Who Are You?

By Acharya Amrita Devi

maxresdefaultThere’s a lot of talk these days about “identity.” Most of it is focused on what makes us unique as individuals: our race, gender, profession, marital status, personal preferences, etc. Or it may be based on something that happened to us: being the victim of abuse, having a serious illness, suffering from PTSD... you name it!

Often people talk about their identity as something that coalesced over time—as something that made them the person they are today and, perhaps with some inner work, has established them in a comfort zone of self-confidence.

And we know, especially in this age of hyper-political correctness, that identity is also something that can be threatened by an insult, a joke, or even a new idea that doesn’t fit in with what a person already believes to be true about themselves, or perhaps about a group they identify with.

But what is generally missing from a discussion about identity is that, from a spiritual perspective, any such definition of ourselves profoundly limits who we are. So let’s take a look at who we really are, and how that differs from a personal identity.

The key is the very idea of “personal.” Yes, we are individuals who each have certain specific characteristics and histories. But there’s a nondual understanding of who we are: namely, individualized expressions of one divine Consciousness. Tradition tells us that this Consciousness—out of the sheer joy of Its existence—decided to manifest into the myriad forms in creation, including us. The problem is that as Consciousness became us as individuals, we lost the knowledge that we are no different than our Source.

How Does This Play Out In Our Lives?

When we don’t experience our unity with God, this disconnect leaves us feeling alone, incomplete, and insecure. We are then always searching for something to fill this primal hole in ourselves, seeking happiness, connection, and completion in our activities and in our relationships with other people.

If we honestly look at how we interact with the world, we find that we are continually try to change the conditions of our life, since we believe that these conditions are what will fulfill us. So we push and shove against life to get it to meet our expectations. Often we don’t exactly know what we want—we just think there’s something “out there” that will make us happy.

Because of this constant effort to change the conditions we face, we’re never at rest, truly enjoying what’s right in front of us. This creates a lot of inner tension! And, in a self-serving attempt to get what we want, we may bulldoze over other people, undermining our relationships and creating a lot of karma. Or we may dwell on our past mistakes, thinking “if only I’d done/said this, I would be free from regret now.” In the name of finding happiness, we often just make ourselves miserable.

Seen from another angle, even “ideal” conditions are temporary. Because we inherently know this, we then struggle to hold onto something we have or try to recreate something that made us happy in the past. Finding happiness in the world is a never-ending search, because we’re looking in the wrong place, for things we perceive to be outside of ourselves.

Who We Really Are

What if our identity were based on who we really are at our source, instead of being based on external circumstances? Many traditions have taught us that we and infinite Consciousness are not separate.

Alan Watts, (1915–1973), was the first author of Eastern philosophy that I encountered in my youth. This is what he wrote:

Jesus Christ knew he was God. So wake up and find out eventually who you really are. In our culture, of course, they'll say you're crazy and you're blasphemous, and they'll either put you in jail or in a nut house (which is pretty much the same thing). However if you wake up in India and tell your friends and relations, 'My goodness, I've just discovered that I'm God,' they'll laugh and say, 'Oh, congratulations, at last you found out.’

And some words from a very different writer, Albert Einstein, about the essential unity of all of life:

 A human being is a part of the whole that we call the universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest - a kind of optical illusion of his own consciousness. This illusion is a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for only the few people nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living beings and all of nature.

These words may give us some idea about who we are, but why not use the wisdom of others as inspiration to find the same truth in ourselves? It’s only through our daily spiritual practice—which is not limited to the time we formally sit and meditate—that we discover our true identity.

Because we have spent so long defining ourselves in a limited way and reinforcing that definition in our thoughts, emotions, and behavior, it may take a while to penetrate beyond the apparent surface reality of our lives. But if we use our time and energy to look within, we find untold riches. What is revealed is that, at our core, we have only one identity: we are God incarnate. Wouldn’t it be amazing to discover that?

 

Stop It!

By Acharya Amrita Devi

shutterstock 85479841There’s a great sketch by Bob Newhart in which he’s a psychologist, giving advice to a woman who lives in fear that she’ll be buried in a box. Although this is played for comedy, his vehement instruction to her is actually a great first step in overcoming the mental and emotional turmoil we often find ourselves obsessed with. His advice? “STOP IT!”

Why do we keep spinning around in the same thoughts and emotions? The simple answer might be that we never learned any practical tools for dealing with our recurring drama. So let’s walk through some steps we can employ to change our experience.

1. Stop It

When you find yourself repeatedly thinking or feeling something, flip the switch to OFF. We can make the choice to not re-engage whatever is consuming us. I love the bumper sticker that says, “Don’t believe everything you think.” Our belief that if we think or feel something it must be true just contributes to our feeling stuck. It often keeps us rehashing the topic again and again, because we’re trying to work through what’s bothering us. That generally doesn’t help, but only gives us the feeling of being trapped in a cycle we can’t escape.

2. Shift Gears

It’s fine to say “stop it,” but that may not work if you don’t know what else to do. So try this: drop the thought, and then shift your awareness into the heart chakra. You may have to do that again and again if you’ve really been obsessed about something. But if each time you shift to the heart, you take a breath into that space and open – even just a little – you create a new place to center yourself. The heart gets a little bigger each time you focus on it and you are establishing a home base, an alternative to the whirling mind or emotions.

3. Openness Consumes Contraction

What are these whirling thoughts and emotions? They’re really energy trapped in a pattern that feels stuck and constricting. Seen from another perspective, they are the tools the ego uses to keep us feeling separate, incomplete, and needy. An open heart is like a vast reservoir that can absorb any contracted energy. When you shift your awareness into the heart, you may feel two opposite things at the same time: both expansiveness and the pull of whatever has been bothering you. It may take a while, but by continuing to breathe into the heart, the thoughts and emotions start to loosen their grip because their power dissipates.

4. Put That Energy Into Flow

Try doing the double-breath to not only open the heart, but to internalize the energy that was previously stuck in that mental or emotional pattern. That constricted energy was projected out into the dynamic that you were engaged in. Because it was projected from a place of inner contraction, it can only reinforce the idea that some condition in life (that is perceived as being outside you) is the cause of unhappiness. So we want to redirect that life-force inside. When doing the double-breath, the energy is put back into the psychic body and becomes fuel we can use to open the entire system. By repeatedly internalizing our energy and tuning in to the flow in us, we become more aware of this psychic mechanism, and, at the same time, we break down the sense that any condition can rob us of our openness and freedom.

5. Re-engage

Establishing yourself in an open heart and feeling the flow of the vital force within, you have created a new place from which to engage life. The next time you encounter a challenging situation, try connecting to it from your heart, instead of from the pressure of your mind or emotions. You can extend from the openness and flow inside out to whatever is happening. This feels very different from projecting from the contractions of our mental and emotional patterns. We’re connecting from a place of expansiveness and therefore can feel the same expansiveness in the people we meet.

6. Repeat as Needed

Once we have the experience that this approach works, we gain confidence that we can do it whenever some turmoil rears its head. Not only that, but as we begin functioning from our heart instead of from our mind and emotions, we stop reinforcing our misunderstanding that life is happening to us and causing us pain. And we stop causing other people pain by interacting with them from our tensions.

It’s important to understand that we are not ignoring what happens in life, but finding a new way to engage any dynamic, so that life is experienced from a platform of inner freedom. It may take some time to master these steps, but we can, over time, find an inner space of unconditional joy and become established there. We have less need to stop anything, because life is simply an expression of our own fullness.

PS – you can watch the Bob Newhart video here.

 

Why Be A Psychic Pack-Rat?

By Acharya Amrita Devi

PackratWhen my mother-in-law died, our family had the arduous task of getting rid of almost everything she had horded in the forty years she lived in the same house. Her impulse to keep STUFF probably stemmed from her years as an Army wife – having to continually pare down belongings because the family had to move every two years. Nevertheless, by the time of her death, she had kept many, many things that she obviously was never going to need or use, including every plastic take-out container she’d ever brought home! The garage was so full and inaccessible that the carpets we found in the very center (once we’d thrown most everything else into two huge dumpsters) had literally turned into earth.

We may laugh or cry at such excess, but unfortunately, it seems that too often we are psychic pack-rats who hang on to thoughts, feelings, and reflexive behaviors that weight us down. We are attached to what we have experienced in the past or how we think life is, even if it hasn’t been uplifting. It’s simply what we know, and it’s our comfort zone.

But although we may have carried this baggage around for years (or perhaps lifetimes) and it simply doesn’t serve us in any practical or spiritual sense. Perhaps it’s time to be bold and throw out the garbage!

How We Store and Perpetuate Limitations

Over time, we have ground certain patterns of thought and behavior into well-worn ruts. These patterns are based on what has happened to us in the past, and if we’re not careful, they will determine how we think, feel, and act in the future. When we experience something, it leaves an impression in our psychic system. These impressions are called vāsanās—defined as the residue of past experience—and this experience has been rooted in our perception of duality. We believe there’s me and then there’s everything else in life, which is not me.

When we look at life that way, we are perpetuating one critical misunderstanding: that we are separate from our source. We see ourselves as a finite individual instead of being an individuated expression of infinite Consciousness, unconditionally complete and full. Without that experience of unity, we do feel incomplete and we look outside ourselves (because everything that is not “I” is outside!) for something to complete us. This leads to an endless cycle of activity aimed at getting what we think we need from life in order to feel fulfilled.

The problem is that the harder we push against life, the more we reinforce the idea that we are just not getting what we want… and so we push harder. The inner experience of this battle is emotional contraction (i.e., tension), which we solidify and store inside by continually engaging in thoughts about how and why we need! In this way we grind deeper and deeper ruts of mind/emotion/behavior every time we respond to life based on this sense of incompleteness.

We really don’t know any other way to be—and these patterns have, over time, become more and more deeply embedded as blocks in our psychic mechanism. This leads us to react to life in the way we’ve reacted before, and so we keep reinforcing the patterns of contracted awareness that keep us from experiencing the infinite fulness of life.

Fortunately, We Have Spiritual Practice!

To break through this cycle, we need to experience something different and break down the blocks in our psychic mechanism. When we meditate, we tune in to the deepest part of us, the part knows it is not—and never was—separate from its source. The ego, the part of us that always feels itself to be a separate “I”, cannot know unity, so we have to find a new level of awareness that isn’t rooted in the sense of separate self.

It’s not always easy to get past the thoughts and emotions that reinforce the ego, because we’re so used to living within that narrow band of consciousness. As Nathaji says in Wearing God’s Mala:

The direct experience we’re looking for in meditation comes from having the discipline to penetrate through the noise that arises from all those vāsanās. We need that discipline to work through our monkey mind, to sit down and reach past our crazy thoughts, past all the obsessions that grip our attention. All of that commotion stems from the impressions that have been left in us as we engage life.

When we do reach inside and discover an openness that isn’t bound by our sense of separation or conditioned by the past, two things happen. First, we learn how to remain aware of that openness even as we meet the challenges of life—so that we can act and react from an inner expansiveness instead of from the constricted patterns created by our stored vāsanās. Secondly, we unleash the vital force of kuṇḍalinī within us, so that it can rise up through the suṣumṇa, breaking down the energetic blocks in our system, allowing even more openness to be apparent.

These two processes work together and reinforce each other over time. The more openness we feel, the more flow of the vital force is unleashed. And, as kuṇḍalinī washes away our ingrained patterns and tensions, we gain a greater capacity to perceive openness. Gradually the sense of inner fullness becomes so apparent that we no longer feel the need for anything to change in life in order to feel complete.

Impressions are like the clouds that block the sun so completely that we forget it was once there. Much of the power of the direct experience gained in meditation is therefore not only in the contact—in getting very quiet and being one with God— but in the new impression that’s left when we open our eyes and engage what appears to be a field of diversity that’s separate from God. We’ve made contact with that stillness inside and have created a different resonance from which to function—one that can penetrate through all outward experience and discover the same unity everywhere.

When we no longer hold on to old patterns we can become free from the binding influence of past impressions. In the two-fold process of enlivening kuṇḍalinī and tossing out the mental and emotional baggage we’ve been carrying for so long, we open to a new experience—that of divine consciousness instead of limited consciousness. This may sound abstract, but the bottom line is that as we let go of suffering, we enjoy life a lot more. What a great reason to outgrow our pack-rat habit!

 

The Peace That Passeth All Understanding

By Acharya Amrita Devi

peaceful leaf 500xThe King James version of the Bible contains a line which was traditionally translated this way: "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." This is a lovely statement that transcends any particular religion, and just reading those words provides great comfort.

But even more evocative for me is the New American Standard version of the Bible, which offers this translation: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

This notion that the peace of God might be beyond our understanding is a powerful pointer for us in our spiritual growth. We do want to have a vision of what realization would be; it’s important to have an understanding of where spiritual practice might lead us. But just having this knowledge in our mind is problematical because the mind is a limited tool that is the servant of the ego—which we define as that part of us that believes it is separate from God. A such, the mind is constantly engaged in maintaining that separation, and honestly, it really doesn’t know any better!

Where the mind goes wrong...

Our mind’s attention is normally directed outside us, to the perception of form, to the things we have to do, or in reaction to what seems to have been done to us. All this outer form is perceived as separate from ourself. Then, we’re constantly engaged in thoughts that are analyzing and defining (“there’s me and there’s that person or thing”), defending the ego (“I’m different than you, and I’m right!!!”), and insisting that we have to be doing something in order to fix something or create the perfect conditions in our life.

The mind is certainly useful if we’re applying it to getting a job done. However, we have to distinguish between practical thinking and what are known as thought-constructs, which tend to be based in our preoccupation with how the world is affecting us as separated individuals. These thought-constructs spin out in an endless stream, reinforcing our tendency to keep acting in the established grooves of our patterns, tensions, and karma—because that’s the comfort zone we live in. Even if that zone is actually uncomfortable, it still reinforces what we think ourselves to be.

The mind and ego aren’t bad, but they function in a level of consciousness that is limited and full of misunderstanding. Stuck in duality, in separated awareness, our mind simply cannot grasp what the experience of unity might be. Yet we try to understand unity from the mind and therefore spiritual liberation often seems unfathomable.

If mind and ego are locked in duality, how can we know unity? We have to look in another way, from another place. Tradition describes God’s Consciousness as having two aspects within one unified field: the light that illuminates life, and the light that reflects back upon itself to know itself. This may at first seem very abstract or philosophical but it’s a direct clue about how to experience the Divine.

Since in reality we are not separate or different from God, we have that same light in us, although it’s usually hidden from view because we’re living in our outwardly-oriented minds and emotions. And, typically, even when we start to look within for the Divine, we look with our mind. So we need to look in a different way, from a deeper place. We need to look from the very place that can know Itself.

How do we do this?

The first step is to internalize our awareness through the meditation techniques we have been given in this practice. We start by tuning in and opening our heart, which is our inner connection to God’s heart. We also begin to connect to the flow of vital energy within the psychic body, which clears the sushumna of the density that has accumulated there, lifetime after lifetime. This frees the pathway for kundalini to rise, further removing obstructions. As kundalini is able to connect back to its source, what is revealed is the innate Consciousness that resides within us, as our Self. And, as we uncover and strengthen the ability to let the openness within shine forth, we are more able to stay attuned to that radiance, and Consciousness begins to rest in itself, knowing itself—so it’s no longer a place we have to look for, but an awareness we reside in.

Over time, this inner knowing becomes our permanent state of awareness, and every aspect of our daily life changes. When we reside in a consciousness beyond thought-constructs, we are able to function from wholeness instead of separation, from fullness rather than lack. We develop the capacity to act not from the tensions of the mind and emotions, but from God’s own power to express joy; and we can express that regardless of the conditions we face.

The result is that we’re living in that “peace that surpasses all comprehension,” established in the unwavering fullness of our true nature, which is nothing less than God’s nature. Why would we want anything less in life?