“Every time you talk about that place,” she shot across the table, “it sounds like you’re in a bad marriage.” It was the morning after our celebration for completing Meditation Teacher Training at Ananda Village, and we were talking about what it was going to be like to return home. She later apologized to me for her candor, but she was right. The moment she said the words, I realized why my heart had felt so closed off during our 10 days of intensive training despite this being a very bright, affectionate, and dedicated group of peers. To admit how starved I felt for this sort of community, how energized and willing I felt amidst the rigorous challenge, and how much I value the gentle, gracious solidity of the long-time residents would be to admit that I’ve compromised myself back into another situation where I continue to give in hope of receiving what doesn’t come. And that despite all I know, all I say, all I have sacrificed in order to live a life of greater attunement with my deepest self, I still don’t love myself as much as I think I do.
When I see that I am drowning, I want to run away. I want to prove I am bold enough to do whatever it takes. I don’t want to risk being sweet-talked away from my inner knowing. I don’t want to give fear time to convince me yet again that I am the one who needs to change in order to make it work. I don’t want to fall asleep and forget how it felt to be gracefully powerful. I did a visualization with my inner child a few weeks ago, and she was in the dining room crying. I offered her gentle acceptance, and she began trashing the place with the strength of one possessed by a tornado. With her tiny body, she hurled chairs through the windows, splintered tables with her high kicks, clawed the walls, smashed every last container and salt shaker. Then she huddled next to the cold bar, trembling, dreading my response. I welcomed her warmly into my lap and she cried about having no friends and why I make her stay. So in my mind I picked her up, carried her into the night, tucked her into the back seat, and drove her away.
We’re both still here. There is the fear, the sense of obligation, the belief that if I can just make myself strong enough or generous enough I can make it work. But there is also the understanding that I create my reality. A new home and new friends is blissful for a time because we see them as they truly are – light and lovable and full of promise. But with the comfort of familiarity comes all the projections that gradually replace the truth with the play in my own mind – the actors and props and lighting all poised for a perfect repeat performance of Nobody Really Loves Me, Everyone Is Just Using Me, I’m Not Safe, I Can’t Handle This. I feel threatened, I get defensive and stingy, and I hate myself for it. And because I don’t love myself unconditionally, I can’t feel love from anywhere else or even think about giving it in an authentic way.
Michael Brown tells us in the Presence Process that love isn’t something we qualify for, it simply is. If you remove all the people from a war-torn area, the first thing you will notice is a pervading sense of peace. Joy, peace, love, wisdom, power are all inherent qualities of the universe. If we aren’t experiencing them here and now, there is no place we can run to find them. They come into our awareness only when the tornado passes – when we still our bodies from constant motion, quiet our minds from compulsive thought, and release from our hearts all turbulent feelings. Then we can touch that ocean of peace and the wisdom of our own intuitive knowing coming through to soothe and guide us. It’s called a meditation practice, because building a relationship with stillness is a constant practice, but it is the only place we can run to that offers genuine and lasting relief. It soothes us in the moment with unconditional love, and it sends us back out into the world with clarity, creativity, and conviction.
This doesn’t mean that in order to be truly spiritual we should passively remain in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, or adopt contrived outer behavior of serenity or forgiveness. In my experience, even very recently, this just builds to inner revolt, depression, addiction, and general drama. We lose our inner relationship if we aren’t acting on the insight and guidance we receive. And whatever virtuous qualities we embody must spill over once we are authentically full of them ourselves. Sometimes acting enthusiastic or serviceful can shift our energy to a more connected and uplifted place, but acting “as if” is not a sustainable way to live, especially if it suppresses our intuition or ignores a part of us that is needing unconditional love.
So what does one do when they find themselves in a bad marriage to a person, job, community – one where they notice themselves getting passive aggressive, harboring resentment, playing the victim, seeking attention, neglecting self-care? There is no set answer because we are all on this earth to learn different lessons at different times. Some need to hunker down and commit. Some need to run away as fast as they can. Some need to get vulnerably honest with themselves and others. Some need to start developing a gradual exit strategy. I can berate myself for getting into this situation again, but that feels unkind and unproductive. I can reject this place, but that feels like a defensive reaction founded on blindness to all the blessings of life here (including a rare group of people aspiring for greater good) and a misguided belief that I am a fragile victim that needs ideal external circumstances (which don’t exist anywhere) in order to cope. But I also cannot ignore the fact that I have rapidly expanding responsibility without peer support or adequate space for stillness.
This meditation teacher training reintroduced me to spiritual discipline and with it I touched back into both stillness and power – and the joy that springs spontaneously from them. It reacquainted me with the power of my poise and articulate mind, and the security of knowing my resourcefulness, stamina, and adaptability are always present when I am speaking my truth and serving what I love. It also reminded me that what we do matters far less than our state of being – as teachers and in life. Once again, the vast majority of pressure I feel has come from within myself, from my own mistaken beliefs about what I must do to gain external love and acceptance. In order to find these things within, I need my own permission to spend far less will on performance and far more time sitting in the silence and understanding what it means to be even-minded and calmly active.
Every marriage deserves honesty and a fair chance to reconcile. There are some conversations I need to have. Some things it is time to let go of and some things it is time to embrace. I must move through my fear that these conversations will significantly erode my safety and security, but I have already learned that fear of consequences is far worse than actually living through them. Speaking my truth and stepping outside of my role in the play breaks its hypnosis and pulls back the curtain to reveal what is really there. When I am no longer transfixed, the story can change. When I can love and forgive myself for the messy chaos inherent in my drama, and perhaps even learn to look on it with tender amusement as one would a child’s art room trashed by joyful experimentation, I know I will taste a new level of freedom. As I grow to feel safer and more secure in that love, I will come to see more and more people in that same light of acceptance and clarity. Then I will embody true wisdom regarding who and what to embrace, when it is time to run, and the certainty that the new world I find myself in is merely a reflection of changes that have already taken place inside.
“The sky, infinite space, cannot be limited or hurt by anything. We are a droplet of that Infinity, a little nest cradling the omnipresent Spirit. I see this little body as frozen sky, and as I meditate… the body becomes a condensation of the vastness of space.” – Paramhansa Yogananda