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Longing For Love

By Sumitra Burton.  

While looking back over my life recently to see what kind of “credentials” I had gathered along the way, I recognized a core thread that has permeated my experience from the very beginning: a passionate longing for love.  Somehow I had never been aware of it in quite this way before.

As a little girl, I was deeply moved by a picture in our church’s entryway of Jesus in his long robe with children around his feet.  Jesus was looking at the children with deep love.  I can feel now the sense of longing that arose in my heart to experience that kind of love in my life.

Early on I somehow got the idea that pleasing others was the best way to find the love I so dearly wanted.  I tried to make them happy, so that they would love me.  My mother once said to me that I was selfish, which struck me deeply as I took this to mean that “I” was selfish, rather than simply my behavior in that moment.  The desire to not be selfish translated in my young mind to mean that my own personal needs and desires must be subdued in deference to others.

I married very young (19) and was excited to feel loved by my young husband and the support of a dream that we would somehow live happily ever after, loving each other unconditionally (those were the vows we took when we married – through sickness and health, joy and sorrow, etc. – right?).

It wasn’t long, though, before this dream started falling apart as I often experienced a lack of love in our relationship.  We were both so young, and my husband had had a traumatic childhood and needed lots of support.  Neither of us had the skills to communicate our feelings and work through the difficulties that arose.  Over the years we had four children together, were separated many times, and actually married and divorced twice.

By the time of the second divorce, I was totally devastated – confused, grieving and alone.  I had tried so hard to love him, and had failed, and my longing for love (still very strong) seemed to have reached a dead end.  The harder I tried, the worse things became.  I had given my all, and it wasn’t good enough.  Something was deeply wrong, and I was convinced there was something deeply wrong with meI must be unlovable!

I stayed alone for the next 30 years after the second divorce, practiced yoga and meditation as best I could while being a single mother, eventually living and working in an ashram retreat center for many years.  I found a sense of peace while I would sit to meditate, but in my daily life there was still much confusion and even desperation as I tried to make others happy so that I would feel loved in return.

One day I remember so clearly, a spiritual teacher remarked, “We have to love everyone, including ourselves.” I was shocked to hear the part about “including ourselves.”  Of course, this made perfect sense, and why had it taken so long for me to realize this?

From that moment I began wondering what it would mean to love myself – and very gradually began to explore how to do this. There wasn’t much support in those days for this kind of endeavor. I found myself eventually gravitating towards a philosophy of relaxing more into who I already am, rather than the old paradigm of disciplining myself to become a better person.  I began to have glimpses of being okay as I was.

When I finally discovered the Living Inquiries and the tools of resting and inquiry, the old beliefs of “unlovable” and “not good enough” arose dramatically to be explored, and slowly began to unwind.  It’s been a dynamic process over the past seven years of working to unravel these old beliefs and learning to relax into my natural sense of being-ness.  A main component of this quest has been the gradual shift from looking outside myself to looking inside for the love that I long for.

While there is a sense that the inquiry process will always be needed (no end in sight!), there is also a deepening awareness that innately I am okay and lovable.  Any time I notice I am looking for love outside, I recognize the old feelings of unworthiness creeping in.  Deep inside there’s a growing understanding that not only am I lovable, but that I am actually Love Itself. No separation.

This morning I am taking time to simply allow the longing to be felt.  The intensity of the longing is immense, filling my whole inner torso like a vacuum in a cavern.  It feels like I will be engulfed by it if I allow it to be fully felt.  Go ahead, I say.  Let me be consumed by that longing!  As I sit with the sensations, an image of a gate appears.  And as it opens, Love is Here.  Love is calling me Home.

To read more about Sumitra Burton, click here.

The Panorama Inquiry for Seeking

By Scott Kiloby.  

  1. Imagine yourself sitting in the middle of a room, with all the other people and things in your life placed around you in a circle.
  2. Scan around the whole circle.
  3. As you look at each person or thing, notice how it appears to reflect back to you the idea that you are deficient in some way.

In a way, your life is already designed as a circle. All the people, situations, and events you encounter are all around you, feeding you information about who you are. Imagining this circle puts everything and everyone around you into focus. It allows you to see how each person and thing is mirroring back to you some version of the story I am deficient.

Seeking in vain outside the self for what the self seems to lack is an impulse ingrained into the very fabric of the story of self. This impulse is based on one fundamental assumption: I am separate and deficient. We can spend our whole lives believing this basic assumption about ourselves. Until it is questioned, it tends to continue operating, driving much of what we do and how we act toward others.

When the basic assumption of separation and deficiency is undermined and seen through, fruitless seeking naturally relaxes, and we experience a stable sense of completeness with life as it is in the present moment. We can enjoy relationships, create things, express ourselves, follow our interests, and enjoy life in every way. We find that we can still move and fully operate in the world, but now without the belief that something is missing at a fundamental level.

Seeking is happening in our lives in so many ways that it can make our heads spin when we begin to look more closely at it. The Panorama Inquiry works well with useless seeking because it places all the people and things in our lives in a circle around us. By creating the circle, we can see that we are seeking in just about every direction.

Notice that when you rest in the moment, without emphasizing any thought, there is nothing to seek. There’s nowhere to go. Here you are, in the present moment. Your thoughts have relaxed, and you’re at peace. Even as you relax thoughts, you may notice that the energy in your body feels restless. Let that restless energy be as it is. Let it arise and fall without going back into the story of needing to seek something in the future, or from someone else. As the energy is allowed to relax, the mind relaxes with it more and more.

It’s worth repeating that these inquiries are not designed to create another avenue for fruitless seeking. They aren’t designed to get you something that you believe you lack. They’re here to help you see through the self that lacks. That seeing through is always a present seeing. The inquiry brings you right back to where you already are, resting in the present moment. There’s a stable well-being and contentment in presence. That sense of stable well-being and contentment is not based on getting to some later point, or getting something from someone else.

From The Unfindable Inquiry: One Simple Tool to Overcome Feelings of Unworthiness and Find Inner Peace

The Unfindable Inquiry is available on amazon.com

Unravelling The Gods Of Childhood

By Lisa Meuser.  

I have a story to share

This story starts with a Facebook post I made after finishing a session with a client.

“When our parents aren’t safe, available, loving gods, we become vigilant and over responsible gods, thinking it’s all up to us, with wounds in our hearts.”

It’s been a long time coming, sharing this publicly. I’d experienced it in myself, and had been seeing it with my clients for years. It has been such a pivotal part of my embodiment journey that I’m currently writing a book about it – yet never blogged about it.

This is my abbreviated story of how I learned of my own religious wounding, and how it set me free.

 

Our relationship to the world

Religious wounding is not talked a lot about in spiritual circles, and yet I think it is imperative that this territory be explored on our journey of becoming deeply intimate with ourselves, because so much of how we view the world, ourselves, and our place in the world can be impacted by religious belief systems.

From an early age I had been aware of “something wiser” than my own personal self, but I didn’t know what that meant or how to talk about it. Jesus was sometimes part of that, but I didn’t really understand that either. It felt significant and important, and confusing at the same time. Being part of a “do as you’re told household”, I didn’t feel any space to talk about things that confused me, or that were “different” than what the authorities in my life were talking about. My religious upbringing (Lutheran) was linear, practical and doctrine-oriented, and, well, that just didn’t fit in with the rather mystical and supernatural experiences I was having. I suppressed and disconnected from most of those experiences, rendering them meaningless in my mind, forgotten to my heart.

I left Christianity midway through my years at a Lutheran Missouri Synod University (oh, the irony). Being from a white, republican, middle-income family I hadn’t explored racism, classism or entitlement, but from an early age something in me knew that the Christian doctrine I was being taught was deeply unjust. When I discovered that the chapel of the University didn’t allow women pastors at the same time I was starting to learn about the oppression of women (thank you Professor Jody), I was livid. That my church did not allow a female pastor was the last draw. I could no longer believe in “God the Father”, or his violent and oppressive rules. I was sickened by how this god judged and decided who was worthy of his love. This god was just as bad as my parents, with their republican and conservative pronouncements. I wanted no part of it. I became adamantly anti-Christian, and anti “God.”

It was a profound and huge step in my personal evolution to step away from the tradition in which I was raised. I didn’t consider what rejecting Christianity meant for me, I just knew that the beliefs of heaven and hell, sin, and rejection of certain people based on geography and gender didn’t make sense to me and never had. It felt too hypercritical for me to do anything else but walk away. I was glad to “get rid of” the label.

“That’s that!” I thought. I assumed that consciously recognizing that I didn’t align with the tenants of Christianity was me working through my religious upbringing. “I’m not that,” was the subtext. Time to move on.

Move on I did. I didn’t have anything to “replace” Christianity until a few years later when I found a spiritual practice that became an intrinsic part of my being. It was a bhakti and heart practice that nurtured the connection with god/awareness/spirit/love, etc that I’d felt when I was young. I moved on with new practices and perspectives, but what I didn’t realize was that I had not cleaned out the old before moving into the new.

 

Me and god, god and my parents

If I had been paying closer attention I might have slowed down a bit. I might have considered what giving up Christianity meant for me, or what was so infuriating for me. I might have considered that my bitterness for Christianity (and god and my parents) had some rich territory to explore, i.e. that I had some unhealed wounds. I’m in awe of the young people who make it to my door to connect to their wounds, because that was the last thing I would have considered back then.

Instead, lost in unseen self-righteousness and anger, while unable to connect to the extremely painful truth, I shut off from my feeling self and turned towards self-reliance. I thought all the problems existed outside of me “in those people” and in those beliefs, and that all I needed to do was walk away and find better ways of thinking. (This is such a common theme in our culture: we think harder, so as to feel less.)

I didn’t understand the psyche, how belief systems work, how much pain I was in, how strong my use of mind over spirit had become, or how dysfunctional my relationship with the ideas of love had become[1]. As many seemingly invincible teenagers and early 20 year olds feel, I thought I was “just fine.” And even better, thought that I was more in control and safer now that I’d moved further away from my beliefs of my family.

I didn’t realize that underneath my intellectualizing I’d felt rejected by god, and by my parents, and that the pain of that was too much to feel, so I rejected them first.

And, since I’d rejected him, I hadn’t considered for a moment that my relationship with god was anything but “just fine.”

 

When denial no longer works

I don’t know about you, but I was full-on in pretend mode when I was young. It was a way of life, and it seemingly kept me pretty safe in some crazy situations. As I woke up, lots of that pretending fell away. But then the real journey began – that of embodiment. In my reality tunnel, embodiment cleans one out, until only truth remains. But it’s not an easy process. There can be lots of sacred cows, and for me, my relationship with god was one of them[2].

It wasn’t until I was in crisis, recovering from an addictive relationship, that I stumbled upon my unhealed relationship with god. I literally collapsed into a sobbing pile of goo as a realization clunked into recognition: I still believed in a punishing god, a god that did not love me, a god that I had failed, 20 years after thinking I had given up that belief system and moved past “all that bullshit”.

It’s not rational, but those hidden beliefs had subtly kept me from feeling truly safe and at home in the world, and it kept me more in my head than in my body. How could I possibly feel safe in the world, and at home in myself, if I believed I was inherently faulty?

This can be earth-shattering territory to journey into, which is why many people never do. After all, if we don’t have to, why would we consciously look for or go into uncomfortable core wounding? Quite to the contrary, we generally hide from it at all costs. Our psyches are constructed to protect us from this wounding. And anyway, where do we even start? It can all be very overwhelming.

Yet there I was. It had became clear that there was something under the hood, as it were, that was not just being explored, but was having a tremendous influence over how I felt about myself and how I felt being in the world. It was my shame and self-loathing, wrapped up with god.

 

God, the thorn in my side

This stuff doesn’t have a road map so, using somatic inquiry, somatic therapy and a few other tools, I just kept on **slowly and gently** exploring deep into my being. Trauma has its own timeline, and said simply, we are not in charge of how it works itself through. Loving support from others and myself was vital.

Almost always tendrils would lead to wounds connected with an early childhood medical event (which also involved my parents) that were still integrating. I had been exploring this territory on and off for years, but something was different this time. As I kept exploring, something deeper finally started to emerge that didn’t seem to be about my parents. I then deeply recognized that my wounds with god, as I knew god, had hidden behind, and were often interwoven with, the wounding I’d experienced with my parents.

What had initially been experienced as feeling rejected by my parents revealed a belief that I had been rejected by god. Where as previously it felt like my parents had abandoned me, it now felt like I’d been abandoned by god. What that left me feeling was not just rejected and abandoned, but bad and wrong to be someone who would be rejected and abandoned.

Oh the shame! And self-loathing. And creation of self-reliance and an inflated sense of responsibility to cover it all up.

 

Me and god, god and my parents: deeper in

Some of you may be asking, “How was it that god came into all of this? How was this all made about god?”

Recall back to where I referred to God as a father:

I could no longer believe in “God the Father”, or his violent rules. I was sickened by how this god judged and decided who was worthy of his love. This god was just as bad as my parents, with their republican and conservative pronouncements. I wanted no part of it. I became adamantly anti-Christian, and anti “God.”

In my innocence I thought all I had to do “see the truth” and walk away. This is a common mistake amongst those who have spiritual awakenings as well. We see something, clarity comes, and we think we are “finished.” And then comes the process of embodiment, where we find the energies of those beliefs. My system had “taken in” all those beliefs about good and bad, right and wrong, sin and salvation. My body, mind and spirit had been infused with linking love and god the father. If god rejected me, I’d be unloved. There is nothing more shameful to a human being than being unlovable. These early teachings, as simple as they were, had woven into my system, and were desperately looking for reconciliation.

 

But it’s richer than that

What I’ve discovered in my own journey but also with hundreds of clients is that our parents often act as our first gods. Obviously this isn’t conscious, but it’s in the subconscious stratosphere of the psyche. My friend explained it well: “My parents were gods to me. I depended on them to live.”

Our parents give us life and we are at their mercy for safety, love, food, and nurturance – on every level. They also reprimand and punish us. And so they become synonymous with how our culture often portrays god – the life-giver, the disciplinary, the mother, and the father. My friend continues, “From that I learned that god was loving, and joyous, and terrifying, and confusing. God was everything. God also dies.”

This isn’t rational, and quite frankly is too much for our child self to make sense of, but our beings pick up this information and make make conscious and subconscious beliefs based upon these ideas. It is only later in life that we can journey back through the layers of our conditioning to see the formation of deficiency stories that have influenced our whole life.

 

Deeper still

As I felt safe to journey into the medical trauma and prior traumas, and the imagined roles god (and my parents) played in those traumas, I was able to connect to various debilitating belief systems. I had believed that I was bad, and that I had been abandoned and rejected by my god (and my parents) because I was bad. Said another way, and more from the perspective of a child: god had let me down, I wasn’t good enough for god, and so ultimately I wasn’t good enough or worthy of god’s love. That meant I had to become my own god, so to speak. It was up to me to keep myself safe, because god and my parents had failed due to my badness.

The level of shame, self-loathing, and self-reliance (what we commonly see as a false sense of responsibility) that was under all of that was immense and had been following me around for… my whole life. Although I was not consciously aware of it, a sense of shame that seemed synonymous with my being was living under the surface and was wreaking havoc in my life.

Although my life was basically “fine”, I was making unhealthy and debilitating choices in intimate relationships. As I courageously worked through my self-reliance patterning, I innocently made a wrong turn: I trusted others unworthy of that trust instead of trusting that which was worthy. I did this because ultimately I didn’t have a safe and loving relationship with myself, or a healthy relationship with Love. This pattern dramatically revealed itself when I found myself in a narcissistically abusive relationship. The creation of a perfect storm destroyed my sails and crashed me into rocky territory I had been trying to avoid all my life. It literally took me to the darkest and most hidden places within myself that I had never felt safe enough to explore.

Eventually it took me to my unfinished business with god. After that torturous terrain was faced, I found myself experiencing a level of safety I didn’t know was possible, and a Love I had never known. My world had changed.

 

The rest of the story

There is more to say. Healing religious, parental and attachment wounding takes commitment, time, love, compassion and support. The rest of the story includes sharing practices I have developed with myself and others that help us let go of old beliefs, and in their absence fall into the experience of a safe body (and life) to reside in.

Life fundamentally changed for me as I cleaned up my past but it wasn’t an overnight change – it has been slow, steady, and eventually sustainable. Not having to be a vigilant and over-responsible god has relieved me of a burden that was not mine to carry. Groking the benevolence of Love has altered my way of being in a world that I do not have the power to control, but feel safe residing in nevertheless.

I have shared only parts of my journey here, and look forward to sharing more. I’d love to hear from you. What was particularly helpful? What was confusing? What do you want to know to know more of? I look forward to journeying together.

[1] See my Deepening Course starting in February, “Discovering the Embodiment of Love,” to learn more about that!

[2] After working with hundreds of clients, I now see that one’s relationship with “god”, however that is perceived/experienced/named, is most sacred (this goes for atheists too, although the language is going to be quite different)- even more sacred than that of one’s parents. And, it is also often very hidden within the psyche. For various reasons it can be one of the last places one “wants to go” when inwardly journeying. There is good reason for this, which I explore in my book.

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

The Critical Mass and the Inner Revolution

By Scott Kiloby.

We live in a world that is largely unevolved still. We are showing at least the outer signs of evolution. Our mobile-friendly lives, social media connectivity, scientific breakthroughs and other worldly advances reveal an ever-changing human landscape that seems to be headed in a progressive direction. But, at least here in the West, we still experience a profound lack of connection to what we are and find many obstacles to true freedom, joy, creativity, contentment and peace. Many have not reached a place where they can truly soar, finding instead many of the same mental, emotional and spiritual limitations experienced by their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. The generations keep generating. The surface keeps getting shinier. But the core issues tend to remain the same, no matter how many new faces are born into the species. In many ways, there is a kind of regression happening, with people so disconnected from themselves and with each other that they find themselves burying their faces in screens even when they are two feet away from each other or in the company of loved ones.

We still seem hell-bent on connecting from a place of deficiency, as if somewhere behind the face, in the deep caverns of the heart and soul, our real identity is “not enough.” This pervasive sense of “not enough” rears itself everywhere, in every relationship. Many have even given up the desire to recognize something greater than this inner sense of deficiency, reframing it instead as “just part of being human.” It’s as if the possibility of living from a more authentic, genuine, awakened, loving place feels so out of reach that they have resigned themselves to embracing, rather than investigating, this false mask.

The mask presents one thing to others, while deep down beyond the outer presentation, we lack the capacity to truly be ourselves, to show up exactly as we are, openly and unapologetically. We are largely out of touch with the basic insecurities that are fuelling the majority of our needs and wants. We are easily triggered emotionally, falling back into old childhood patterns of conflict, pouting, blaming, complaining or projecting. We remain out of touch with these basic emotions, having over-intellectualized and over-analysed ourselves and each other. In the age of political and spiritual correctness, we are so out of touch with our own bodies and feelings that we have placed a premium on not hurting other people’s feelings. And so, like mother bears, we are protecting each other from evolving beyond our limited mental and emotional patterns. This lack of connection with our deeper emotional landscape places us at risk of heading down the same path we have been on for thousands of years.

What seems important for many people is how they look or appear to others, whether they have enough likes on Facebook, whether they are smarter than the next guy, whether they are “right” or “getting it right” or whether they have accumulated enough money, fame, attention or acknowledgment from the faceless masses. Of course, not everyone is prone to these patterns. But there is some degree of it in most of us. We look on the outside for what we feel we lack within. And the promise to fill that void lies at every turn, in every TV commercial, job promotion, new relationship or addictive substance or activity. Even many modern forms of spirituality seem to focus a lot on these things. In some of those circles, it seems more important now to be part of a popular movement, to offer people a spiritual Neverland or to build up a fantastic set of spiritual promises rather than invite a deep and radical investigation of our experience. In some ways, the spiritual teachers become the replacements for parents who did not act as proper role models or did not give the necessary love and attention. Deficiency is the fuel of our lives and relationships and we never seem to run out of it. It has such a cunning and stunning ability to survive each generation and to hide itself so well in every story, feeling and relationship that we are only dimly aware of just how much it’s running the show. It’s much ado about nothing. And that’s exactly what the deficiency story gives us – nothing – nothing more than the appearance of advancement, acknowledgment or fulfilment.

There is a kind of scarcity in this way of life that leaves many feeling empty, lost and heartbroken, unable to actualize their true creativity and potential in life. We do not love ourselves. And our culture is sending all the wrong signals about how to love ourselves. It is focusing on what lies on the outside and what is presented on the surface. We continue to buy into that culture instead of dismantling it from the inside.

We ought not to stand for it anymore. But what it takes to rise above that is not more promises coming from the outside. It is not a new iPhone or a new lover. It is not about the future, for the future is always at least a step away, if not more. We never reach it. It is not a spiritual Neverland that holds itself out as a happy Hollywood movie ending. It is not the prospect that others do love, need and acknowledge us. What it takes is the courage to fully face these patterns of deficiency as they arise in the moment and to see through them, to immerse ourselves nakedly in the emotions we are trying so desperately to avoid. If we can take all that energy that is being projected outward onto others and onto the future and turn it in on ourselves with the power of mere observation, we have a chance at evolving in a much deeper and more transformative way.

But how we turn that looking towards our inner landscape makes all the difference, for we are prone to spiralling down into a kind of analysis paralysis as we look inward. There is this seductive pull towards over-conceptualizing ourselves, each other and our emotions. What I’m inviting here is not a reframing of our inner experience but rather a pure observing of it, of allowing it all to be exactly as it are. And along with that observation can come an investigation into these patterns, a dismantling of generations of false beliefs and patterns. There is a beautiful freedom in that, an embrace of everything. This embracing does not leave us merely complacently quoting pithy sayings like “I accept both my perfections and imperfections.” That’s the stuff of entry-level spirituality. It can go much deeper than that.

This investigation does not leave us in some blanked out, spaceless space of nirvana, for even that is a fleeting state. I’m not talking about nondual realization here either, for even that is merely a transient phase. No, this kind of looking, as long as there is no bypassing and there is a courage to be with absolutely everything, allows us to fully love and be ourselves. We leave behind attachments to past and future but also attachments to now and to all spiritual or special states and experiences. We come back into the world, realizing that we never left it. We love ourselves without being able to truly define ourselves. And this freedom which is no longer weighed down by concepts allows us to continue changing and evolving. Our hearts, minds and bodies remain pliable, able to adapt and move fluidly through all sorts of experiences – from love to heartache to grief or death. This can profoundly change how we see ourselves, each other and the world. It can unleash our creative potential so that it is no longer tied to wanting praise from others. Instead we become creative merely out of the pure and naked joy of creating – nothing more. We naturally leave behind the generations of pain and deficiency. Our relationships change. We are no longer tied to protecting other peoples’ feelings or getting love from others. We are no longer attached to each other in that old sticky way that feels stifling and needy. We love with a sense of maturity, clarity and open-heartedness. We come closer to one another, connecting more deeply with one another, by simply putting the masks down.

And that, my friends, is not a promise. Promises imply that there is something to give, something that comes from the outside or is found in the future. All of this is already within you. All that it takes is the courage to look in the right way. Let no one tell you that you need anything more than the act of pure observation and the organic acceptance of experience that comes with it. The key to life is not hidden away in a profound text. It is not something we add to ourselves. Human life is no mistake. There is no need to correct it from the outside. Our love is held within our pain, waiting to break free once the pain is faced. Our promised land is our present awareness of everything that is already unfolding naturally. The greatest realization is not that there is some wonderful future state waiting for us. It is in the moment by moment seeing of what truly lies at the core of our present experience. As we see that nothing lies there, everything is possible. We are then like an empty slate that allows for life to be completely full and to evolve in a profoundly different way. That’s how the generations of pain and deficiency fall away. That’s how we find connection with each other. That’s how we rediscover the pure joy of creating what we are here to create. That’s how we get our heads out of the screens. That’s how we set healthy boundaries. That’s how we open up new possibilities for our children. That’s how we end the wars. That’s how we let others be who they are. That’s how we find our own unique expression in the world. That’s how we stop looking on the outside for what cannot fulfil us within.

That’s how we become what we were always meant to be – ourselves.

This post is republished from the previous Living Inquiries website

Wisdom Is Waiting For You

By Lisa Meuser.

“I realized that it wasn’t my fault that my mother was emotionally unavailable to me.”

“I have been putting on a happy face to cover up my unhappiness for years.”

“I know I am connected to the Cosmos – I’m not alone.”

“I met a reservoir of grief in me that I didn’t know I’d been carrying around.”

“I experienced a Universe that is good.”

 

These are all personal accounts of amazing insight shared with me by clients and friends.

Mostly experienced in safe settings with a safe person, or in retreats where they were out of the usual daily grind, these moments of clarity were profound. The world appears “changed” in these moments, as if cobwebs have cleared, and it often seems as though the newfound clarity will be everlasting because of how radical it feels.

But what happens is usually quite different… unless there is continued connection with the clarity or insight.  If there isn’t a continued exploration, the clarity and insight will lose its potency and not have a sustainable positive impact.  At best, it will a memory fondly remembered. At worst, it will be forgotten, doubted and disbelieved, or it will reinforce/exasperate the initial patterning.

I knew someone who went on retreat and came back with mind- and behavior-altering revelations.

He’d realized that he’d been mistreating others – a friend of mine being one of them – because of his own shame and deficiency stories. He made many amends for the pain he’d caused, and explained that he wanted to live another way. He wanted to be the person he knew he could be when he wasn’t tangled up in fear and shame.

And then… he went on a two-month vacation.

“When I get back I’m going to jump right into continuing to explore all that’s come up,” he shared with her. He was very excited.  So was she. When he returned two months later, however, he was very much the person he’d been prior to his retreat but with even more walls, fear, and separation from love.  He was more violent and more disconnected from himself than ever.  My friend was crushed – she was truly hoping that this time he’d finally changed. Sometimes we still talk about what might have happened if he’d really dug in deep and stayed with what had been unearthed. We think about how much pain and suffering could be averted if only he’d continued to confront his demons instead of running further from them.

This may be an extreme example, but I have clients with somewhat similar experiences.

They will have one session, feel great, and be ready to tackle the world.  But that momentum doesn’t always stick around. The patterning of our behaviors and beliefs is a fascinating brain and neurological phenomenon. Science confirms: it takes time, attention, and a willingness to engage with one’s patternings (neural pathways) for sustainable change to occur.  In other words, the insight or clarity – that Aha! moment – is just the very first step.  Many many many follow-up steps will need to be taken for that insight to make a lasting impression both neurologically and behaviorally.

I think back to a retreat I went on. The retreat leader shared something along the lines of “Okay, you’ve all had some really great insights into your shadows, your patterning, your shame, your darkness, your trauma, as well as into your joy, your wholeness, your light, love and beauty. Now the real work begins.” And he proceeded to hand out a page or two of somatic-based resources to help with follow-up integration. It took only days for us to understand what he meant. Once back home, in our familiar lives, with our familiar people, and our familiar routines, it took dedication and discipline to not fall back into the same old patterning that we’d just had amazing insights into.

Sound familiar?

We all likely remember times when something felt so profound and real, and we knew we had to make and effort to “keep it going.” But more often than not, for whatever reason, we didn’t… and the profundity disappeared. Lots of intense Aha! moments are short-lived as we go back to what is familiar. In addition, the vulnerability that often comes with these insights can sometimes be too uncomfortable or unmanageable to stay with. We could say “The ego/separate sense of “I” wants to stay in control,” or “Egoic patterning won’t go down without a fight.” But I think it’s generally more useful to come back to brain science and neural pathways.

Insights are like newborn babies.

They must be tended to, coddled, fed and nourished. They will die if they are ignored, and require sustained attention and support as they mature and grow into adulthood (as they are embodied). Science explains this to us through the language of neural pathways: it takes anywhere for 18-200 days (with 66 being the average) for a neural pathway to change, so unless the insight is consciously explored – repeatedly – it just fades away. Conversely, if it’s actively engaged with it will become its own neural pathway, thereby forming a lasting impression and new habit or healthy behavior.

The more profound the Aha!, the more it must be tended to, because initially those are the least comfortable as the grooves of the neural pathways are most deeply formed. It isn’t always pleasant to unearth that which has been hiding in the dark, musky corners of our internal basements. We can experience shame and belief systems that have fueled our dysfunctions that we hadn’t previously seen. We can experience parts of ourselves that we’d, quite frankly, like to re-bury. Without staying with that new vulnerability, the ego or separate sense of self could easily come in and cover it back up, and sometimes even retaliate in the wake of said vulnerability. What may seem like a promising and expansive revelation can quickly turn into defensiveness and attack, as the opening may feel too threatening in its newborn baby state.

As anyone who has ever been around an infant knows, it’s not always easy to tend to a newborn. Infants thrive under stable environments, and so do the caregivers. If a person’s lifestyle and choices don’t allow for the sustainability and integration of those Aha! moments, then they will quickly fade. If a person’s sense of ego is too strong, or if there is too much fear, the commitment to follow up will be turned away from. Again, it’s the follow-up integrative work that allows the insight to “take hold” and be embodied.

What exactly is “follow-up?”

First of all, it comes down to the willingness and readiness to really meet what’s been revealed through the insight, how it relates to the everyday life of the person, and a commitment to continue looking and exploring.

Follow-up can be done many different ways, but generally speaking it takes the form of some kind of active engagement or participation that keeps the insight “alive.”  This may look like: finding and then repeating new and useful behaviors as opposed to engaging in old unhealthy habits, reading something which supports the continued exploration of the insight, and/or inquiring deeper into the insight on one’s own using meditation or other mindful body-awareness approach.

Sometimes we need someone who is trained in embodiment/somatic practices to help us flush out the old gunk and give more room to the clarity received so that it can take up more occupancy in our being. Using the previous metaphor, this would be helping the infant insight grow into embodied maturity, until it is no longer just an insight but a fully-actualized and lived reality.

Patterning and habitual behavior are often buried for a reason.

Sometimes it’s become so routine or “normal” that we have been unable to consciously see our dysfunctional ways. Other times we’ve experienced pain or trauma in our lives that have led us to develop walls of protection which keep us from being truly available to the wholeness of life.  Someone who is trained in exploring trauma and pain body will be able to help in the integration process, enabling the insights to move into a sustained way of being.

Insights and clarity – those magnificent Aha! moments – are gifts. Filled with wisdom, they can enrich our lives, creating a life that we feel at home with and a part of.

Here are a few simple ways to extend the shelf life of your Aha! moments:

Pause: Pause what you’re doing, and take in as fully as you can what has come into your conscious attention. Before jumping to analyze it or understand it (or announce it to the world as a facebook post), just pause.  Breathe in the wisdom of the insight – not from your mind, but from your being.  As we know, god/presence/love/etc does not live in our brain or mind. It is Known experientially. So take a few moments to pause, breathe, and feel what is coming in at the level of Being.

Be curious: After you’ve sat with the insight or Aha! moment, and you’ve taken in all that subtle but profound Knowing, grab a pen and some paper.  Science tells us that the act of writing can help us somatically process and integrate information, so take some time to journal or make notes about your experience. Be curious and open to any further insights that might come from your initial Aha! moment.  All sorts of connections may be coming to you now. Learn about yourself. Learn about your habits. Learn about your strengths, and your weaknesses.  Be curious and learn. Write with abandon – don’t worry, no one is looking!

Feel: As you’re curiously connecting to the tendrils of the Aha! moment and writing about it, feel into your body so that you can write from that space of physical awareness. Feel into where it seems to be living in your body. This may feel good,  or this may feel bad. Write about what you’re feeling. Write about the emotions that you’re noticing. Try to maintain curiosity as you do this. If you don’t like writing, try to make some simple notes or just jot a few things down. This isn’t for publication, it’s for your own continued journeying. If you aren’t able to write something, or you just don’t want to, that’s fine. You may want to record a voice memo to capture it. You may even want to call someone – sharing it with yourself or with others after you’ve taken some time to take it in may help you to further connect with the Aha! moment so it can be explored more later on.

Stay with it: What good is an insight if you don’t do anything with it? There are lots of ways you can stay with insights to see where the rabbit hole goes. Keep leaning into it, and keep learning. Keep exploring. You are a vast ocean of remarkable depths. You can do this as a solitary journey, with a professional, or with a group of like-minded individuals. If you need help finding resources, contact me and I’ll do my best to hook you up with something that meets your needs and interests. There are so many resources out there these days when it comes to embodiment practices!

Get support: We’re a tribal species. We’re meant to connect with others. Again, if you’re not sure where to turn, let me know and I’ll try to help you out. Keep going!

Dive in: Keep on pausing, being curious, and feeling with regards to your Aha! moment, and your continued insights. Get intimate with yourself and your history on this planet. Ask your insight for more insight. Ask for clarity. See what comes. Keep going deeper and deeper. Don’t stop until your mind, body, and spirit feel integrated. I meet so many people who think they have to live with their fears, their grief, their lostness, their misery and discontent. There is always another way when you feel stuck. There is always something deeper, underneath pain and suffering, that is waiting to be discovered. Stay with it, and get support.

 

Remember the insights I listed at the very beginning?

Those were just the first steps in these people’s lives. They were not final resting places – they hadn’t magically found peace. Rather, a door had opened up, and the magic was found when they opted to walk through it.  Most of them dove into their Aha! moments with vigor and found a new and thrilling world waiting for them. It wasn’t always easy, or pleasant, but they were able to safely connect with and detach from belief systems that had been keeping them stuck and in suffering.

You are not alone.
Take in the wisdom that found its way to you, and always be ready for more.