Lao Tsu wrote that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. If you think about the journey to enlightenment, the first few steps are fairly easy. First you peel away the surface issues that don’t mean that much. After that, you come to the issues that involve ego gratification. These are a bit more complex, but it is difficult to argue with giving up things like greed, jealousy and pride. It doesn’t mean that dealing with these issues is easy, but ego gratification is shallow, the issues are easy to define and dealing with them doesn’t require a great deal of personal sacrifice or soul searching. You just have to be tired of your life not working so that you are willing to consider other ways of living.
As you progress further toward the core, things become more difficult. At these levels, you find issues such as self-worth, lovability and unworthiness. These comprise important, albeit negative, ways that you see yourself, and that makes dealing with them more complicated. Where the ego-based issues like greed, jealousy and pride are protective, the self-worth issues define who we think we are (or are not).
Moving beyond your ego issues requires a willingness to be more vulnerable, but giving up pride or jealousy isn’t a loss, per se. However, by contrast, giving up unworthiness or shame feels like losing pieces of who you are. Your beliefs are of course real, but they are also profoundly untrue. But because of that, they can be difficult to change.
Confronting your self-worth issues requires a significant revaluation of not only what you believe, but interestingly too, what a part of you needs to believe. As much as you complain about being insecure or not feeling worthwhile, the overarching fear is that if you let these beliefs go, you will be left with a void of nothingness, a cold, meaningless, hell from which there is no escape. That, incidentally, is why you took these beliefs on in the first place (more about that later).
As an added bonus, if you feel unworthy, you then have permission to hide in the shadows and not expose yourself to life. You do not have to risk failure, abandonment and rejection. You just get to feel alone, which is a dreadful trade, but one many people make.
We start out feeling as though we have little – we feel unloved, we do not feel successful, we are alone, we feel abandoned. Then the spiritual quest asks us to give up the only blanket we have ever had – our difficult, but familiar, source of comfort. It feels as though we are being asked to endure the cold of the winter night, naked and alone. The poet T.S. Eliot captured it powerfully when he wrote:
What you do not know is the only thing you know,
And what you own is what you do not own,
And where you are is where you are not,
Leading to a condition of complete simplicity
Costing not less than everything.
Most people resist “letting go of what they have” with considerable tenacity. The plateau they end up on is littered with the carcasses of millions of other seekers who, faced with this challenge, have been unable to proceed further. In their spiritual meanderings they have found some answers – that is how they got to the plateau, but inwardly, they still hold considerable doubt. They have put things on hold out of frustration and pain, with serious doubts that God will be there if they surrender “everything.”
If you are able to look back to your past lives, you will find that you have reached this plateau a number of times, and have been unable to progress beyond it. You have been stopped, usually while also suffering considerable pain. So today, in addition to dealing with your core issues, you must also confront the accumulated experiences of 27 lifetimes where the lesson has been, “If you go there, you will be abandoned and hurt.”
I wrote earlier about the part of you that needed limiting beliefs. Being stuck on the plateau is an expression of the belief that the void is real and in addition, that it is what you deserve. Beliefs are like blinders that keep us from seeing the larger picture. They also do not allow us to see ourselves clearly. And without a good perspective, it is difficult to make changes.
The issues that keep us stuck on the plateau are the crux of why we came to earth. You are not here to make millions of dollars or to save the world from cancer. Those are corollary matters. Life plays out in earthly terms what you need to do in your spiritual development. Go back to the “beginning.” Go back to the time when you separated from the Creator and took physical form. You did that for a reason. The reason was that you were, and still are, unaware of the essential nature of your beingness.
In your present state, you are uncertain of your spiritual nature. You experience fear, feel abandoned and unworthy. You feel vulnerable. You can be hurt. You can be shamed. The act of what felt like separation from The Creator brought all these subterranean fears to the surface. But when you do not have the refuge of the God Space to sustain yourself, you must turn to the world for validation. And that is a precarious exercise, at best. Notice that all of your anxieties are dependent upon your relationship with other people. Wounding cannot happen in the “God Space.” The purpose of your time here on earth is to help you see through the fallacious structure of ego, beliefs, vulnerability and woundedness that keep you from experiencing the wonders of the “God Space.”
The reason you can be buffeted today by the tumult of life is that your connection to the Creator and to your essential self is not complete. This is something you cannot be given, because as a human, you have free will. You must learn it, and you must learn it for yourself. It must be experienced. It cannot really even be taught, although wise elders and teachers can serve as valuable guides. Your earnestness in addressing these issues determines the nature of your earthly existence. The more you resist, the more pain there will be.
Accepting your true spirituality, as with all spiritual things, is easy in concept, and difficult to do. It means abandoning whatever psychic sustenance the world gives you in order to take the risk that something more substantial will appear in its place. “Risk” is the important word here. As Eliot said, “costing not less than everything.” But this is misleading because you cannot lose anything real, anything eternal. If your love is real, no one can take that away. But, you are being asked to let go of the ego “stuff” life gives you. The challenge would be easy if you knew for certain that what was to come would be wonderful. You wouldn’t have to “know” anything about it; you would just cheerfully abandon your old ways and surrender.
The ironic thing is that “it” is there and that “it” is magnificent, but two things get in your way. First, you do not “know” it is there, and no one can convince you by telling you. That is largely because of the second reason. The second reason is that your “life experiences” run totally contrary to the truth. This is not accidental, and it is where your past life experiences come into play. In those lives, just as earlier in your present life, you looked to God for love, compassion and support to help you through difficult times. Instead you were met with pain, felt abandoned and left to die. Where was God when you needed Him? This helps us understand the Great Conundrum that keeps us pinned to the plateau.
As the Buddha taught, the ego is the source of all of our pain. The ego pushes you to attach to things and ideas, and that attachment inevitably leads to pain. This is the way of things. It is your ego that stands in the way of your enlightenment. It is like a great weight that inhibits your spiritual (and emotional) development. It anchors you to the world and keeps you from being free. It is, in The Old Testament use of the word, “a satan.”
And yet, the perception is that if you let the ego go, you will lose “you.” And that is The Great Conundrum. But, and I cannot emphasize this strongly enough, the “you” that you would lose isn’t who you really are! The “you” that you know is an illusion built from what has been reflected to you from other people, filtered through their own issues. That is why T.S. Eliot said, “What you do not know is the only thing you know.” You do not know who you really are. You probably have only a passing acquaintance with your true self.
A 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 rowed over to help the poor fellow, and as they approached they found that he was trying to hold himself above the water while carrying a large rock! The rock was pulling the man under.
“Drop the rock!” they cried.
“I can’t,” he yelled back, coughing up water, “it’s the only rock I’ve got!”
This is the Great Conundrum. The Universe is constantly urging you to let go of your “rock” – your ego and all that you get from it. But you resist because you fear the void that might be left if you let it go.
Although your belief is that The Creator has not been there for you in the past, that is not the case. Actually, it’s the other way around. Because you have free will, you get to choose who and what will run your life, and most of the time, because you feel insecure, you choose your ego. The thing is, the ego and The Creator cannot coexist. God is love, the ego is built on fear. God urges compassion, the ego is focused on the self. God says, “Turn the other cheek.” The ego says, “Don’t make yourself vulnerable, you might get hurt.” God tells you that you are safe in His love, the ego says, “Nowhere is safe. We have to protect ourselves!” And so it goes.
To observe this at work, let’s revisit one of your previous lives. Because ego dominated your life in those days just as it does today, you were bound to end up in a “situation.” That is what always happens with ego-driven behavior. Most people haven’t realized it yet, but living in the God Space doesn’t create problems, only living in the ego does. Anyway, as things went downhill, you retreated further into your ego for protection. That meant even greater separation from The Creator’s wisdom and love. Because of that, things were going to get even worse. Then when it all went to hell, you got desperate. You got down on your knees and prayed to God for help. The unfortunate thing is that you were so tightly wound up in your ego that nothing was going to get through. Think about someone who is closed-minded or filled with panic. Almost nothing anyone else says is going to get in.
Besides, if God were to intercede, it would convey the wrong message. Your task on earth is to learn to not mess things up by living from your ego. If God were to bail you out every time you got yourself into trouble, you wouldn’t change anything. Besides, what you are asking of God is unreasonable. It goes something like this: “God, get me off the hook and I’ll never sin again.” Who is kidding whom? Your sudden “conversion” is not sincere, nor is it real. You probably don’t even have the faintest idea, and even less interest, in really looking at your role in the creation of this mess.
Yes, you did the best you could. But “your best” today requires that God accept your ego, which cannot be done. The truth is, you want it both ways. You want the protection of your ego defenses and then, when your ego-driven behavior digs you into a hole, you want God to bail you out. So, tell me, where’s the sincere commitment that says, “I’ll change my beliefs?” Or, “I’ll really look at what I have been doing.”
In time you are going to give up your ego. Either you will see the light and do it as a matter of choice or you will create so much pain for yourself that the crisis will force you to look at what you have been doing and the beliefs that drive your behavior. The difference is that the latter is a great deal more painful than the former. Is this regrettable? Sure. But it is your choice. A note: there are times when an innocent suffers for the collective learning of the others involved, but these situations are quite rare.
If you are going to change, it must be through conscious choice. God is obliged to let you suffer the consequences of your actions. The grant of free will is a most sacred bond, quite possibly the most sacred in the entire universe. To violate it would be to deprive you of the opportunity to change, which, as I said, is the whole reason you are here.
In closing, I would ask you to consider the words of some of our great masters who have addressed this issue far more eloquently. No one understood these issues better than the great Chinese Sage Lao Tsu. He wrote the Tao Te Ching around 670 B.C.
He who acts defeats his own purpose;
He who grasps loses.
The sage does not act, and so is not defeated.
He does not grasp and therefore does not lose
People usually fail when they are on the verge of success.
So give as much care to the end as to the beginning;
Then there will be no failure.
Therefore the sage seeks freedom from desire
He does not collect precious things.
He learns not to hold on to ideas
He brings men back to what they have lost
He helps the ten thousand things find their own nature,
But refrains from action.
Fame or self: Which matters more?
Self or wealth: Which is more precious?
Gain or loss: Which is more painful?
He who is attached to things will suffer much.
He who saves will suffer heavy loss.
A contented man is never disappointed
He who knows when to stop,
does not find himself in trouble.
He will stay forever safe.
Andre Gide wrote: “One does not discover new lands without losing sight of the shore for a very long time.”
The great Hindu sage Nisargadatta Maharaj said, “The search for reality is the most dangerous of all undertakings for it destroys the world in which you live.”
copyright©Blue Lotus Press 2016