Seeing half the truth is the whole problem
Humanity is facing a daunting set of challenges, ranging from mass extinction and breakdown of ecosystems to hyper-inequality and threat of nuclear war. At the same time, a mental health crisis is spreading as evident in rising number of suicides, addictions and prescriptions for anxiety and depression. These inner and outer crisis are connected, part of the same whole. They mirror each other and reinforce one another. Yet we seem to be staring at one half of the puzzle.
Collectively, we almost exclusively focus on changing the external. We identify problems as isolated and separate from each other and rely on technology to set things right. Powerful as it is, this “top-down” approach is not equipped to address the complexity of the problems it has been part of creating.
“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”Albert Einstein
The more holistically we see a situation, the more appropriate our actions become. It is time to shift from the simplistic “left hemisphere” focus on the external and expand our awareness to include inner development. We need to wake up to the fact that problems “out there” are manifestations of what is going on inside of us. We need holistic ways of addressing the crisis of consciousness – individually and collectively.
The paradox of self improvement
The practice and tradition of “self improvement” is another product of the top-down mindset. We identify what is lacking, set goals for what to improve and apply various strategies to get it done. We are basically using the same old approach in a new guise – the underlying premise is that we need to improve in order to be alright.
Taking action and solving problems is part of the answer. Acting for change is necessary. But acting from a state of struggle is often what creates the problems in the first place. When we operate from a sense of lack and self-deficiency (consciously or unconsciously), we tend to reinforce the very state of inner resistance we are longing to alleviate. This feeling of lack is further energised by comparing ourselves with others. We worry about all the ways we could (or “should”) improve. We feel that we must struggle and apply willpower to become better, stronger, smarter, more loving, more awakened. Unfortunately, willpower is quite limited in its capacity to bring about lasting change. It easily runs out, leaving us feeling guilty and exhausted. We blame ourselves for lacking self discipline and reinforce the sense of self-deficiency by telling ourselves that we don’t have what it takes.
Even when we succeed in reaching our goals, the satisfaction is short-lived. Rather than celebrating and enjoying the fullness of life, the mind is already busy fixing some other flaw. The belief behind this habitual doing and fixing is that some situation in the future will bring us what we want, and that we can relax and be happy when we reach it. But of course, if we are stuck in the “in-order-to” mind where everything is done to get somewhere else, we never reach this place. We put the key to our wellbeing in the hands of outer circumstances. We put conditions on our sense of self-worth, believing that everything needs to be deserved through struggle. Fundamentally, we confuse doing with being.
- How often are you operating from the “in-order-to-mind”?
- In what ways are you trying to improve yourself?
- Think of all of your achievements and ways in which you’ve grown and deepened over the course of your life. How often do you stop to celebrate and enjoy?
Resting in Being, embracing action
Luckily, there is another approach to address this inner work; what we might call the process of self discovery. This approach starts with the question; what if nothing is missing? Sure, we may lack certain skills that we want to develop. And sure, there may be goals we decide to pursue. But what if these skills or achievements have nothing to do with our sense of self worth? What if we are already whole in our innermost Being?
Embracing our inner experience does not imply neglecting the outer world. The shift from self improvement to self discovery is not a passive one. On the contrary, it teaches us to embrace action while resting in a deep contact with our selves. We shift away from a sense of lack, our actions become more aligned with our true Will and higher aspiration. This is acting from Being.
You are here
The secret is to start where we are. This is where we find the flow of spontaneous unfoldment that leads us toward self contact. As long as we escape the present moment by wishing we were somewhere else, we cannot enter into the process of self discovery. This is like using a map to navigate without knowing our starting point. In order to know what direction to move, we start by locating the centre of our consciousness – much like finding the “you are here” mark on a map. Rather that focusing on what is not here, we are invited to shift to what is actually here.
Bringing presence to the present moment is the entry point to the flow that takes us deeper into our experience and puts us in touch with ourselves. This is not something that we “do” in the common sense – it is more like a process of unfoldment that we allow ourselves to enter into. We simply bring attention and the attitude of curiosity and inquiry to our actual experience. From this place of attunement, any experience – even feelings of lack or deficiency – turns into the path of self discovery. We allow life to flow through and take us closer to our Being.
“The obstacle is the path”
- Take a moment to stop and check in with yourself. Take a few conscious breaths.
- How are you experiencing this very moment? What thoughts, feelings and sensations are passing through your awareness?
- Whatever arises is an invitation to allow it as an expression of reality in this moment. At any point, you can inquire into your experience and dive deeper into the flow of life.
Not a linear process
As we engage in this inner work, we find ourselves moving in and out of self contact. As long as we stay with the truth of our own experience in any given moment – the process of self discovery unfolds. This happens at different depths.
At times, we may be exploring some cognitive dissonance caused by conflicting beliefs between different parts of our psyche. We are invited to inquire into these parts and feel them somatically in our body (e.g. using the focusing). Instead of judging them, we begin to listen to them with mindful awareness. Once we see the needs they are trying to meet, we can soften into a deeper process of discovery.
We are now in the flow of immediate experience, in touch with the bodily felt sense of whatever we are exploring. We are experiencing the aliveness of change. When we are attuned to this flow, we access the wisdom of intuition beyond the fragmentary view of the left hemisphere. From this depth, parts no longer feel static or conflicting but as part of a larger whole.
We are what we long for
If we stay with this flow, we will sense its life affirming direction. We see how it leads us closer to our Being, revealing insights along the way. This is the process of self discovery at work.
These may sound like flimsy words, but it turns out to be a highly pragmatic approach to life. When we are in touch with ourselves, we no longer have to rely solely on the conscious control of the left hemisphere. We gain access to a more holistic and intuitive faculty of the mind, which is exactly what is needed to navigate the complexity of life. It affords us to separate our present moment experience from the ideas we have about it. We can observe conditioned patterns and impulses of the mind without being pushed around by them. This increase our agency and freedom by opening up new possibilities.
Shifting into the flow of the present moment enables us to view things in a new light. We see that what we labeled “the problem” is not really what is getting in the way of our happiness. Rather, it is our limited perspective that holds us back. So when our framing of the situation shifts, problems often seem to “vanish”. Sudden insights appear, making the course of action (if action is even relevant) appears obvious.
When we access the wholeness of the present moment, we feel that nothing is actually missing. We experience the fullness of this moment as something essential to who we are. Qualities like joy, peace, strength and compassion are not seen as fleeting feelings but as essential aspects of our Being. It can be surprising to realise that we are looking for is hiding in plain sight.
From hole to whole
Following the flow of life will also reveal what feels like impediments on our path to wholeness. These obstacles may be experienced as a deep sense of lack or deficiency. “Holes” are learned coping strategies that cover up a lost aspect of our essential nature. For example, if we are punished for being angry as a child, we learn to suppress our anger in order to be accepted. By pushing anger into the shadow of the unconscious, we are also cut off from its healthy equivalent; Strength (e.g. we may loose the capacity to set boundaries or to stand up for what we believe). In this way, we loose access to aspects of our essential life force. We make up strategies to avoid the sense of lack and live our lives avoiding holes.
In order to regain access to what has been dis-owned, the only way is by going through the hole. But because of deep conditioning to avoid discomfort, we tend to pull away from them. To complicate things, we have multi billion dollar industries eager to cultivate this conditioning further by providing symptom relief and convenient methods of escape. We are taught to believe that avoidance is the way to relieve the suffering that is caused by being cut off from our true Selves.
The process of self discovery is a path that required the courage of a warrior. We allow ourselves to explore the feltsense of the lack, addiction, aversion, stuckness or whatever the sensation may be. By bringing mindful awareness to our holes and allowing ourselves to experience them without reacting, we begin to decondition the mind. If we stick with the process, we will eventually “step through” and discover the fullness that lies on the other side*. By facing the coping strategies (e.g. suppression of anger), the hole (a sense of weakness or castration) dissolves and we regain access to the essential quality (strength, clarity, life force).
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.”C.G. Jung
* if we carry unresolved traumas, we may require support by a professional in this process.
What we discover
By diving into the present moment and entering into the process of self discovery, we are:
- Learning to be with what is
- Letting go of resistance to the flow of life
- Opening up to insights and more wholistic perspectives
- Welcoming unacknowledged feelings and learning what they have to teach us
- Learning to stay equanimous in the midst of challenging circumstances
- Reducing reactive behavior
- Deconditioning the mind from patterns that cause suffering
- Learning to see, nurture and heal exiled parts of ourselves (often from childhood)
- Shining the light of mindful awareness on what we have dis-owned and projected onto other people
- Integrating shadow parts into consciousness
- Forming a new relationship with our super ego
- Questioning old beliefs that hold us back
- Coming closer to our whole Selves
- Abiding in the Frameless aspect of our Being
- Embracing effortless action
Framing the Frameless
If we are called to do the inner work, there are a wide range of methods and traditions available to us. We have to find the ones that resonate and work for us personally. And most importantly – we have to actually do the work. No one can walk the path for us.
The purpose of Frameless Meditation is to provide support for navigating the path of self discovery. The techniques and teachings I share come from different traditions, including Buddhism (Theravada, Vipassana, Zen, Vajrayana), Taoism (qigong, neigong) and Shaiva tantra.
I also find it important to acknowledge more recent discoveries and insights from the field of psychology. Unless we know how to deal with emotional and personal challenges, they will haunt us and hinder the process of self discovery. It is tempting to escape from the mundane troubles by turning to spirituality. We may attempt to transcend our emotional and personal challenges, hoping that higher states of consciousness will magically dissolve them. This is known as “spiritual bypassing” and does not ultimately free us from the suffering in our lives. To deal with this issue, Frameless Meditation is inspired by contemporary approaches like the Diamond Approach and Zen Coaching and makes use of techniques like Non-Violent Communication, Internal Family Systems, Somatic Experiencing, Focusing, Inquiry and secular mindfulness and tantric practices.
I’m not claiming to be an expert in all these fields. But my experience tells me that we need a balanced set of tools and practices to enter the journey of self discovery. Through this particular “ecology of practices”, my hope is to provide support, motivation and reminders that make the process of self discovery easily accessible.
Ultimately, we have to remember that any technique points to something beyond itself. As they say in Zen, they are the finger pointing to the moon, not the moon itself. Staring at the finger is like confusing a map for the actual terrain. The methods are there to help turn our attention so we can discover the moon and the landscape for ourselves.
Continue with these Frames: