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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.

Letting Small Truths be Small

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Q: What I’m wanting to achieve is a continued immersion of love. I write about very positive ideas, but all the problems of the day are still in my mind. My usual state is separate from the enlightened state I’m in when I’m writing. How do I integrate these two states?

A: The big truths and the small truths of your life are all true. The difference is in how important and meaningful you take them to be. So if a small truth or problem arises in your mind, the right way to feel is contracted. That’s how you know that that idea or problem isn’t very important. That “problem” may still need to be addressed in some way, although sometimes when a truth is very small, it also means there’s nothing you need to do about it. You don’t need to integrate the small truths and the big truths; you just need to see them for what they are. They all already fit perfectly in the infinite space of your awareness.

Paradoxically, it is by allowing the small truths and recognizing their smallness that we are freed from any suffering they may cause. In fact, it is our struggle to change them or get rid of them that causes us to suffer or feel less immersed in love. In trying to change these small truths, we get temporarily stuck in them. In allowing them, our awareness is freed to move outside, or beyond, the smaller truth they contain. And it is often then that the solutions to them become obvious.

This is backwards from how we think it should work. Trying to get more of the expanded, loving feeling actually contracts us. Wanting to be expanded contracts us! This is simply because it isn’t very true that it’s better to be expanded. The ideal is to experience each moment the way it really is. A small truth should feel small because that’s how you can tell how important it is.

You can still enjoy the expanded, loving moments, of course. However, the bigger freedom is when it doesn’t matter anymore whether you’re expanded or contracted. Contracting doesn’t mean you have lost the capacity to expand; it just means that in this moment something is shaping and limiting your awareness. In allowing and embracing the full range of your awareness, you are able to respond to each moment just as it is without needing to feel any way in particular.

It turns out that this accepting, allowing way of being does actually lead to more expanded experiences. The default is for your awareness to expand and your Heart to open. By letting everything unfold just as it does, you naturally fall into this default position more often. But the expansion just happens. You never actually do it, and anything you do to try to make it happen tends to have the opposite effect.

I will add a small tip: If you find yourself struggling with a problem, the first step is to allow your struggling and the contraction it causes. That’s what then enables you to move into allowing the problem itself. You can only start with what’s happening right now, and sometimes what’s happening is that you don’t like what’s happening. In simply meeting any resistance that is here right now, you open the door for the bigger truths of love, compassion, and understanding to flow into your experiences of struggle and difficulty.

Sitting on the Beach Does Not Cause a Tsunami

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I had a follow up dialogue on Facebook about my previous blog post about effort. Someone asked:

A helpful entry, Nirmala! I thought it insightfully traversed the "razors edge" of effort in regard to meditation. I would, sometime, like to know your thoughts on the importance (or not) of meditation in general. Thanks for sharing!

And I replied:

I would suggest that meditation can be helpful, but meditation itself does not cause the deeper shifts of awareness that just happen as a result of divine grace. My sense is that most spiritual practices function to focus our awareness on the here and now. That does not cause anything to happen, but it does mean that when something happens, you are there to notice it.

I recently used the metaphor that sitting on the beach does not cause a tsunami, but it does mean that when a tsunami comes, you are there to be swept away by it. And of course a tsunami might still get you even if you are not near the beach, but the odds are better at the beach.

So meditation and other spiritual practice is like spending time at the beach. It does not cause any big waves of awakening, but it does mean that you are swept up in them when they occur. This puts the practice in perspective. You do not measure a spiritual practice by it's results. You just measure it by whether or not you actually sit and meditate today. If nothing happens today, that is fine. You just come back to the beach again tomorrow.

You can enjoy the sun, sand and sound of the ocean while you are there, but the real purpose is just to be here when the deeper movements of being happen. And this is true of the tsunami like awakenings and also the smaller rogue waves that come and wash away your attachments and suffering a little at a time.

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Nothing Personal leads you to the experience of your true nature and helps you explore its depth. Through exposition, questions and dialogues, it brings you to a place of realization of the Truth: you are the spacious Awareness in which everything appears.

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