The spiritual journey is one of constant transformation.
In order to grow, you must give up the struggle to remain the same, and learn to embrace change at all times. One of the most important areas requiring change is how we solve our personal problems.
We normally attempt to solve our inner disturbances by protecting ourselves. Real transformation begins when you embrace your problems as agents for growth. In order to understand how this process works, let’s examine the following situation.
Imagine that you have a thorn in your arm that directly touches a nerve. When the thorn is touched, it’s very painful. Because it hurts so much, the thorn is a serious problem. It’s difficult to sleep because you roll over on it. It’s hard to get close to people because they might touch it. It makes your daily life very difficult. You can’t even go for a walk in the woods because you might brush the thorn against the branches. This thorn is a constant source of disturbance, and to solve the problem you only have two choices.
- Protect it: The first choice is to look at your situation and decide that since it’s so disturbing when things touch the thorn, you need to protect it to make sure nothing touches it.
- Remove it: The second choice is to decide that since it’s so disturbing when things touch the thorn, you need to remove it by taking it out take it out.
First choice- Protect the Thorn
The truth is, now the thorn completely runs your entire life. It affects all your decisions, including where you go, whom you’re comfortable with, and who’s comfortable with you. It determines where you’re allowed to work, what house you can live in, and what kind of bed you can sleep on at night. When it’s all said and done, that thorn s running every aspect of your life.
You end up so psychologically fixated on the problem that you can’t see the forest for the trees. You actually feel that because you’ve minimized the pain of the problem, you’ve solved the problem. But it is not solved. All you did was devote your life to avoiding it. It is now the center of your universe. It’s all there is.
Example- The Thorn of Loneliness:
In order to apply the analogy of the thorn to your whole life, we will use loneliness as an example. Let’s say you have a very deep sense of inner loneliness. It’s so deep that you have trouble sleeping at night, and during the day it makes you very sensitive.
You’re susceptible to feeling sharp pangs in your heart that cause quite a disturbance. You have trouble staying focused on your job, and you have trouble with everyday interactions. What’s more, when you’re very lonely it’s often painfully difficult to get close to people.
You see, loneliness is just like the thorn. It causes pain and disturbance in all aspects of your life. But in the case of the human heart, we have more than one thorn. We have sensitivities about loneliness, about rejection, about our physical appearance, and about our mental prowess.
We are walking around with lots of thorns touching right against the most sensitive part of our hearts. At any moment something can touch them and cause pain inside.
You have the same two choices with these inner thorns as you did with the thorn in your arm.
- Protect it
- Remove it
Surely it was obvious that you would have been much better off by removing the loneliness thorn. There’s no reason to spend your life protecting the thorn from getting touched when you can just remove it. Once the thorn is removed, you are truly free of it.
The same is true with your inner thorns; they can be removed.
But if you choose to protect them without being disturbed by them, you must modify your life to avoid the situations that would stir them up. If you’re lonely, you must avoid going to places where couples tend to be. If you’re afraid of rejection, you must avoid getting too close to people. You are attempting to adjust your life to make allowance for your thorns. In the earlier example the thorns were outside. Now they are inside.
When you’re lonely, you find yourself pondering what to do about your loneliness.
- What is it that you can say or do in order to not feel so lonely?
Notice that you aren’t asking how to get rid of the problem; you’re asking how to protect yourself from feeling it. You do this either avoiding situations or by using people, places, and things as protective shields. You’re going to end up just like the person with the thorn.
The loneliness will run tour entire life. You’ll marry the person who makes you feel less lonely, and you’ll think that’s natural and normal. But it’s exactly the same as the person who is avoiding the pain of the thorn instead of taking it out.
You have not removed the root of loneliness. You have only attempted to protect yourself from feeling it. Should someone die or leave you, the loneliness would again disturb you. The problem will be back the moment the external situation fails to protect you from what’s inside.
If you do not remove the thorn, you will end up responsible for both the thorn and everything you pulled around yourself in an attempt to protect/avoid it. Should you be fortunate enough to find someone who manages to diminish the feeling of loneliness, you will then begin worrying about keeping your relationship with this person. You’ve managed to compound the issue by avoiding the problem.
This is exactly the same as using the apparatus to compensate for the thorn; you have to adjust your life accordingly. The minute you allow the core problem to stay, it expands out into multiple problems. It wouldn’t dawn on you to just get rid of it. Instead, the only solution you see is to try to avoid feeling it. Now you have no choice but to go out and fix everything that affects it.
You have to worry about how you dress and how you talk. You have to worry about what people think of you because that could affect your feeling of loneliness or need for love. If someone is attracted to you, and this eases your feelings of loneliness, you wish you could say, “How do I need to act in order to please you? I can be any way you want. I just don’t want to feel these periods of loneliness anymore.”
You now have this burden of worrying about the relationship. It creates an experience of underlying tension and discomfort, and it can even affect your sleep at night. The truth is, however, the discomfort you’re experiencing isn’t actually the feeling of loneliness. It’s the never-ending thoughts of “Did I say the right thing? Does she really like me, or am I just kidding myself?”
The root problem is now buried under all these shallower issues that are all about avoiding the deeper ones. It all gets very complicated. People end up using their relationships to hide their thorns. If you care for each other, you are expected to adjust your behavior to avoid bumping into each other’s soft spots.
This is what people do. They let the fear of their inner thorns affect their behavior. They end up limiting their lives just like someone living with an external thorn. Ultimately, if there is something disturbing inside of you, you have to make a choice. You can compensate for the disturbance by going outside in an attempt to avoid feeling it, or you can simply remove the thorn and not focus your life around it.
Second Choice- Remove the Thorn
Do not doubt your ability to remove the root cause of the disturbance inside of you. It really can go away. You can look deep within yourself, to the core of your being, and decide that you don’t want the weakest part of you running your life. You want to be free of this. You want to talk to people because you find them interesting, not because you’re lonely. You want to have relationships with people because you genuinely like them, not because you need for them to like you. You want to love because you truly love, not because you need to avoid your inner problems.
How do you free yourself? In the deepest sense, you free yourself by finding yourself. You are not the pain you feel, nor are you the part that periodically stresses out. None of these disturbances have anything to do with you. You are the one who notices these things. Because your consciousness is separate and aware of these things, you can free yourself.
To free yourself of your inner thorns, you simply stop playing with them. The more you touch them, the more you irritate them. Because you’re always doing something to avoid feeling them, they are not given the chance to naturally work themselves out.
If you want, you can simply permit the disturbances to come up, and you can let them go. Since your inner thorns are simply blocked energies from the past, they can be released. The problem is, you either completely avoid situations that would cause them to release, or you push them back down in the name of protecting yourself.
Suppose you’re sitting at home watching TV. You’re enjoying the program until the two main characters fall in love. Suddenly you feel loneliness, but there’s no one around to give you attention. Interestingly, you were fine just a few minutes ago.
This example shows that the thorn is always in your heart; it’s just not activated until something touches it. You feel the reaction as a hollowness or a dropping sensation in your heart. It feels very uncomfortable. A sense of weakness comes over you, and you begin thinking about other times when you were left alone and of people who have hurt you. Stored energy from the past releases from the heart and generates thoughts. Now, instead of enjoying TV, you’re sitting alone caught in a wave of thoughts and emotions.
What can you do to solve this besides eating something, calling somebody, or doing something else that might quiet it down? What you can do is notice that you noticed. You can notice that your consciousness was watching TV, and now it is watching your inner melodrama.
The one who sees this is you, the subject. What you are looking at is an object. A feeling of emptiness is an object; it is something you feel. But who feels it? Your way out is to just notice who’s noticing. It’s really that simple. It is much less complex than the protective apparatus with all its ball bearings, wheels, and hydraulics. All you have to do is notice who it is that feels the loneliness. The one who notices is already free. If you want to be free of these energies, you must allow them to pass through you instead of hiding them inside of you.
Ever since you were a child, you’ve had energies going on inside. Wake up and realize that you are in there, and you have a sensitive person in there with you. Simply watch that sensitive part of you feel disturbance. See it feel jealousy, need, and fear. These feelings are just part of the nature of a human being. If you pay attention, you will see that they are not you; they are just something you’re feeling and experiencing. You are the indwelling being that is aware of all of this. If you maintain your center, you can learn to appreciate and respect even the difficult experiences.
For example, some of the most beautiful poetry and music have come from people who were in turmoil. Great art comes from the depth of one’s being. You can experience these very human states without getting lost in them or resisting them.
You can notice that you notice and just watch how experiencing loneliness affects you.
- Does your posture change?
- Do you breathe slower or faster?
- What goes on when loneliness is given the space it needs to pass through you?
- Be an explorer. Witness it, and then it will go. If you don’t get absorbed in it, the experience will soon pass and something else will come up. Just enjoy all of it.
If you can do this, you will be free, and a world of pure energy will open up within you.
The more you sit in the Self, the more you will begin to feel an energy that you have never experienced before. It comes up from behind, rather than in front where you experience your mind and emotions. When you are no longer absorbed in your melodrama but, instead, sit comfortably deep inside the seat of awareness, you will start to feel this flow of energy coming up from deep within.
This flow has been called Shakti. This flow has been called Spirit. This is what you begin to experience if you hang out with the Self instead of hanging out with inner disturbances. You don’t have to get rid of loneliness; you just cease to be involved with it. It’s just another thing in the universe, like cars, grass, and the stars. It’s none of your business.
Just let things go.
That’s what the Self does. Awareness does not fight; awareness releases. Awareness is simply aware while everything in the universe parades before it.
If you sit within the Self, you will experience the strength of your inner being even when your heart feels weak. This is the essence of the path. This is the essence of a spiritual life. Once you learn that it’s okay to feel inner disturbances, and that they can no longer disturb your seat of consciousness, you will be free.
You will begin to be sustained by the inner energy flow that comes from behind you. When you have tasted the ecstasy of the inner flow, you can walk in this world and the world will never touch you.
That’s how you become a free being—you transcend.