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Two Paths to Love

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Someone emailed the following:

There is such a great need in me to be appreciated by other people, by my friends for example, and I am never satisfied. I never get enough appreciation, and because of that I suffer a lot. I can be so sweet and nice, giving my all attention to a person, but behind that is such a great need to be loved and appreciated. And once I get that feeling of being loved, I want it to repeat again. But then one part of me does not want to depend on the source of love and attention, so there is a big conflict. What can I do?

Here is my response:

This is a very good question. It is very difficult even when we clearly see our conditioning at work and how much suffering it causes to then just stop. So I would offer two suggestions to help you actually shift this way of acting and feeling.

The first possibility is to experiment with truly giving love to everything and everyone. True love is simply open acceptance or space, and a fullness of attention or noticing. What we really want from a lover is someone who completely lets us be the way we are, and yet who also wants to see and know everything about us. So I would suggest you give this quality of acceptance and noticing to everything you experience. It is easiest to start with neutral or pleasant things, and you can also start by practicing on simple objects. Notice a piece of furniture and then give it a lot of space to just be the way it is. Or you can notice that there is a lot of space for it already. And as you notice the space around the furniture, also notice everything you can about it. What are all of the qualities of that simple object? How does it reflect light? How does it feel if you can touch it? What are all of the specific details of its construction and appearance? Just shower it with attention and see if you can even notice subtle aspects of it that you never noticed before.

Then move onto another object and then another experience after that, perhaps the sound of the wind or sensation in your body. Again it is easiest to start with simple and neutral aspects of your experience and then gradually add in the more challenging things for you to experience, like an object that has a lot of negative associations or a sensation that you tend to not like. Finally you can experiment with giving this free flowing space and attention to other people.

As you do this you can notice how you feel. How does it feel to give the most precious thing you have, awareness, to other objects, sensations and people? Do you ever run out or can you just give and give simple awareness and then still have more to give? Even if you come up against something you cannot love in this way, then you can simply give love to the sensation inside you of being blocked or resistant. The only trick is to give love to whatever you are experiencing even if it is a judgment or feeling of resistance. Accept and notice your judgment of the other person, and then you may find you can go on to simply notice and accept the person also.

In this way you can discover that all of the love that you want from others is already here inside of you. We are filled with love when we give it to others and not when we receive it from others. But to really trust this, you must have many experiences of this limitless flow of love.

The other surprising suggestion is to also really feel the lack of love inside of you. Even when you know that you can give and give love and more love, there will still be moments where you do not experience the flow of love. In those moments, what you experience is the empty source of love. The place all of this love comes from inside of you is completely empty. And so we tend not to want to feel it as it does not seem very promising to feel something so dry and empty. And yet what is that empty space you have been trying to fill up with attention from others actually like? Is it dark or bright? Is it heavy or light? Is it clear or foggy or obscured somehow? How deep is the emptiness? Can you find a bottom to it?

This emptiness at your core is the source of everything that really matters in life: love, peace, joy, wisdom, clarity, strength, and ultimately satisfaction and existence itself. What a surprising place to find everything you ever wanted: in the emptiness at your core. And yet that is the only place you will ever be satisfied from. It is by discovering everything about this emptiness, every quality it has, every nuance of its expression, that we can finally be content. You will never be done discovering its endless nature, but at some point you will be able to trust that everything that really matters is already here inside of you.

By returning again and again to the emptiness, you keep your attention on the true source of what you seek. Sometimes you find an even deeper sense of emptiness when you look within yourself, but then is emptiness really a bad sensation? Or is it just empty? Does emptiness ever really hurt? How can "nothing" ever hurt?

And other times when you look within you will discover one of these precious qualities of your Being arising like love, peace or joy. What a surprising place to find them! It is by returning again and again to your own empty nature that you finally learn to trust that you have all that you need, and you do not need to look for it from others.

Your seeking of love from the outside is an old habit that you were taught to do by everyone around you who was doing the same thing. The best way to counteract an old habit that no longer serves you is to develop a new habit or even several new habits that work even better than the old one. In this case, the new habits are to give love to everything and to look within the emptiness at your core. Once you have done this often enough for it to be even more of a habit than the old way of trying to get love from others, then check if you have enough love, and enough peace, acceptance and joy. The true source of these things is within you.

Problems Aren't Solved by Thinking About Them

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Here is another guest post from my wife, Gina Lake (read more on her blog at radicalhappiness.com):

When we have a problem, it tends to pop up in our mind many times a day. We worry about it and try to figure out what to do. But thinking about our problems is mostly thinking about what might happen in the future: We wonder, "What's going to happen and how will it affect me?" The trouble with these kinds of thoughts is that there are no answers to these questions-until there are-no matter how hard we think about the so-called problem. These answers and the solution to whatever problem we think we have is revealed over time, in the course of life unfolding, and this course of unfolding can't be rushed. The answers to our questions about our problems are revealed in their own time, and we have little influence on the timing of this.

The mind doesn't like the fact that we can't always know what to do immediately or how things will work out, and it pushes to know what to do and what will happen before it's possible to know this. Sometimes the mind makes up answers just to know, and then it pretends to know what to do and what will happen. That is usually how the mind approaches any problem. But problems are always resolved in time. It is the nature of life to move on and for things to change. So problems and problematic situations naturally change, often without doing anything about them but responding naturally to the situation as needed. We do what needs to be done as that presents itself.

Solutions are often discovered intuitively, as they pop into our mind: We suddenly know what we need to do about a situation. And we may wonder why we didn't see the answer sooner! But that's how it is in life: We don't know until we do. And all our protests about this and struggling to know can't change this fact. A common example is a health problem: We may live with it for years, and then suddenly we run across some information about it that gives us the solution or explanation we were looking for.

Sometimes we aren't meant to find answers to our problems. Some problem may be serving a purpose in catalyzing our growth or pointing us in a new direction. It's difficult to see this when it is happening, but often years down the road the blessing of having that experience becomes clear to us. Even if it doesn't, we can trust that our so-called problems serve us in some way, if not only to create the suffering that ultimately shows us that we were the creator of that suffering all along and didn't actually have a problem, except the problem we created by thinking about something in a particular way.

An example of this is that we may feel our relationship is problematic. We're unhappy and we don't know what to do about it. Then we discover that we are creating our own suffering and a sense of there being a problem by the demands we're making on our partner to be different, instead of just accepting him or her and allowing that person and the relationship to be the way it is.

The egoic mind comes up with all sorts of things it doesn't like, and these become problems. But is it really a problem that you don't like something? What if you decided it was okay to not like something? Or what if you decided that you didn't need to change something just because you didn't like it? That's called acceptance-you accept something you don't like just because you decide to accept it rather than focus on not liking it and making it into a problem. Or what if you decided that you liked it instead of the opposite?

Thinking about our problems doesn't help. It only makes it impossible to enjoy life as it is showing up. And if you look closely, you will also realize that without your thoughts about a situation, there is no problem. All problems are simply defined as such by the mind. What if you didn't listen to the mind's worries, fears, and perspectives on life? Living in the Now is a place of freedom from such thoughts. Life is still handled, problems are still solved, but with much more peace and joy. Life doesn't have to be so hard!

 

Gina Lake is a spiritual teacher who is devoted to helping others wake up and live in the moment through her books, counseling, and intensives. She has a master's degree in counseling psychology and over twenty years experience supporting people in their spiritual growth as an astrologer and a channel, with a focus on helping people find and fulfill their life purpose. Her books include Loving in the Moment, Radical Happiness, Embracing the Now, Anatomy of Desire, Return to Essence, What About Now? Living in the Now, and Getting Free. Her website offers information about her books and consultations, free ebooks, book excerpts, a free monthly newsletter, a blog, and audio and video recordings: http://www.radicalhappiness.com.


 

Suffering Is a Mirage

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Someone emailed me the following:

I've been at this for many years and it seems those core issues have not transformed. There is more awareness of them and space around them though. I think I'm starting to see that there is no ultimate destination or goal to reach. Awareness itself is already pure and perfect as it is, and that is what we are. So what am I doing? There is a compulsion that seems to stem from a sense of lack that compels me to feel a need to become better than I am, to grow, to evolve, to reach my highest potential. Sometimes it is veiled in spirituality, but I think it is a sense of lack, a sense of insufficiency and fear that this insufficiency will cause me to be abandoned or treated badly, or to suffer. So I'm constantly trying to avoid this being what I am for fear of paying for it in a bad way. Something tells me I have to be special to survive, or to have my needs met; something tells me I have to be better than I am and better than others. This prevents me from simply relaxing and being what I am, which is effortless. What we are is effortless being. I know this, but I'm still working my ass off to become something better!

Did you ever go through something similar? I feel a sense of hopelessness, but maybe this hopelessness is also a letting go. I realize that letting go is what is ultimately needed, but don't know how to surrender. I guess what I am is surrender itself when I am relaxed enough to see it. I'm lost. What are your impressions? How do I navigate these waters?

And here is my response:

Thanks for so clearly sharing your experience. I would suggest it is OK to be working your ass off trying to get better. There is no harm done and it is often when we have failed utterly at trying to be better, that something else moves within us. Surrender is not something you do. It is really something that happens to you.

In the meantime, you can be very curious about this whole experience of struggle and fear. The more present you are to it just the way it is, the more awareness itself can transform the experience. Again it is not something you do. Your only job is to be as present to it all as possible, and to just be with the feelings as much as you can. This does not make you better, but it does strengthen an inner muscle of awareness that can allow you to just be with the feelings as they arise without suppressing them or expressing them.

As I mentioned, the end result is a kind of failure. However, in working so hard at all of this, you also develop this inner capacity to be with experience. Then when Presence and surrender and your true nature reveal themselves, you are able to stay with that experience also. So all of the effort is not wasted, even if the results are not what you are trying to achieve.

I would add that the process itself gets easier as you go, although then life often brings an even more challenging experience. When I was a skier years ago, the better I got at skiing, the less effort it took to ski. But then I naturally started skiing on more and more difficult trails, until they became relatively effortless also. It appears all of this effort is meant to bring us to a place where we can move or just be with the least amount of effort needed. This is what frees more and more awareness within your experience, and it is awareness itself that transforms our experience. Even then, this is not necessarily a change of the content of experience, but more a change in where you experience something from. The best cure is to find out that there is no problem. If a snake bites you and you go to the doctor, the best cure is to find out the snake is not poisonous. That knowledge is the cure!

And so all of this inner suffering is only a problem when we think it is a problem. Once we no longer see suffering as problem, then it is no longer suffering. Suffering is like a mirage: when you get closer to it you see it does not exist. All of your struggle can not help but eventually bring you closer to the suffering itself, where you will start to see its nature. Then you will find yourself more and more able to rest within the difficult patterns and to see that they are just ideas, mirages in your own mind.

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