One author who has had a profound affect on my personal evolution and my client work is Stephen Levine, author of the magnificent book Who Dies which you can find in the Recommended Reading list in the sidebar. Stephen, a practicing Buddhist, writes about the softening of the hardness that we build around our hearts when our lives are under stress, and how to relax into a sense of presence and that-which-is. These are Buddhist concepts, but they transcend Buddhism or any religious or spiritual definitions. This presence is also what is taught by Eckhart Tolle, who has become one of the leading spiritual leaders of our time.
Dharmaruci at was a practicing Buddhist for many years and has an interesting article up today on this subject in a follow-up on an article about a Buddhist nun. He begins:
There are certain things I love about Buddhism. Its philosophy of emptiness makes complete sense. It is saying that everything is part of an interconnected flux in which there are no separate ‘things’. That includes the sense of ‘I’ – hence the famous ‘no-self’ doctrine.
I have to say that this “no-self” idea has always perturbed me. I myself practiced a disciplined form of meditation for about 18 years and found when I entered psychotherapy that I had spent much of that time using meditation to numb myself from my painful feelings. I actually quit meditating during the time I was in therapy so that I could more fully awaken to myself and begin to process a lifetime of discomfort. When I began to meditate again I no longer worked to quiet the mind but instead to be present with what was happening in the moment. The more I became Present, the quieter my mind became.
But Dharmaruci effectively describes this process in today’s article:
The sense of ‘I’ is a good place to start. It certainly seems very solid and real, and it locates us experientially at the centre of the universe, to which we reach out and relate. But that sense of ‘I’ is usually based on identifying with what we think and feel – that is what makes us ‘us’. What a lot of people don’t realise is that you don’t have to identify with, and act on, what you are feeling. We have a choice. If you are angry with someone, you don’t have to torment yourself with it, the mind circling endlessly as it tries to justify the feeling of anger. Nor do you have to go into therapy and try and find the root cause of it (though that can have its place.) We can make the decision to stand back and observe the feeling. This is a deeply transformational act.
This principle applies to all sorts of limiting, painful emotions which we all experience every day. And it is a different self that does the observing. This new self is not rigid and protective, for there is nothing to protect anymore. It is spacious. You no longer need take events so personally. You are fully present and aware, fully emotionally responsive to others, fully connected in a way you never were before, because you’re no longer seeing the world through the veil of your own reactions to it. You are, in other words, more aware of the interconnected flux to which in reality we all belong.
This process of becoming fully present is easier than one might think, but it requires courage and awareness and time to be still and pay attention.