A year after becoming a father in a new house and taking on a new job, sleepless and overwhelmed, I was purely in survival mode. I had been struggling to maintain any sense of orientation or even coherent identity. The barista calling out my daily coffee order (as large as possible) seemed one of the few touchstones of identity in a newly jumbled existence.
Throughout adulthood, daily journaling and reflective reading had been a touchstone spiritual practice. That was gone for now. No time. Creative practices like writing and music had kept me centered. These were on hold. Travel or long phone chats with old friends? Gone. Spiritual or scriptural reading? Intermittent at best.
The internal response was one of resistance and resentment, a personal default. Why don’t I ever have time to do the things that keep me happy? When will I have that time again? How long can it go on like this? And so on.
Without these social components of identity and ritual practices, it felt like my sense of identity began to wither on the vine.
One week my wife was out of town with our son, and though still at home and working, I was able to enter a different rhythm, like an at-home retreat. Along with several sessions of Centering Prayer a day, I took the extra time that week to read Anthony De Mello’s Awareness on recommendation from a friend.
It seemed to tie together much of the writings of mystics, contemplatives, and poets I had read in fits and starts over the years.
But I was able to hear with fresh ears: we are not who we think we are, and deeper happiness lies in living out of this realization. In clinging to these things as the sources of our happiness, we make ourselves miserable. Inner resistance to the way things are right now is a great source of our misery.
Instead, beneath the surface identity, beneath our story of who we are, beneath our relationships, beneath our accomplishments, beneath our nationality, our denomination, our family, beneath our name, and even our thought and emotion, there is a True Self. Fr. Richard Rohr calls it an immortal diamond.
This part of our inmost being partakes of the divine essence. That is not a state we have to achieve. That is simply the nature of reality at its deepest level. Our constructed identities, our projects for happiness, our ego pursuits, are all part of a False Self we use to navigate life in response to our experiences.
What helps transform our awareness and therefore our capacity to fall back into and rest in this reality is letting go.
This letting go takes faith that there is a greater divine order that we can fall into when we stop the endless striving for external fulfillment. Usually, it takes a degree of suffering we experience as a direct result of this endless striving. Instead, and contemplative practice can help here, we learn to accept what is. Several issues I had been struggling with seemed to not resolve per se, but rather dissolve in the spacious awareness I experienced that week.
In our normal state of awareness or rather lack of awareness, we assume acceptance and resignation are the same thing.
Instead, becoming aware means seeing our habitual mental-emotional patterns clearly and accepting the deeper truth that we are not dependent on anything external for our ultimate happiness. What a liberating realization.
The desires that we cling to for happiness: for status, for recognition, for affection, for security, instead become preferences. In contemplative practice, it’s not that we become machines with no impulses or cravings, instead we become the witnesses, the spacious observers, the awareness of our experience, rather than identifying ourselves with those impulses or cravings. Choice enters the picture.
This is a shift out of our small self or ego. Cynthia Bourgeault ties this to the biblical term repentance or metanoia, which she translates as “going beyond the mind” or entering into the “greater mind.” The True Self is who we are living out of this alignment as we open ourselves to it, expanding the circumference of our awareness to include both our own ego projects and what Teilhard de Chardin calls the divine milieu all around us.
Question: What pivotal experiences or practices have helped you leave behind the quagmire your mind had gotten you into? Please share in the comments section below! Share your answer on Facebook or Twitter