For most of my life I felt like an insignificant speck in an uncaring universe, caught in a web of fearful thoughts and feelings.
I appeared happy on the surface, but underneath I was miserable.
At first I looked to the world for some hope of escape, believing that an exciting and interesting life would make me happy. I graduated from college, got married and traveled, leaving behind my East Coast hometown to live in Hawaii, New Mexico and Colorado. Each change brought temporary relief, but the fear and misery would reappear as soon as the novelty of my new surroundings wore off.
So I turned to more spiritual pursuits, each new endeavor filling me with of a sense hope and excitement that inevitably became frustration and upset.
At first I was drawn to shamanism, seeking the perfect trance that would connect me with the spirit world where I would be safe, included and cared for. However, everyone else at the workshops I attended appeared to be having a better experience than I was and I felt even more lost and disconnected.
I then became interested in yoga and its promise of enlightenment, which seemed to be the ultimate escape from my fear and negative emotions.
I dove wholeheartedly into the first yogic tradition I found. It contained a sequence to be mastered, which, if done properly, was supposed to culminate in Samadhi (union with the Divine). The first step, I was told, was to reach a certain level of proficiency with the physical postures (asanas) in order to prepare the body for the powerful breathing techniques (pranayama), which would clear the way for further attainments.
After about four years of asana practice, I was considered ready to begin. But while I had excelled at the postures, I was a dismal failure at pranayama. I became so anxious and agitated that I had to give it up, which caused even more upset as I believed I was forever blocked from awakening because I couldn’t breathe properly.
Eventually I concluded that there must be a way around my breathing issues and I turned to mantra—focusing on a word or phrase that I silently repeated.
This was a dead end, too. My consciousness felt confined to a small, dark space, trapped with words that were supposed to block out all else in an experience of single-pointed focus. It felt rigid and confining, not open and expansive, and produced still more anxiety because I had failed yet again to find freedom from my suffering.
Next I began reading a meditation book that was written by a guy who appeared to have a large and devoted following.
Here I was, instructed to sit for a specific amount of time each morning and evening while mentally reciting various spiritual passages. I was told that if I missed even one meditation I would set myself back a week. I felt trapped once more and panicky that I would never be able to reach a place where I could be okay. The stress was even beginning to affect my health.
It goes on, but these are the highlights—or, more accurately, lowlights.
After enough painful lessons, I came to realize that each of these methods had been reinforcing the beliefs that I had to seek externally for an improved self, and that it was necessary to escape from my thoughts and feelings in order to find peace.
It was only when I learned to relate differently to my inner world, not fighting against it or running from it, that I began to finally find what I had been looking for.
I turned the search for salvation somewhere else, into an acceptance and acknowledgment of what is here right now, and this is what I discovered:
1) My truest self (my aware presence) is always here in this moment, and there is nothing I need to do to attain it.
2) Thoughts and feelings come and go, so they cannot be my truest self.
3) My truest self remains untouched by any thoughts and feelings, no matter how intense.
4) I do not need to escape from my thoughts and feelings because they no longer have the power to push me around and make me miserable. As a result, my inner world actually feels more benign.
5) My peace is here and now in the midst of life as it shows up.
I wrote a little poem about it.
Sucked into the vortex
of my cerebral cortex,
I search for that which comes next,
caught in a web of time.
I think that I’m not perfect
so I strive and push and try,
believing I’m not worthy,
and so I live a lie.
Now something’s wrong inside me,
Something feels off.
I know I need to fix it,
I know I’m not enough.
I’m never truly happy,
I never feel complete,
yet I do not look the one place
where my wholeness I could meet.
It must be in the future,
this perfect, happy self.
I’m sure if I work hard enough,
I’ll find my missing wealth.
I assume it must be elsewhere
so I seek from place to place,
even though some tell me
there’s nothing there to chase.
Now and then I stop to see
I’m still right here, the same old me.
Yet on and on I try to flee,
myself I cannot face.
Eventually I’ve failed enough,
so tired of trying all this stuff.
It really shouldn’t be this tough,
this quest of mine.
What else is there to do now?
It’s time to realize
that in the moment I allow
I’m finally getting wise.
The only place to get to,
the point to understand,
is that I must be truthful
in feeling all I am.
As I allow what is appearing,
I see my feelings need no steering,
my anger needs no clearing,
my inner world is fine.
My emotions come and go,
my thoughts they pass through, too,
but I am always present,
there’s nothing else to do.
The me I thought was far away
is here right now this very day.
It could never be another way.
I’ve been here all this time.
The secret I’ve been keeping
is I am what I’ve been seeking.
I need no further tweaking,
my efforts I resign.
Editor: Emily Bartran