Some years ago, I experienced a profound realization that my identity as “Scott” and my belief in being a separate person were illusions of mind. In other words, I came to see that individual separateness is not real, and that I wasn’t who I’d taken myself to be. These days, this type of insight is generally referred to as a “non-dual realization,” or an awakening. My awakening released me from a lot of suffering and futile seeking as my urges and efforts to change myself, others, and my present experience began to quiet. The profound feeling of peace and love that washed over me has stayed with me ever since, and the initial insight that I experienced has continued to deepen.

In the early days, I was very eager to help others come to the same realization I’d had because it brings such contentment and well-being. I began meeting with people in private sessions and in groups, and as the years went by, more and more people came to me for help. Some were spiritual seekers on the quest for enlightenment. Others were just looking for freedom from suffering around issues like addiction, anxiety, and depression. Still others, constantly on the road to self-improvement but never reaching a place where they felt complete, were tired of merely trying to change their stories of core deficiency or their lives. Traditional therapy and other approaches had already failed many of them, and they felt a deep longing to wake up from all the mental stories that for most of their lives had been such a constant companion and source of suffering.

Some sessions were with people who still clearly believed in their separation as individuals, and who told me about the suffering, useless seeking, and conflict that accompanied their struggles in relationship with other people and with things. Other sessions were with people who had already experienced some degree of awakening but were still affected by some version of the core story I am deficient.

Over the years, however, I noticed that even if someone claimed to have awakened, it didn’t matter much—very often, the core deficiency story was still quite active in relationship, often in unconscious ways.

The sessions could be intense—some people sobbed as they told me about lost loves, childhood traumas, failed romantic relationships, sexual abuse, addiction, anxiety, fruitless seeking, victimhood, alienation from friends and family, bullying, and many other things. Other people were basically content and relatively free from suffering, but they still reported that something was missing from their connections with people and with the world. In all the sessions, virtually every issue seemed to boil down to the sense of deficiency.

I also met with many spiritual teachers, not in sessions but in casual conversations. These were people who would be considered fully realized by most standards. In quiet moments of honesty, we spoke of how, even after our awakening, the sense of core deficiency continued to arise to different degrees in our own lives. I talked to many students of spiritual teachers, too, and heard disturbing tales about teachers who refused to look at this issue, teachers who claimed to be awakened even though patterns of deficiency were still operating in certain areas of their lives. Those tales were quite revealing. I came to see why there’s such a long history of spiritual teachers’ involvement in scandals concerning sex, power, control, jealousy, competitiveness, and other issues. What’s at work in those situations is the teachers’ sense of core deficiency. And, as mentioned, I certainly saw defi- ciency patterns in my own experience, too, well after my initial awakening. All these circumstances led me to focus even more on the sense of core deficiency in my own life and in my work with others.

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