It’s nearing the end of my time here on the mushroom farm in the hills of the Andes Mountains in Laguneta, Colombia.
I’ve spent most of the last month and a half outside, digging in the dirt, painting a mural, building paths, cutting down bamboo. Even when I’m inside writing on my laptop or in the kitchen, it’s right next to a wall of windows overlooking giant trees and grassy hills. I feel more connected to the earth than I have in a long time (perhaps since being a little kid, when days were spent entertaining myself in the sand, trees, and grass.)
Before coming here (as you may know from my previous blog posts), I had concerns about…pretty much everything. From fear that wearing yoga pants is unacceptable as both a fashion choice in a Colombian city and as practical farming clothes, to worrying that my parents now think of me as a drop-out hippy– it seemed like self-doubt and uncertainty were plaguing every detail of my life.
As I’ve heard before and hoped to experience, getting out in nature has a grounding effect. Being here, being outside, feeling more settled, and having nothing outside of me pushing and pulling in different directions– its like the waves have calmed and the sand has settled, so now I can see deeper into the waters of my inner world.
In the midst of my work, I’ll come across an obstacle– something simple, perhaps, like wood that needs to be cut with a handsaw– and as I contemplate the task, I feel my body tense and my face flush and my eyes blur with tears, and suddenly I’m crying and screaming, “I CAN’T FUCKING DO THIS!”
“Woah! Where the heck did that come from?!” I hear a little voice inside me in the background of my fit.
Instances like this have gotten me thinking– what is it REALLY that’s causing all this anxiety, sadness, self-doubt, helplessness? Because, seriously, cutting a piece of wood really isn’t that big of a deal. Definitely not emotional-breakdown worthy. So where is this coming from?
I’ve spent many years of my adult life wondering if I have some chemical imbalances in my brain, and in my darker times, wondering if I should have stayed on those anti-depressants prescribed to me years ago. (I could go on a rant about how pharmaceutical companies want us to believe we need fixing so that we become dependent on medication, but I’ll save that for another time.) Now I’m starting to see this “blaming” as a little bit… lazy. It’s easier to point to the outside world as the source of a problem, or to call it an illness and accept it as my fate, instead of taking the responsibility into my own hands. It’s called: Doing the work.
So… It’s time to do some inner excavating.
With this goal in mind to explore the root of my fears, I was of course attracted like a moth to a flame to this podcast title: “Freedom from Fear” from The Ageless Wisdom Mystery School.
The podcast reminds us that fear is an instinctual reaction from the “reptilian” part of our brain– the limbic lobe. This is an ancient part of our brains, dating all the way back to the time of the dinosaurs, found in frogs, turtles, mammals, as well as humans. It “presumes that anything unknown, anything that confuses us… may hide some sort of danger. So it reacts not only to danger, but to imagined danger, and to anything about which we’re unaware or that’s unknown or misunderstood, as if it were danger. And it hijacks the higher brain functions in the neocortex. When we become amped up as a result of what we don’t understand…it shuts down our ability to think clearly. We lose logic, we lose reasoning, we become irrational, much less creative in our thoughts.”
As you may have learned in some psychology class or from other Freudian references, our Ego/mind is like a spoiled child, that wants to be instantly gratified and comfortable. It perceives itself as the center of the universe, which leads to all sorts of delusions (“That would never happen to me!”; “I deserve to be angry”; “Because I’ve suffered, I deserve a break”; “I’m not worth it.”) ……..Notice, that being all about “I” doesn’t mean self-confidence and self-love. Ego-mindedness sees itself as an individual, separate from the outside world. “The other”– whether its a person, a place or a thing–because it isn’t us, it has an element of the unknown. And, what results from the unknown? Fear.
So how can we deal with anger, anxiety, and confusion (all resulting, essentially, from fear)?
We don’t have to look at these emotions as things to avoid (because in trying to avoid, suppress, or ignore them, we are essentially trapped in a cycle of fearing the fear.) But we also don’t have to let them take over the steering wheel and drive our mood and behavior.
Instead of trying to stomp out sadness and squash anxiety… we can observe them.
Next time you feel yourself getting anxious, upset, nervous… try this:
- Close your eyes. (This frees up over 80% of your brain function, giving your mind a chance to contemplate the situation in a more observant, less knee-jerk-reactive way.)
- Take a deep breath. (When you keep your breath long and steady, the “fight or flight” reaction is disengaged…. the mind thinks, “Oh, I’m not breathing heavy, so there must not be danger.”)
- Keep breathing deep. (You can even count your breath– inhale for a count of 5, exhale for a count of 8.)
- Feel your body. How does your emotion manifest itself in your physical being? Drop your awareness into that space. What does it feel like? Breath into it, fill that space with breath, and then…
- Let it go.
Now, this is a practice that helps us accept and “make room” for fear when it shows up. But there are also practices that can help us shift our perspective, so we are experiencing each moment from a more heart-centered place. When we perceive from the heart, instead of the Ego, we see a more truthful version of reality.
Shifting from my head and into my heart… This has been the real spiritual work. Even as I write this, I find myself getting irritated by voices around me interrupting my flow of writing (“How dare you disrupt my creative flow!” Yup, it’s all about you, Ego.) Then in the next moment, I’m reminded of the glimpses of bliss I’ve experienced in meditation, feeling fully present in the moment and realizing that my existence is a pulsation of light bursting forth like a fountain, and there’s an undercurrent of orgasmic energy bringing everything on earth to life– a bursting of love (blissful, painful, beautiful, awful, all at once) flowing through every cell on earth, bringing reality into existence… Then, back again to feeling grumpy about a pain in my lower-back (“Why can’t I just feel good all the time?!” Yup, Ego, you don’t deserve any normal human suffering, cuz you’re special.) Definitely, practicing perceiving from a place of heart-awareness, especially during the challenging times… that has been the most difficult yet the most rewarding practice for me.
I’ve come across many different practices and ways of teaching “heart-opening” while on this journey of inner exploration. There are many ways to strengthen our heart-sense: yoga practice and meditation (with an intention to devote the practice to a higher power, rather than just self-improvement), and prayer, for example. [Some interesting ideas on spiritual cultivation & healing through prayer in this podcast, and on “Rousing Openheartedness” in this one.]
Okay, so we can meditate and pray, but I’ve often wondered, what does it actually look like to exist in a state of open-heart awareness? What is like like when you interact with the world from a place of Ego-lessness? Is that really practical? If you’re a monk sitting in front of an altar of candles chanting compassion mantras, I bet its much easier to maintain composure than if you’re weaving throught traffic running late for a meeting. And even as I work peacefully on painting a mural on the outside of my cabin, surrounded by beautiful scenery, I’ll feel blissful as I mix colors one moment, then the next moment my stomach lurches thinking about an argument I had with someone earlier in the day.
So how can we set ourselves up to feel more at ease, more at peace… so we can more easily exist in the moment without worry or concern? How can we reduce… the DRAMA?!
There’s this man Don Miguel Ruiz. To give you an idea of who he is… Recently in my favorite podcast The Duncan Trussell Family Hour, the question came up, “Have you ever been around one of those people? Someone who exists in a constant state of bliss?” And without hesitation, the answer was, “Yes. Don Miguel Ruiz.” In another awesome podcast, “Emerging Women,” they talk about how to access your inner “Warrior Goddess,” an approach created from the teachings of–guess who?– Don Miguel Ruiz.
Ruiz wrote a book called “The Four Agreements.” It outlines these four parameters he uses to steer his thoughts and actions.
So, what are the guidelines that someone who lives in a state of bliss uses in daily life? Check it out:
When we apply these “agreements” to our life, you can imagine how you’d be less likely to find yourself in an awkward, shameful, threatening situation… or if you did find yourself in a mess, how you could navigate your way out of it… without throwing a fit. (Ah, gracefulness.) These guidelines help us avoid confusion, give us confidence, grant us clarity, and let things roll off our backs.
What’s interesting is, living in a loving state does not mean being soft or being a push-over. Love is not some mushy-gushy, hippy-dippy, frolicking-through-the-flower-fields-avoiding-reality kind of thing. Love means acceptance. Acceptance of even the most painful situations, like the death of a parent or injury from an accident. This can be difficult, for obvious reasons, but also because society expects us to be totally upset by these things. Crying, worrying complaining– that would be the “normal” reaction. So, ironically, in being more accepting of situations, our non-reactive behavior could be deemed unacceptable, unusual. But when we do learn to live in total acceptance of ALL things, herein we find our strength. Knowing, feeling, allowing= non-resistance. Like great masters of martial arts, we learn to move with energy, rather than resist it. We don’t have to struggle our way through it, fighting all the way. We can flow with it, become part of it. (And when we’re part of something… it is no longer separate. It isn’t the unknown; it is us.)
Letting go of the need to react… Oh, but how good it can feel to indulge in fits of tears from time to time! Can you imagine never crying over the loss of a loved one? To feel only true understanding and acceptance of their merging back into the oneness of the universe, with no sense of loss at all, only transformation?
The spiritual path is a strange thing. It’s like the chrysalis not wanting to leave the comfort of the cocoon, in fear of flight and freedom. But until we shed this identity, we cannot fully know what lies beyond. We can argue that emotion and drama is what makes life exciting, what makes us human. But if we can touch that blissful state of openhearted, spiritual awakening, I do not think we will wish to be wrapped back up in our cocoon.
What do you think?
<3 thanks for reading. Namaste <3