Through the years, I studied and worked with teachers of the great enlightenment traditions (Dzogchen Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta, Madhyamaka Buddhism). These teachers clearly set forth the territory of spiritual awakening in their own unique ways. I never got the message from them that awakening was about fixing “me.”
Instead, these teachers encouraged the questioning of my own identity and the genuine allowing of everything to be as it is.
Even though I didn’t get the message that enlightenment was about fixing me, the conditioning of my culture was still running the show in varying degrees. There was some sense that I was broken and that awakening would fix me, so that I would never have to feel emotional or psychological pain again. It was an innocent mistake, if you will, to treat awakening like everything else is treated in our culture.
Look at our Western Culture. From every direction we get the message that we are broken or not good enough and that we can be fixed with the right pill, medical treatment, diet plan, job, new clothes, spiritual or therapeutic method, belief system, thinking strategy, prayer, meditation, etc. We are inundated with these messages from the time we are born, well into adulthood. It’s no wonder we bring this conditioning to the spiritual path.
One day I was working with a client who was experiencing emotional pain in her chest. We were exploring the belief, “I’m unwanted,” with the Unfindable Inquiry. As she sat there, with attention gently in that area, she kept noticing image after image after image, word after word after word, and feeling after feeling after feeling. At some point in the process, she stopped and looked at me and said, “Does this ever end?” She was asking the question from the conditioning of “I need to be fixed,” as if there comes a point in life at which we never have to think, feel or sense anything unpleasant again. But isn’t life about thinking, sensing, and feeling? Isn’t this the way we actually experience this thing called life?
My answer to her was this:
There is ultimately nothing wrong with experiencing all of these things. They are merely words, pictures and emotions.
But when we have a belief that we are broken and that we need to be fixed, we are always looking for an end point, instead of really “being with” whatever is arising in the present moment.
This is one of the most challenging conversations to have with clients, when exploring with the Living Inquiries. The Inquiries are fundamentally not about fixing anything. They are about developing the natural skill of allowing everything to be as it is and then questioning certain beliefs that create suffering. But this exploration and questioning is mainly about the deep acceptance of whatever arises, no matter what it is and no matter how many words, pictures and emotions come and go. When we are with our experience this intimately and lovingly, we stop looking for an end point. The end point comes from a belief in a self that lives in time. When we look for the end point, we are seeking into future instead of allowing whatever is arising now. We cannot see, in that moment, that the end point is arising by way of a set of words in the present moment and that those words can be allowed to come and go freely too.
Once we clear away the belief that we are broken and need to be fixed, a change of perception can start to happen. We move beyond this limited way of experiencing ourselves and into a direct and immediate allowing of everything as it is, without resistance. This change of perception has the power to profoundly relieve suffering in a way that is different from being “fixed.” The relief of suffering comes from welcoming the suffering, from moving through it, instead of trying to reach the end of something.
Where is the end of experiencing? Have you ever looked? Wouldn’t the end of experiencing be just another thought arising in the moment?
Get radical: question the notion that you are broken and that you need fixing. Throw away the conditioning that your culture has given you, and replace it with a loving investigation of thoughts, emotions and sensations as they come and go. Notice that, as thoughts, emotions and sensations come and go, there is an awareness that remains unchanged by all that. It remains stably present regardless of the coming and going of all these things. In this, there is a deep acceptance of life, no matter how it shows up.
And then, when you are ready, question the notion of awareness itself. Notice that it too is not something findable. It is not something you have to hold onto in any way. At that point, you have lost your ground in a good way. You are not merely watching the river of experience coming and going. You are the river itself. You have jumped in and lost that sense of self that wants to change the river. You have lost the belief in being broken and needing to be fixed. You are living and enjoying life, the good, the bad, the ugly and the neutral. It’s all here for you in the moment. Live it, love it, be it. Notice that the river never ends and that you aren’t looking for its end anymore anyway.