we enter at the end of our life - it manifests itself every day as something that challenges our patterns and conditioning. It is in the person who disagrees with you, it's in the mistakes that you make, it's in your lack of self confidence. It is a direct manifestation of every time you have an expectation that doesn't get met; of every time you cling to something that is comfortable and known when given the option to go forth into the unknown.
Why are we Wired this Way?
Essentially, we are caught between two opposing 'pulls' to our being. On one hand there is the desire for unity; the pull to be 'at one' with the universe, which can be called 'love'. On the other hand, there is the overwhelming need for individuality and uniqueness. It is the apparent opposition of these two forces which causes our denial of death, and thus denial of life. And, it is in this conundrum that we have the answer to the question, 'how can we overcome the fear of death?'
In the second part of the series, we'll look more closely at identity and how it plays a major role in our ability to embrace death, as well as a further explanation of the question, 'what is the self?'
I love this TEDx talk. The reason I love it, is because Jeanine Staples talks about the deaths that we die every day and how we can be compassionate to them and ourselves and come through them. This is the foundation of my 'Embracing Change' work that will be launched later in the year, because it not only shows us how we can prepare ourselves for when 'final death' hits, but also how much richer and peaceful we can make our lives if we work with the concept of death.
So, I urge you to watch it. In the video Jeanine gives a fantastically fresh perspective, which very much mirrors my own philosophy and the way that I work with people. She has described it so well, using very clear models of the different kinds of death we die in our lifetimes as well as techniques we can use to establish a dialogue with our pain.
For related reading see:
What do you think of the video? I encourage you to share your thoughts, feelings or questions.
My name is Richard. I love to write, and here you can find my general musings, observations and articles. Enjoy!
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