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The Pain Cave

Edited to add: It’s been interesting how many people have written to me regarding this post, or responded on facebook, with commiserations about my “suffering.” I take this as a failure on my part to communicate clearly! I am not suffering, and except for the first few weeks of living with an unrepaired broken pelvis (holy shit, that was painful) I have not been suffering, despite the headaches and questioning and seeking. All of that is now over, and as I say, even when it was happening, I did not think of myself as suffering.

There are painful things in life. Lots and lots of them. How we greet them and work with them and adapt to them determines the amount of suffering we experience. My main takeaway from the past few years, which have been challenging, has been that fear and resistance are the causes of suffering. There are feelings I really don’t like to feel, and I resist feeling them and try to run from them when they come up. They are clearly delineated in my mind and I know what they are, and my goal over the past few months has been to ‘make the pain cave bigger’ so that I can welcome these emotional experiences and feel them fully. This is what we came here to do, as Dauwalter says, and this is where the work happens.

That’s my take on all of this at the moment–always a changing phenomenon!


It’s been quite a while since I posted anything on here, and needless to say I’ve gone through a whole lot of changes since then, one of them being that I have felt that I have nothing of value to say. And that may be true. However, I can’t be the judge of that, so I came to the decision to just say it anyway and let the reader judge as they will. My hope is that as I’ve gotten so much help from what others have written, sometimes inadvertently, that maybe somebody might get some help or reassurance here. Or somebody might come forward and explain where I’m off, which I would also welcome. Or nobody will read this, which is also fine.

Although it feels tedious to me to do so (my past has become boring to me, for the most part), I will refrain from judging, and will relate what’s been happening for the last few years.

Early in the pandemic I experienced being hospitalized for an injury for the first time in my life—a broken pelvis. I was 69. Now I’m 72. I’m fully recovered now, but that hospitalization was intensely triggering for me and led to a cascading neurological manifestation of anxiety that I had a hard time working with for months afterwards. So I upped my meditation practice—it was the only medicine I could think of that might help. I have throughout the last 50-odd years been an intermittent and relatively sloppy meditator, but nonetheless I had enough experience to rely on it to calm my mind. And it did, but after several months something else began to happen as well.

As soon as I’d sit down to meditate, I’d develop a headache. I recognized the headache as being some sort of energetic manifestation, and I can usually deal with those kinds of things, but this one, combined with my heightened state of anxiety, created a feedback loop that made it feel as though it kept getting worse.

I began to wonder if there was something essentially flawed about my practice of meditation. It had something to do with a question about who, exactly, was the one meditating? I began to have a feeling that there was something a little bit suspicious about this entity’s motivations, but in truth I couldn’t have said that so clearly. There was just something not quite right.

Around that time my YouTube feed began to spit up “non-dual” videos and I became attracted to Mooji. He was a calming voice in the storm, for me, and a lot of what he said made sense to me, and was helpful. I remember there was one video in which he was counseling someone experiencing a similar kind of head-pressure during meditation, to not quit, to just refuse to be made fearful by a body manifestation, and promised it would subside.

This seemed like good advice, but in my case, after several months, it didn’t subside, but something else happened. My sense that the ‘me’ who was meditating, the me who was claiming conscious awareness, and seeking something more, was somehow unreal. That was where my fascination with Mooji ended, because he seemed to be not at all dealing with the fundamental unreality of this ‘me’ even though he said he was. 

At that point I came across David Godman, the chronicler of Ramana Maharshi’s teachings, Papaji, and other Indian sages of the early-to-mid twentieth century. In one of his talks he mentioned Ramana’s method of self-inquiry which was designed to turn the gaze upon the very one doing the meditating. So rather than being that one, focusing on an object of meditation, the goal of self inquiry was to turn the gaze 180 degrees and look at the subject instead the object, and ask “Who Am I?”

This helped for a while as a method of meditation, but eventually, the headaches found it and began again. I also, by that time, realized that it simply wasn’t possible for the Me, the one claiming awareness and doing the looking, to see itself as an object, without creating an assumption of knowing awareness that once again created a subject-object relationship, if that makes any sense.

The subject-object relationship is the fundamental nature of separation. I’m here, and That (whatever that is) is over there, and I’m separate from it. I felt that I’d hit a brick wall.

And then, in an astounding display of sequencing, YouTube gave me Jim Newman, Tony Parsons, and a few other speakers (they do not call themselves teachers) about non-dualism, who say, essentially, that the fundamental illusion we are dealing with here is “I am real.”

Not that reality is a dream, and isn’t real, which is concept that for me was more easily accessible. They are saying that reality is both real and unreal, in other words, apparent yet empty, and that the one thing in all of this that is absolutely not real is the individual self. The experiencer, the perceiver itself, is the hallucination.

 – That the individual self can experience incredibly exalted states of so-called enlightenment, oneness, the multiverse, and spiritual “awakening” but that they are all temporary and nullified by the essential fact that I am not real. They are all just empty phenomena, rolling on, as one Buddhist teacher said.

 – That there is nothing to seek, because fundamentally, the seeker has no reality. It’s an energetic misperception, and yet completely meaningless. Not wrong or right, good or bad, just meaningless.

 – That there is no way to know this, no way to experience this, because we ARE this. They claim that this is an energetic realization that cannot be learned, cannot be achieved, and that simply happens to some people, suddenly or gradually. 

Before this, I thought I had understood non-duality. I had believed my experiences of oneness were valid. And these pointings, as they call them, were saying that those were temporary empty phenomena. That our so-called individual selves are seeking/finding AI robots, essentially, with no actual substance. That the individual soul was an illusion. In the most simplistic of terms it was as though we were actors in a total-immersion play, really believing that we are the characters we are playing (okay, I get it) but then taking it a step further, the playing of the character creates the sense that aside from the character, when we step offstage, we are somehow real and individual, still. 

These people were saying that no, we are not real and individual at all. We are the dream itself. Part and parcel of the dream is this “I am-ness” of the individual self.

As individuals we believe that without us, there’s no reality. That if there’s no self, there’s just blankness, blackness, nothing. But these people were saying that there is already no self. There has never been a self. This is not a state to be sought or achieved through meditation or spiritual exertion. It’s something that actually never happened. It’s just an illusion. There is already no self. 

This is not an intellectual concept. It can be understood as an intellectual concept by the self, but that understanding is irrelevant. Impotent. Apparently for some people the self drops away like a ripe apple off a tree and that’s it. There’s no harvesting of the apple, there’s no “I know this.” The whole “I know this” factor disappears with the self. There is no “awareness-of.” No subject-object relationship. For some people this is a sudden occurrence and for others gradual, apparently, this thinning of the veil of selfhood. And it is permanent. It’s not bliss, which is what the self desires. It is unconditional freedom, unconditional love, for no one. 

There’s a lot of talk in spiritual circles about the veil. This is saying that the veil is “I am real, and I know.”

I enjoyed listening to these speakers. I listened to them, taking notes, for months on end. And finally I realized that the situation is hopeless. The self grasps at it like a panacea, like the antidote, but if the self itself is not real, then there’s no process, no progress, no way to get this so-called liberation. It’s nothing to be achieved. It’s already what is.

Meanwhile, as long as I kept trying, my headaches continued. Finally I began to associate the headaches with a kind of trying-to-get-somewhere, a seeking to fix the very nature of my existence, which is all the self can do, because it is desperate to solve the problem of its separation. But it already doesn’t exist. And there’s no way to see this. So I tapered off and dropped it. With the end of trying, the headaches ceased.

That was the end of seeking, for me. The last house on the road.

However, something was happening. Some kind of ripening or thinning of the illusion. This caused me great anxiety at first. It was a physical anxiety. My body had been instructed to function under certain sets of conditioning and now the conditioning was becoming irrelevant or meaningless in fundamental areas. The conditioning itself seemed to be fighting for its life, and that was a pretty unpleasant battleground to be on. I’d experienced this before—we all do when we grow and change—but this was feeling deeper and more fundamental, and way more unpleasant. There was no feeling of triumph in it for me. There was just a feeling of things falling off or falling away. And yet there was also a feeling of relief.

It’s amazing what this body-mind can experience. It can experience states of bliss, wonderful psychedelic states, DMT trips, lucid dreams, out-of-body experiences, deep sleep, deep meditative states, magic. And it never seems to end. The subject will pursue the object from here to eternity. This is the illusion: There is no subject or object. There is just what appears to be happening.

Terence McKenna calls human life “this strange dimension of reduced possibility.” I sense within this strange dimension a restraint so monumental that I can see how you could detonate a nuclear explosion by tinkering with the weird building blocks of it. 

I have no conclusion here except to say that I haven’t a clue. I don’t know what is going on here and it seems funny in a sad, human way, that I ever thought I did.  One thing I do agree with is Terrence McKenna’s assertion that since this reality is stranger than we could ever fathom, our role is not to understand, but appreciate. 

I do know that my mental state will be reflected or is reflected by the seeming world. So the work, or enjoyment, of cultivating and refining my mental state, continues.

And to that end, and in explanation of the title of this essay, in case you’re still reading, is perhaps the most inspiring video I have listened to in a long time, of an interview with Courtney Dauwalter, the epic ultramarathon runner on how she relates to pain.

The seemingly endless journey of learning non-resistance to what is

Just came across some of my old writings in which I was talking about non-resistance to what’s happening in the moment and why it is so important. It was spot on. But what I didn’t know back then, was that as I strengthen the muscles of non-resistance, the opportunities to practice become more difficult.

It’s so much like levels in a video game. You think you’ve conquered a level and then Oh My God, the next level is even harder.

I’ve gotten a lot from listening to Christian Sundberg talk about his pre-birth experiences. I have some pre-birth memories that have been with me since day one, but until recently had never heard of anyone else who had them. Now there are small numbers of people coming out on social media and elsewhere. Some, like Christian’s, are incredibly detailed.

One of the things he talks about is the pre-birth goal he held for this lifetime. He had a terror, after many lifetimes of experience (which are, of course, all happening simultaneously) of extreme physical pain combined with a feeling of powerlessness. I think he mentioned dying in childbirth as being an example of this.

He chose this particular lifetime because it would provide him with an opportunity to go through this fear again and integrate it, through a devastatingly painful experience in his 20s.

I can relate. But what I am afraid of is not physical pain. What I am afraid of can be put very succinctly into these words: “I cannot stand to see my children or grandchildren or any child I care about, suffer.” I am terrified of witnessing the powerlessness of children in the face of suffering, and being unable to do anything about it.

I’ve looked at the roots of this fear and feel that it may, in part, be genetic memory. Born as a Jew, I know that for centuries my family has been unable to protect its children. I know about the pogroms in Europe. I know about babies and young children being ripped from their mother’s arms as they wait in the receiving line at the concentration camp—about watching babies being thrown onto trucks to be taken to the gas chambers. This was all part of my upbringing.

There’s also the fact that my father was sent to live with relatives at age three, when his own father died of the Spanish flu. My dad then lived in a variety of foster situations and suffered malnutrition and neglect.

So I was born into it. My mother protected herself very well from these feelings by simply shutting them down. She had to become callous. And so, as a little child, I experienced extreme feelings of alienation and powerlessness.

I think I dealt with it when my son was little by working hard, paying attention, being sensitive to his needs and by being a “fixer.” If I couldn’t fix a situation, I suppressed the feelings and toughed my way through it.

But the odd thing that has happened is that my little grandbaby has blown all of that wide open. I feel flayed alive by my love for him. Like I’m wearing my heart outside of my body. I have felt like I can barely handle it. It feels like a crisis within me if he falls down and skins a knee. My internal reactions are out of control, and yet I work very hard to make sure they don’t make it to the outside. I say “whoops-a-daisy” and help him up and off he goes on his way. Tough little guy. Inside of me, I’m dying.

So obviously, the lessons of non-resistance have been raising their stakes. New level!

I am learning to sit with the feelings of love that feel so devastating—that make me feel infinitely vulnerable. I can’t talk myself out of them with the usual intellectualized spiritual understandings that we all chose to be human, that we come here (knowing full well beforehand that we’re joyfully invulnerable) to experience the novelties of resistance, contrast, and suffering. I believe those things to be true. I know that he is, essentially, a powerful being of light having a human experience. Knowing this helps a little.

But what I am having to do now is sit with the feelings. Feel them. Feel the potential for grief without running away or shutting down.

Here’s what I wrote in a 2013 blog post called “Fighting Fire With Fire.”

It is the effort of non-resistance to what is happening right here, right now, that allows the mind to slow down and let go of its grievances against the present moment, against the self, against the other. And then the suffering stops.

But non-resistance is at first its own kind of suffering. It means looking directly at the thing that you fear, that you don’t want to see. It means sitting with the feeling you don’t want to feel. That’s the controlled burn. It’s a bit of temporary voluntary suffering that alleviates the much greater suffering caused by the wildfire of the reactive mind.

After a while, this bit of temporary, voluntary suffering, which we can call effort, leads so predictably to the release of letting go and the cool relief from wanting things to be different, that it ceases to be something you dread and becomes something you welcome. 

I was right. Well said, me. And it’s not easy, but I’m doing it… again. I’m not at the “cool release” stage, but I am at the stage of discovering that I can, in fact, stand these feelings. I can stand having my heart cavorting around outside of my body, exposed to the vicissitudes of human existence.

The Troubling of the Waters

(Latest in a series of “What I have learned from the last few years.”)

Most people in the world, and I think it’s not unrealistic to use the word most, live with varying degrees of danger in their everyday lives—danger that ranges from the merely inconvenient to the life-threatening. People live their day-to-day lives with the threat of diseases like malaria and cholera, and AIDS. They live with the danger of not having water at all or not having enough water, or not having clean water. They don’t have enough food for their children or their animals, or they have food but it has little nutritional value. People live without the shelters and shoes that might allow them to cope with heat and cold.

People live daily lives with physical and mental violence perpetrated by governments, by wars, by prejudice, by greed. People who need transportation have none, who need medicine have none, who need money have none.

This is the truth of being born as a human on planet earth, more often than not.

Those of us who have experienced the rare blessing of being born in a time and place in which we usually have enough food, water, shelter and safety to see us through into an adulthood in which we spend vast amounts of time simply finding ways to entertain ourselves, are unaccustomed to living with the kind of daily dangers that are now encroaching on our abundance in the form of disease and climate change.

It takes a big amount of grace to live with these things and not cower, shrink, blame or look for an easy fix. It takes a lot of courage to stand up and say, “I can still be happy, I can still be generous, I can still celebrate, and I can refrain from pointing a finger at those whose beliefs are different from my own.”

I can accept that this is the way human life is, and I can appreciate it for what it has to teach me, on every level. I can live with danger, and still stand up tall. I can stop resisting the way things are, and blossom into acceptance.

We are resilient. We can focus resolutely on the many present joys of our lives and in doing so, plant them in the now, like seeds from a better, more enlightened, future.

Seeing What You Are Not

One thought that has been a piece of furniture in my mind all my life is that “I am not doing enough” or “What I am doing is not measuring up.”

It doesn’t matter where this thought came from, but it makes it so that many of my days, many of the moments I’m awake, are haunted by a sense that I’m too lazy and I’m not being a productive member of society—not contributing enough. Not fulfilling my purpose. “Do something,” plays in my head all the time.

At the very same time here’s what also plays, in response, in my head: “I don’t feel like doing anything. There’s nothing that really interests me to do.”

Back and forth, like a tiresome tennis match that nobody wins, playing on a perpetual TV in some distant room of my mind.

Thanks to recent circumstances, however, I have realized that, hey, wait a minute, both of these voices are coming from the same source, and neither one is real. They’re both just conditioned thought—detritus of the personality, the human vehicle. They don’t belong to me. Their purpose has NOTHING to do with accomplishing anything or creating anything or not creating anything.

The purpose of those voices is simply to keep me identifying with them in order to tie up my energy so I don’t remember that I am not the vehicle, I am not the conditioning, I am not the memories, the personality, the body.

During the pandemic—when the things I usually do to still those voices, or which I feel like doing, are not necessarily available to me, and the things I don’t feel like doing, or perhaps think I shouldn’t be wasting my time on, are quite available—the voices revealed their true nature and became visible as the same old biting dog they’ve always been.

The personality, the ego, bites. You are not it. You are not any thought that bites.

Thoughts on Wearing a Mask

Viruses, from what I understand, are fragments of genetic material, genetic coding. They cannot live or reproduce without a host. They’re like an operating system without a computer. They have no life until they’re installed.

Should a virus stumble upon a susceptible cell, it commandeers that cell with its coding and begins to reproduce. What had no empowered life of its own, now has a sort of borrowed life. 

(As an aside—the ego is a lot like a virus. It’s a collection of sensations and memories, thoughts and feelings and beliefs… a cloud of coding that has no life of its own without a vehicle to commandeer. We, humans, are the vehicle.)

The covid pandemic is a mass creation on a grand scale, and as all mass creations do, it’s showing us something about ourselves—something we needed and deep-down wanted, to see, and perhaps to change. Because I am alive right now and participating, I am part of this grand-scale creation. 

Before I go any further, here’s one of my favorite quotes from A Course in Miracles, from Lesson 76, I am under no laws but God’s.

Think of the freedom in the recognition that you are not bound by all the strange and twisted laws you have set up to save you. You really think that you would starve unless you have stacks of green paper strips and piles of metal discs. You really think a small round pellet or some fluid pushed in to your veins through a sharpened needle will ward off disease and death. You really think you are alone unless another body is with you.

It is insanity that thinks these things. You call them laws, and put them under different names in a long catalogue of rituals that have no use and serve no purpose. You think you must obey the “laws” of medicine, of economics and of health. Protect the body, and you will be saved.

These are not laws, but madness. The body is endangered by the mind that hurts itself. The body suffers just in order that the mind will fail to see it is the victim of itself. The body’s suffering is a mask the mind holds up to hide what really suffers. 

The body’s suffering is a mask the mind holds up to hide what really suffers. 

This is something I know deep down as true. This is knowledge I use in practical ways all the time with pretty good success. When I get sick or have an ache or pain, I always look within and try to figure out what’s really troubling me. In what way is my mind suffering and projecting it on the body so I won’t have to deal with unacceptable emotions or impulses, or God-forbid, make a change in my life?

All other treatments, even ones that I myself employ, I acknowledge as placebos and use them anyway. This is a dream. Nothing happening here is real. So when we take medications or herbs or do yoga or whatever we do to-and-with the dream body, it’s still not real.

However, we’re here to experience this embodied state as though it were real and solid and to work within the given parameters until we awaken, or die. For me, awakening has been a slow and sometimes painful process, but progress is being made.

Despite this slow process of my own blossoming lucidity, I have to say that I don’t understand what’s happening here with covid. I’m along for the ride as much as anyone else, and within the situation as a whole I feel better wearing a mask—not because I’m absolutely convinced that it is necessary, but because to me it has a definite, positive, symbolic value.

A friend sent me an article talking about how masks are a symbol of fear, shame and separation, and that they are part of a conspiracy to create a kind of mass alienation that will facilitate injecting the populace with genetic modifiers, masquerading as vaccines. 

That’s an interesting view, and the part about the vaccines might be true for all I know, but I don’t feel that way about masks.

For this entire lifetime I’ve felt enamored with certain aspects of Japanese culture. And one thing you always see in Japanese cities, is the wearing of masks. It’s considered courteous to wear a mask if you have a cold or aren’t feeling well. It’s also considered courteous to mask up if it’s flu season and others are ill. It’s a sign of consideration and mutual respect, and they’ve been doing it since the flu pandemic of the early 20th century. 

This is one reason the Japanese are more successful in dealing with covid. They just put on their masks, which they all had already. Another is that they don’t touch when greeting… no handshakes or hugs. They bow. Again, a sign of respect and affection.

Maybe this is why I feel so comfortable wearing a mask. I don’t know. At this point in the pandemic, as things are opening up and the infection rates are rising, wearing a mask, to me, feels like a gesture of togetherness in a situation that I don’t understand. 

And maybe covid itself is the mask our minds are holding up to hide what is really suffering inside us.

The Third Toke

Among the many other YouTube videos I’ve watched during quarantine have been several about DMT trips. Some are funny, others more scientifically oriented and others touch on the sacred. One thing many of them have in common is the idea of The Third Toke. Apparently, if you vaporize and smoke the most common form of DMT, it’s important to take three deep hits. They say that after the second one your perceptual world will be so deeply altered that the last thing you’ll want to do is take a third hit, but that it’s absolutely necessary to do so in order to “break through.”

The breakthrough is described as that moment in which you leave all semblance of human life, the universe, and self you’ve known, behind, and are plunged into an experience of vastness for which you have no reference points, and consequently from which you might gain the deep benefits of expanded awareness—if you can surrender.

Although obviously not as extreme, I feel like my experience of the pandemic, so far, has been a similar kind of process. The first hit was the onslaught of a huge wave of practical fears. Loss of savings and loss of income were right up there. As self-employed owners of a non-essential business, we were hit hard and fast. Working with that situation took a lot of focus and letting go.

The second wave was the actual fear of illness, as the pandemic began to spread through our state and my husband and I read the statistics (vulnerable!) and pondered this new reality and how to parse it. A work in progress, but one with which we are feeling more confident now, despite the fact that statistics are not on our side. We looked hard and long at our situation and developed a policy of staying present and trusting our intuitive feelings moment to moment about where to go, what to do, whether or not to order groceries online or go to the store, which streets we walk down on our daily walk, mask on or off, and so on.

But the third wave (by no means the final one, I’m sure) has been remarkably pleasant. It’s been a wave of letting go that is deeper than anything I’ve experienced in my life so far, except for maybe natural childbirth.

Letting go has been a theme for me in this lifetime, and I’ve done a lot of it, but this third toke of the pandemic has given me the opportunity to utilize lessons learned in all my other experiences of surrender.

The aspects of it have covered everything from looking right at the possible end of my livelihood or even the end of my time on the planet, to finally relaxing with the state of my quarantine hair. I have let go of needing to pick my own produce at the store. I’ve let go of thinking that I need to save up for retirement because, well, where did that get me? I’ve let go of expecting humans to behave responsibly and of being irritated when they don’t. 

And I’ve let go of believing that the structure of the way things have been, is the way they will or should continue.

The more I let go, the happier and more peaceful I begin to feel and the easier it has been for me to notice any thoughts popping up in my mind that make me tighten up and start struggling again—and just drop them.

What’s been the most amazing thing is that a dream I had as a little child—a dream which has helped me all my life and which I talked about here a couple of years ago—has again bounced to the forefront of my consciousness and become THE pandemic method of coping for me. 

In this recurring childhood nightmare, I am being attacked by a pack of Doberman Pinschers. They are jumping on me and tearing at me with their teeth and I am utterly terrified. I’m aware that I am dreaming, but it doesn’t help. The terror is too great. In this particular occurrence of the dream, a voice suddenly injects itself into the scene and says, “Don’t panic. Just relax completely and they’ll stop.” Amazingly enough I was able to listen and obey. As soon as I totally calmed down and relaxed, the dogs let go and disappeared. That one dream has been helping me for over 60 years.

So this is what I’ve been doing with negative thoughts, fearful thoughts, stressful thoughts—in fact any thought that gets its teeth in my arm and starts to chew on me. I relax and remember to calm down completely and let them disappear.

The pandemic has been a perfect ticket for me to remember the vastness of our true identity and the forces aligned our our behalf. It has helped me take my focus off the manifestation, off the projection, and place it squarely where it belongs, on the projector. Moment by moment, day after day, the spiritual opportunity offered by this situation has been, for me, immense, and I’m endeavoring to take full advantage of it.

It’s not always easy, and I can’t always do it immediately, but I can now see that judging myself for such apparent failures is just another Doberman, and if I relax, it will disappear.

In the Middle of a Covid Night

Years ago I used to love to watch the TV show Survivor. It was one of the first classic reality shows. People were dropped off in tropical locations and had to build shelters, find food, make fire, and compete with each other, alone or as teams, in order to win a million bucks.

There were some notoriously good players over the years, and they’re the ones that interested me the most. I love to watch people who are well-suited to life as a human being. I’ve never felt all that well-suited to it, but I’m here, so I like to observe those who appear undaunted.

Intermittently during each episode, contestants would be taken aside and interviewed individually. One I have remembered for years occurred after several weeks during which conditions were abysmal. Can’t remember what they were exactly, but let’s say cold, rainy, maybe some huge poisonous centipedes, no food, utter misery, and horrid competitions. Players were falling apart—weeping, complaining, attacking each other.

And in his interview, this one contestant said, “I don’t know what these whiners expected! I knew coming into this game that I would suffer. I came prepared to suffer. You’d think they never watched the show!”

Here’s another little relic from my psyche. When I was a little girl, my best friend and I used to play in her parents’ bedroom. They had a huge sleigh bed. We’d perch our little bums on the head or foot board, which seemed quite high up to us, (at the age, maybe four years old, when falling down and scraping your knees is a major issue) and we’d sing “I won’t fall down, I won’t fall down, I won’t fall down.” And then we’d pretend to lose our balance, shriek, and fall onto the bed.

So. We have fallen down now, we humans. And we are suffering. It is perhaps possible to think of life as a game, or a dream, when things are going well. But when the dream becomes nightmarish, it gets a little tougher.

Like many people, I’m able to stay positive most of the day. I can keep my mind clear and stay in the eye of the storm, in the present moment, where it’s calm. And where, even in quarantine, it’s actually kind of nice.

But it’s another story at 2 or 3 AM when I wake up to pee. If I’m unable to fall immediately back to sleep and my mind wanders even an iota, resistance to what’s happening comes on like a seizure. A seizure of thinking. And it rushes in so forcefully that I wind up fighting to avoid getting hooked.

I start believing my thoughts about financial ruin, the end of my small business, the virus statistics, how my death would affect my loved ones—you get the gist. The thought seizure takes hold, spins off wildly, and my first reaction is to try to stop it, fight it, make it quit. I do not want these thoughts.

Fighting with fear-think, of course, is like throwing gasoline on a fire. Fear grows when we resist it, fight with it, or try to get rid of it.

So, here’s what I do in the middle of the night when the crappy crew members are in the wheelhouse and I’ve lost control of my ship.

I roll over onto my back, take a few deep breaths, and feel the support of the bed beneath me. I feel my body, and sink into surrender to the present moment.

I like to repeat to myself something along the lines of I place the future in the hands of my Source. Or I give up. I give in. I might remind myself that I create my own reality and that unconditional trust creates the best path forward.

I might mentally chant Aaaaaa, or OM as I try to begin gathering in my attention in order to place it on the breath. I remind myself that I can’t see the big picture, that I don’t know what to do, and that it’s okay to just be, just stay in the Don’t-Know-Mind and be still.

The Don’t-Know-Mind, even if you can get there for only a second, is extremely peaceful. Fear wants to get you up and running, making plans, solidifying yourself around a defensive sense of self that thinks it knows what’s happening and has plans for how to fix it. It wants you to resist the storyline that it, itself has created, and in so doing, make it even more real.

All of this calming action helps a little, and allows me to get to the next bit, which is to observe my mind as it begins to slow down, and note what’s happening. Instead of getting involved in following the storyline that the thought-seizure is handing me, I begin to focus my attention on the breath, and I start noting what comes up. Fear…. Fear… Fear… Fear. As each new thought comes up, instead of following it, I describe it with one word in my mind.

I try to not resist it, and instead just let myself feel it. It’s a little tricky to feel something without following the storyline, but as you do separate the emotion out of the storyline, the storyline begins to fall back. So a thought comes up, I observe it, I note fear. The next thought comes up, maybe this time it’s guilt, or planning, or embarrassment, or frustration. Whatever it is, just note what the story is about with one word. Observe its rise and fall. Don’t try to get rid of it, just feel it.

Little by little the storylines start to dissolve and the spacious, stable feeling of not knowing, yet welcoming uncertainty, begins to dawn. The mind starts to feel softer and more trusting, okay with what is, ready to relax again. It starts to remember that we are more than this drama, more than this game of being human, and that we are safely couched in the loving hands of our Source, at all times.

We don’t know how this will play out, or in which of the many possible, probable outcomes we’ll find ourselves. But keeping ourselves uplifted—having a laugh now and then, staying in the present moment, helping out in whatever way feels natural to us without getting caught up in the fear-narrative—will go a long way towards making sure we create a softer landing. We knew we might suffer coming here, and we can handle this.

What If All Is Well?

Have you ever tried to catch that moment of pure awareness before the mind jumps in and names something? Sometimes when I’m sitting with my tea in the morning, looking at the objects on my kitchen table, I wish I could remember what it was like before all those objects separated themselves out from oneness in my mind and became cup, placemat, bowl, book, candle.

I remember once waking up from a deep sleep and lying in the dark, unable to remember what my name was supposed to be or who I was in this lifetime. It wasn’t frightening—more like a welcome respite from the intense focus of being a particular personality in physical life. Within a few seconds it all came back to me and I rolled over and went back to sleep.

Lately I’ve been very aware of how quickly the mind, the ego-thinking apparatus, jumps in with an interpretation of an event the second it occurs. It’s instantaneous—so much so that the event itself seems to be causing a feeling, when the truth is that the feeling is being caused by the thoughts that have arisen with the event. These are thoughts about which we have a choice, but often it doesn’t seem that way.

Separating the actual event from the thoughts that are automatically arising with it is my goal lately. There is, heaven knows, a lot of fear-mongering going on right now, a lot of identification with fearful thinking. When we identify with a negative thought, a painful, anxious, worried thought—when we believe it—that’s when it gains the power to create within our reality experience. We are choosing to manifest it when we choose to believe it.

So, to me, it seems infinitely worthwhile, if I want to avoid haphazard, chaotic reality-creation, to understand the process by which thinking gets me to identify with fear, in relation to an event that in and of itself is neutral.

We mistake our automatic negative reactions to an event, and the stories that cause them, for reality. In truth the event may be positive in terms of its ultimate meaning. The idea that everything happens, as ACIM says, for our good—not as in “this is for your own good, it’ll hurt me more than it hurts you”—but truly for our happiness, is something I’ve never quite believed, even though I’ve seen in hindsight that it’s probably true.  But to view all events as positive, the way Byron Katie does when she says, Nothing terrible has ever happened except in our thinking. Reality is always good, even in situations that seem like nightmares. The story we tell is the only nightmare that we have lived.—that degree of surrender has felt like quite a stretch lately.

This seems to be shifting, however. Here’s a teeny-tiny example of how. At the end of a long and somewhat stressful week, last week, I looked at my bank statement online and discovered that I was being charged full price for my Y membership. I have health insurance that usually pays for my membership, but somehow it had reverted. Just one more thing, right? One more thing I have to go and take care of on Monday. And what if I was mistaken and I no longer get the discount? Should I quit the Y? Not a ton of stories began proliferating, but enough that I wasn’t interpreting this potential overcharge positively, nor was I looking forward to going to the Y to check it out. After all, I haven’t used the Y in almost a year, so I have to factor in the embarrassment of paying for something I’m not currently using, as though anybody there cares.

But then I thought—what if I’m mistaken and this is in truth a positive event in some way that I can’t anticipate just yet? What if it will actually be fun? What if the overcharge is, in some way, for my good, for my joy? And when I went to the Y on Monday to take care of it, it was an entirely positive, friendly, and delightful experience, in which the error was corrected. The correction of the error was almost besides the point because my interactions with the people there were so delightful.

What if Byron Katie is speaking the truth and all events actually ARE good? What if we have been so sucked into our automatic defensive interpretations that we can’t see the truth right in front of our eyes, and because of our fearful stories, we’re creating and recreating a negative experience?

We have some deeply embedded ways of perceiving here in human life. Back in the early 90s, I was experiencing enduring heartbreak over a relationship in which I was totally invested, but which I had apparently lost. It was so painful that I was driven to deeply examine my own beliefs in an attempt to find relief from the mental torment. What I learned was that I believed that I needed to be in this relationship, or in a relationship, in order to be happy. When I questioned that belief, it shocked me to see that perhaps this wasn’t true. I was able to fully entertain the liberating belief that I, in fact, did not need to be in this or any other relationship in order to be happy. This wasn’t an intellectual concept, it was a deep understanding of truth. Shortly after I experienced this realization, the relationship was healed as well.

So, something happens—a health situation, a political situation, an environmental situation, a financial situation—something happens. Can we create a space between the event itself and the ego’s knee-jerk interpretation of it? Can I find a way to say “yes” to what is, before the stories begin to proliferate? Maybe not right away. But I believe I can at least notice when there is a negative story associated with an event and remember that it is my choice to believe it or not. 

As always, Abraham Hicks says it simply: “Nothing needs to be fixed. Everything is unfolding perfectly. So when you stand in your now accepting that all is well, then from that vibration, you become surrounded by more and more evidence that all is well. But when you’re convinced that things are broken, that there is pollution, or that things have gone wrong, or that the government is doing conspiracies… then what happens is you get caught up in that vibration, and you begin to manifest that kind of stuff, and then you say, “See, I told you that things were going wrong.”

The Dollhouse

Japanese videos show up on my YouTube feed a lot. This morning there was a magical one made by a creator of miniature three-dimensional scenes—a tradition in Japan. You can’t really call them dollhouses because they’re too small for dolls—this one a replica of his own studio complete with many-drawered cabinets, jars of brushes, sketches tacked on the walls, paints, knives and supplies scattered on the desk and lined up on shelves, a tumbling stack of books, and even a view through the window. The video (no voice-over, just quiet music) showed his amazingly steady hands painstakingly creating first the three-walled room and then each tiny bit, finally putting it all in place. 

After watching that, I looked out the sliding glass doors of my kitchen, and watched deer walking on the snow-covered railroad track behind our house. Deer, coyote, foxes… it’s a highway for the animals in winter. A place they can walk without running into humans or cars.

Then I glanced down at my copy of A Course in Miracles on the table and my eyes landed on this: 

“…think on this awhile: The world you see does nothing. It has no effects at all. It merely represents your thoughts. And it will change entirely as you elect to change your mind…”

Our world is like that miniature artist’s studio. It magically shows us a mirror-like, 3D representation of what we think, feel, and believe. Every time we dwell on a thought that feels bad—a fearful, angry, blaming thought, a worried thought, a thought of scarcity or anxiety for the future—it’s like we’re adding something discordant and frightening to the precious little world we’re creating.

The other day I was listening to a near-death experiencer talk about looking back at this reality from his non-physical perch and how it looked like a paper maché stage set—like a bit of fluff—completely unreal. And yet upon this stage, when we are in the play, everything seems absolutely real and solid. We fear, we grieve; we strive and struggle with the happenings on stage, and with the stage set itself.

The cool thing about this reality is that it includes time. So it offers us a buffer period between when we think a thought and when it manifests. Most often we have to create a good head of steam by thinking and feeling the same thing repeatedly before it begins to decorate our dollhouse.

So we get many moments to choose. Is this what I want to put in my world, this world I’m creating? Do I really want to see a 3D representation of my complaints or my worries? Wouldn’t I rather see a mirror of my inner peace and happiness?

Maybe not. Some of us really enjoy the drama of painful emotions. Some of us like to let things get really bad, hit bottom, and then rise like a phoenix. I’ve done that a few times. Maybe we like to see how bad we can let it get and still recover. 

But these days I’m tired. I’ve had enough drama and pain, so I don’t go looking for them. I’m careful about what I read, what I watch, what I think, what I talk about and how I talk about it. I’ve gotten serious, or maybe sincere is the word, about the kind of world I want to create.

The desire to create and experience a peaceful world requires the ability to view the current manifestations, which are the results of past thought, without having a knee-jerk opinion about them if they’re troubling. It requires a kind of overlooking-acceptance. A forgiveness. It’s the refusal to feed the current manifestation by giving it the energy of your attention.

We build the new on the bones of the old, without condemning the old. We let it dissolve on its own. This doesn’t mean that we deny the suffering that is occurring. It means that we take seriously the cause of suffering and seek to remedy it where it begins, in each of our all-powerful minds.

Awakening as Recovery

I recently read Ninety Days by Bill Clegg, which is the story of his recovery from addiction to crack cocaine, alcohol, and drug-driven sex. He was in bad shape, close to death, when he wound up hospitalized and then in rehab.

He relapsed many, many times after that, but each time he started over at day one, again and again until his recovery began to solidify.

What struck me most was the way he described the process of relapse. It always began with a thought. He’d be somewhere or see something triggering and the next thing that would happen was a thought—maybe a memory of getting high—whatever it was, and before he could gain control, he’d identified with that thought, and he was out the door to the ATM to get cash and find a dealer.

It was a beautiful description of what we all experience all the time. Something happens, some trigger, and a thought instantly arises—a thought that is not our friend, not our ally, but at the moment it appears to be just that. 

Maybe it’s a thought of blame or revenge or fear or guilt or greed. I do not want this, or, I must get that. And if we believe it, it takes us over and we’re off and running. 

We habitually identify with thoughts because they promise a solution. A solution to what? To the feeling that something is not right, something is incomplete, something is broken, something is about to be lost—or there is something we need in order to feel happy, in order to feel whole.

And yet, that very feeling of being incomplete, of fearing, of feeling like something is missing and broken—that very feeling is a result of identifying with thoughts in the first place. The temporary, false, thought-based nature that we usually call “me” feels incomplete because it is.  

It is not our true nature. It’s not where our true identity, our wholeness, is found.

His story of recovery felt so familiar to me. The layers of my addiction to thought have taken decades to undo and I relapse often. But little by little, the thought-addicted sense of self has given way to something vastly deeper. 

So now, just as a recovering alcoholic knows that the thought that she could have ‘just one drink’ is not true, I know that seductive negative thoughts, be they of fear, or blame, or righteous indignation, whatever, are not true. I know where they end up. And it’s not where I choose to go.

And at this point I honestly don’t care how often I relapse, because I know how to start over. I start over many times a day.

Lesson 160 in A Course in Miracles says it succinctly: 

I am at home. Fear is the stranger here.

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