“Your task is not to seek love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” -Rumi
It is still dark outside. Disoriented, I wake up from the sound of my partner slamming the bathroom door. Immediately and with delicate precision, all my internal judges pull out their pens and paper and start writing their convictions with utmost certainty. They don’t need to wake up to do their work. Physically, I observe how the awakening body contracts around the stomach and narrows in the chest area. “Who in his right mind would slam the door at the break of dawn?” The fridge opens and closes, the gas is turned on, some plates and cutlery make short, sharp noises. In the distance, I hear a couple of barking dogs and now a nearby rooster begins to chant his sunrise hymn. The judges chatter along, affirming, “If he didn’t slam the door, I would still be sleeping. Then, I wouldn’t be hearing any of this. But now, every detail keeps me awake. I’ll bet I can’t get back to sleep again.” I start to twist and turn, in search of a comfortable position. But, it is nowhere to be found. “You see, that’s why you should live alone. You know you need your space and you know how sensitive you are to sounds, not to mention energies.” Sleep seems as far from me as planet Jupiter, and a mosquito bite begins to itch. “Don’t scratch that bite, you’ll only make it worse. You knew you were bound to get bitten when you sat out on the terrace yesterday. And, since you are awake anyway, you might as well make use of your time instead of lazing around in bed, don’t you think?”
All of this happens in a matter of seconds, and I slowly become aware of the barking voice inside my head. I stop and remember some words from Eckhart Tolle. Didn’t he say something about becoming hyper aware of the physical body and taking three conscious breaths? I take three slow, conscious breaths and feel how the contraction in my stomach softens. Suddenly, I become aware of the early morning sunlight caressing my right cheek and a gentle melody being sung by a little green bird on a nearby branch.
The voice of the inner critic is not a stranger to anyone. It comes as an uninvited guest—without a warning, without knocking on the door, freely feeding on all the sweets and savories we neatly stocked up for our dinner party.
The fact that this inner voice exists is not the problem. The fact that you mistake it for yourself is. Have you ever taken the time to really look at the many words and images generated by this inner critic? If you had, you’d see that it has a strong tendency to create a sense of separation between itself and its surroundings. It does this to support the (conditioned) belief systems, which are based on a separate sense of self. Therefore, it likes to out-wrong the other in order to affirm the “self.”
The voice prefers to direct (i.e., project) its attention outside itself. In that way, any discomfort or dissatisfaction can be attributed to the “other” (whatever feels wrong inside should be fixed outside). Yet, the critique towards any external source is bound to be rooted in an internal fear, a fear of not being good enough, a fear of not being “worthy.” According to a variety of spiritual teachers (Tolle, Almaas, Osho, etc.), it is this fear—the root emotion of the ego—that keeps the illusion of division alive and, ultimately, keeps you from freedom.
So, how to tackle this fear?
“You have to keep on breaking your heart until it opens.” -Rumi
Where does this continuous judging and sense of separateness followed by fears and insecurities come from? And why do you listen to it? Maybe you remember being told by your parents that you were not good enough? Or, how you derived your sense of self by comparison to your friends? Or, all the little white lies you used to tell your partner and yourself to prevent any sort of (inner) judgment or disappointment? Or, the facade you might still put on to please your parents, your partner, your boss, or your friends in order not to feel rejected? Do you remember the contractions, the hidden fears, the tiptoeing, and the energy-drain that preceded and followed that behavior?
The sheer phrasing of how to “tackle” this obstacle implies that you’d rather get rid of it today than tomorrow. There is a tendency towards avoidance and suppression, the so-called “shortcuts” to (momentary) satisfaction. Thus, you live in compensation. For me personally, this is surely still the case. How often do I find myself trying to fill the void with a bar of chocolate? How often do I smile and say that everything is fine when inside it feels as if a brick is rubbing my intestines? How often do I tell myself that I should feel grateful instead of envious or lonely? How often do I tell myself that everything will be alright if only… Suppression, suppression, suppression.
As long as you keep on pushing obstacles under the surface, they are bound to bubble up as floating wounds again sooner or later. Or, alternatively, your scar tissue will become so thick and sturdy that nothing can touch you anymore and you simply live in a state of numbness.
The tricky thing here is that it is usually fear itself that frightens you the most. That’s why you became so expert in avoiding and projecting it. And, since you fool yourself into thinking that everything is alright with you, yet you face discontentment daily, you attribute the source of both discontentment and contentment to a person or situation outside of yourself. You may believe that the true source of love and happiness lies in finding an ideal partner. But, that is not love. It is neediness. Only if someone depends on you for their sense of completion do you feel secure that they won’t leave. And, vice versa. “But wait! You’ll see! If only I find my twin flame then I’ll be complete!”
But truly, if you can’t find freedom within yourself, how can you expect to find freedom within your relationships? If you are not radically honest and transparent with yourself, how can you expect your loved ones to give you the unconditional love and truthfulness you crave but are unable to give?
If you seek to live with an open heart and want to cultivate conscious relationships, (especially intimate relationships), you have to actively raise your level of awareness through truthfulness with yourself and your surroundings. Even though a great stepping-stone on this path is moving from self-criticism to self-love, you can undertake the journey with someone else from the get-go. Intimate relationships can be your greatest source of pain and your greatest source of joy. It is through both pain and joy that you arrive at Truth.
“Dancing is not rising to your feet painlessly like a whirl of dust blown about by the wind. Dancing is when you rise above both worlds, tearing your heart to pieces and giving up your soul.” -Rumi
“Alright,” says the voice with a slight sigh of suspicion, “so tell me, what do I do?” As t
he poet Robert Frost once very wisely mentioned, “the best way out is always through.” The Sufi master Muhamm
ad Attar affirms, “the one who understands this journey should have one thousand hearts so that he can sacrifice one every moment.”
So, there you have it.
They are not saying “there is nothing to be done.” They are not saying it is easy. No—they say that you have to move through the pain and sacrifice your heart (i.e., give yourself “over,” surrender to the unknown—ouch!—and make everything sacred). Every. Single. Moment. But, they are also saying that there is a way out of suffering. And, though the path might be bumpy, the thrilling and mesmerizing visions presented through a myriad of experiences will—in the light of awareness— inevitably force you to face your fears and break your heart open, again and again. Sooner or later, cracks will appear and break down the structure, but—as is a custom in repairing pottery in Japan—those cracks might fill up with gold.
Now, I’d like to do a little experiment together. Take a moment to close your eyes and evoke the sensation of three memories where you felt utterly unbound, complete, and free. Just give it a try. Yes, right now. Did you do it? Now, take a moment to contemplate or write down the characteristics of those moments—what did they have in common?
I dare say that some possibly overlooked commonalities would be the absence of past and future, the absence of thought, the absence of judgment or labeling, and the presence of presence, the acceptance of what is. When I do this experiment, I feel myself dancing in ecstasy and singing in devotion. I disappear while meditating in stillness. I relax when encountering my partner or an intimate friend with radical honesty without labeling or judging. I surrender while making love. I am free when I see the sun rise and set. When I hear the loud laughter of my twelve-year-old sister. When I cry my heart out under a starry night sky. While I listen to the sound of crickets at dusk. When I am enthralled by the grace of a hummingbird.
Tips for Growing into Love Awareness
So, how do you cultivate this state of presence? How do you move from fear to freedom? How do you bring consciousness into your relationships?
- Listen to the voice in your head as if to a stranger you just met
Free of expectations, with detached awareness.
- Do not run from the present moment
Stay there, no matter the pain. Bring awareness to your physical experience and take a couple of deep breaths while allowing the aliveness of whatever is to be. (Of course, sometimes you need to leave the situation, but do not leave the inner experience.)
- Cultivate practices of contemplation
Meditate, do yoga, be still with yourself.
- Cultivate ways of expression
Dare to dance, to sing, to write poetry, to paint, to allow stagnant energy to flow.
- Step out of your comfort zone daily
Do little things you fear to do. Talk to a stranger on the bus, tell your slightly intimidating friend she has beautiful eyes, surrender to the unknown, break your patterns. (You don’t have to bungee jump from Kilimanjaro straight away if a second floor balcony makes your stomach shrink to the size of a walnut. But, you might take the elevator up one floor a week.)
- Cultivate a code of radical honesty
Sit with yourself and your dear ones in silence, sharing truths, and creating a space free from prejudice or judgment. Dare to express your fears and fantasies. (On the same note—explore sensuality. Discover your favorite flavors of life and use them for transcendence. Read more in this article I wrote on Sacred Sexuality.)
Fear of failure? Tendency to procrastinate? To hide away? I know. We all do.
Just continue. Come again and again. Trust and learn to love. The moment you stop judging yourself and others you’ll suddenly find your surroundings stop judging you, too. There is a beautiful little yogic story that goes like this:
As a man crosses the border of a country where he has never been before, he goes through customs and asks an officer, “What are the people like in this country?” In return, the officer asks, “What are the people like in your country?” “They are just so rude,” the man replies, “they only think of themselves and never have a kind word to say.” The officer looks at the man and says, “I’m sorry to tell you, the people in this country are just like that.” Ten minutes later, another traveller asks the officer the same question, and the officer again asks, “What are the people like in your country?” “Beautiful!” the man replies, “Joyful, open-hearted, and generous to the very bones.” The officer looks at the man and smiles “You’ll be happy to hear that the people here are just like that.”
“Come, come whoever you are
Lover of leaving
Come, come whoever you are,
This isn’t a caravan of despair
And it doesn’t matter
If you’ve broken your vows
A thousand times before,
And yet again
Come again, come
Chris is a Hridaya teacher and movement and dance facilitator. She will lead the Moving From Within workshop March 3-5, 2017. Visit this page for more information or to register.