Some humans respond well to challenges. Present us with an unclimbed mountain, an unexplored ocean or an unknown continent and we’ll be there, pushing the frontier, exploring the unknown. Tell humans they cannot do something, and they will find a way or die trying. We have walked on the moon, split atoms, air-conditioned the desert and cloned sheep. We have conquered terrible diseases, abolished slavery and could eliminate hunger if we chose to.
Certainly daily life presents difficulties and challenges, but amongst the vast array of things that confront us, one situation perpetually eludes us. Although we can climb impossible mountains and explore the depths of the oceans, plumbing the landscape of the human spirit confounds us. It isn’t just that the challenge is difficult, which it is, but we treat it differently than any other obstacle we encounter. Nothing else stops us like the idea of enlightenment.
Accepting that humans are incredibly creative and adaptive, and that many people courageously venture into the unknown, what shuts us down when it comes to enlightenment? If enlightenment or, as I refer to it, “the God Space,” was painful or life threatening like mountain climbing or motorcycle racing, we could understand why so few people accepted the challenge. But while tens of thousands of people risk death and injury racing motorcycles and climbing mountains, only a very few earnestly pursue enlightenment.
The confusing thing is that not only is enlightenment totally risk free, it actually improves your health and well being simply by attempting it! Where life on earth is typically defined by pain, fear and anxiety, the God Space contains nothing but joy, compassion and peace. Life is healthier, more peaceful and you actually live longer the closer you come to living from the God Space. So we must ask, “What is it that pins us to the dreary obscurity of daily existence?” It must be something incredibly powerful to shut down otherwise adventuresome and fearless human beings. And anytime you find something anomalous in the human condition, it is guaranteed that something much deeper is going on. And that is certainly true in this case.
Turning away from enlightenment represents more than just a missed opportunity. We actually choose to accept a life of pain rather than be at peace. We rationalize the reasons, but it is still a choice. To an objective observer, it doesn’t make sense. That fact alone speaks powerfully to a significant fear running deep beneath the surface that we rarely acknowledge.
For most people, life is a difficult battle just to keep their heads above water, much less learning to swim with the elegance of a dolphin. Consider this story: One day two men were fishing from a boat and noticed a man nearby thrashing in the water, desperately struggling to stay afloat. They row over to help the poor fellow, and as they approach, they find that he is trying to stay above the water while carrying a large rock! The rock was pulling the man under! “Drop the rock!” they shout. “I can’t,” he yelled back, coughing up water, “It’s the only rock I’ve got!”
This story illustrates the dilemma we confront when we face enlightenment. Life may be painful, but you’re not ready to give up what gets you by – it’s the only rock you’ve got! And in a rather startling turn-about, part of you believes that it is better to cling to what you have, as difficult as can be, rather than risk what it is convinced will likely be an even more painful experience. And that is the core of the problem. The ego may be a lousy servant, but to a part of you, the alternative is even worse.
Suffering with our rock and all our pain, generates a good deal of motivation to release it, but we still resist. The prohibitions against getting out of the water are so strong that even though there is safety nearby, most people either choose not to see it or believe that if they do reach for it, they will be rejected. The conditioning has been that extreme. This is the essence of the human dilemma.
Little children live in the God Space. It is their nature. That is why we are so drawn to them. So, when you joined your earth family, you were innocent and open, and what happened? Your family (or some part of it) was unable to deal with who you naturally were. It wasn’t you, but they were threatened by what your openness asked of them. Ask Aunt Martha why she was so big or walk into a room full of company without your clothes, and what was going to happen? Your parent’s reaction was likely to leave you feeling rejected and emotionally abandoned. They didn’t mean to hurt you, but your openness forced them up against something they had worked to avoid their entire lives.
Perhaps your mother couldn’t handle your truth or maybe your father was unable to respond to your heartfelt love, and so each, in his/her own way, rejected your natural self. It was necessary for them to defend their own woundedness, and personal wounds usually take precedence over other people’s needs, even those of our children. Which is not to say that parents don’t sacrifice for their children, because of course they do. Our heroes and people we look up to sacrifice their personal needs and safety for the sake of others. This is what makes them special. But most people (parents) avoid dealing with their core emotional issues like a hot stove (and so do you!). So when there was a conflict between your emotional needs and the pain your parents carried, it is very likely that you lost.
So you got hurt. You had acted from a natural place of love and compassion and were rejected. It felt unfair to be treated so rudely when all you wanted to do was to be loved. And you were right! From the child’s perspective, what happened was completely unfair. Being powerless, you then proceeded to do the only thing you could – you stuffed your anger (or perhaps you acted it out), and built a protective shell around yourself. That shell has become one of your most vital survival resources. Asked to give it up and stand without it in the truth of the God Space, your response (understandably) is going to be, “No way! I got hurt badly when I did that before!”
But there is more to this story. This is not the first time you have confronted these issues. We must go further back into your history for that. Once upon a time, you existed “out there” as an unenlightened spiritual being. You were unaware of who you were. For whatever reason, you decided it was time to awaken your consciousness. In order to do that, you would have to enter a realm where learning was possible. This meant that you would have to assume physical form and come to earth.
Having a body and an ego and not having a conscious connection to the God Space powerfully surfaces unresolved and unawakened aspects of the self. That is what life on earth is about – the creation of conflict (inner and outer) regarding the unrealized aspects of the self. If you had come here in a realized state, learning would have been impossible. An event would happen, you would see its divine perfection and be unaffected by it.
Dying, disease and being harmed are issues that can only be experienced when you have physical form. They give you something to attach to and worry about. Anxiety and pain then dominate your attention and allow you to lose yourself in the drama. Your emotions also allow you to turn situations in on yourself or project them out onto others, until you see through the veil and hold them as the opportunities for learning they are. Having the opportunity to experience the emotional or shadow realms outside the God Space also gives you firsthand experience of what it is like not to live in truth.
This process started many centuries ago and became a pattern that would repeat lifetime after lifetime until your realization was complete. It would go something like this: you would try to live your life, but because you did not have an unshakable connection to the God Space, it was necessary for you to create a substitute for guidance. You would have to deal with people from your ego instead. Whether you were passive or aggressive in your behavior, because you did not have the security of the God Space, you would operate from insecurity and fear. You would contract and hold back. You would be unable to meet and embrace life fully and openly. What was going to happen? Regardless of the circumstance, things were not going to go well. You would experience pain. Life cannot be resolved harmoniously when we are unable to fully open to it.
It is Universal Law that any disharmony gives rise to a greater disharmony, shaking everything up, providing the opportunity for the original problem to be resolved. You were not ready to open to the greater truth about yourself, and so your life became more intense. You blamed yourself for failing and then probably blamed God for not being there for you. In all likelihood, you died with your feelings unresolved.
Your painful and disharmonious energies do not dissipate when you die. They are carried with you from one lifetime to the next (this is called karma). When you returned for the next life, the unresolved feelings and the deeper drive for resolution that originally created them were still with you. Although you were an innocent child and not aware of their existence, those energies shaped and determined your life experiences, so that once again, you were presented with an opportunity to release the false beliefs you held about yourself and move to the God Space. You were not in a position to make that transition, and so you added to the force for change building within you.
There can only be one truth, and thus it is assured that you will eventually see your ego-driven fears for what they are. And since you will come to these realizations yourself, you will hold this truth more deeply than would otherwise be possible. And since your God consciousness cannot possibly be harmed and you cannot loose your connection to the Creator, there is no risk, although it certainly does not feel that way.
Have you ever watched a hamster run in its cage? The hamster can run like the wind and expend a great deal of energy, but it’s not going to get very far. Why? Because the cage is designed to prevent the hamster from going anywhere. To get someplace, the hamster must break out of its confinement.
You are in a cage also, a cage of your own creation. Where the hamster’s cage is designed to keep it in, your cage is designed to keep the world out, so that you can feel safe. Never mind that it really doesn’t work, and that the world can still get at you, you have the illusion of separation, and you can cling to it like a drowning rat.
The Emperor has no clothes, but you are so deeply ingrained in the illusion that it does not matter. Just as the hamster will need to leave its cage, you will have to leave your false beliefs if you are to come to enlightenment, and that is the rub. You created the cage because you felt that you needed protection. Part of you is certain that if you step outside, not only will you get hurt, it is also very likely (according to your beliefs and your “experience”) that God will abandon you as well – again. So the cage is “The only rock you’ve got.” And even though it is pulling you under, you feel as though you have no choice but to cling to it. This is the essence of what holds us back from enlightenment. Nisargadatta Maharaj taught that, “The search for reality is the most dangerous of all undertakings for it destroys the world in which you live.” This is fundamentally why we shy so strongly away from enlightenment.
It is not a failure. It is a carefully regulated system that will bring you (force you?) into realization by bringing the various aspects of yourself into alignment. The false beliefs of unworthiness that you are invested in must eventually be broached and released for the untruths that they are. Can you resist the process? Yes. Most people do. Can you hasten things along? Yes you can. And as an added bonus, daily life becomes a great deal more fulfilling when you do. Waiting for circumstances to force the inevitable only makes things more difficult.
If you could step back from your pain, you would realize that there is no need for protection. Although the body can be hurt, who you are cannot be harmed. And although you have felt abandoned by God in the past, He has been there with you all along – you cannot lose your connection to The Creator, no matter what you do. Actually, you have turned away from God by becoming attached to your ego. When you come to that realization, you simply drop your protection because it has become irrelevant. And besides, it takes a great deal of energy to hold the whole show together anyway.
However, until you come to that realization, you need to protect yourself. You must hold part of yourself away from life. Please understand, this is not a conscious choice, and it is not a personal failing. No one gets up in the morning and says, “I want to suffer today!” It is something forced upon you both by circumstance and the process. But it leads to considerable frustration. You are doing the best you can, and things are not working as you had hoped. That is probably where you are today.
The hamster’s cage provides exercise but not enlightenment. Many of your spiritual efforts are like that too. They exercise spiritual muscles but do not go deeply enough to challenge your core beliefs. It is very good to meditate (although most people don’t), pray, set intentions, do mantras, chant and dance, etc., but you do not allow these practices to go further than improving your spiritual and emotional well-being. Until you make a total commitment to your spiritual development, until you are willing to let every attachment go, you are like the hamster. You can work like crazy, but you aren’t going to get where you desire