While it may be true we are spiritual beings having a human experience, here we are—on this planet, at this time, dealing with the everyday details of life. For those of us not spending all our time in a cave or convent, the human experience involves other humans. Lots of them! And as social beings, we can’t begin to know who we are without a mirror to look into. We can only experience ourselves through relationships.
And while we been have been lucky enough to know the purity of unconditional love at times, and bask in the glow of our own true nature—each a unique expression of the Divine—more often than not, we struggle with myriad imperfect variations on the love we receive, and consequently offer ourselves.
One of my favorite Brene Brown quotes goes something like, “we’re all stuck somewhere between not good enough and who do you think you are.” That was certainly true for me. I was completely stymied by the message, girls are to be seen and not heard. Growing up human can be quite confusing, one way or another. It wasn’t until the early, unexpected death of my mother, 23 years ago that I found myself firmly on a seekers path. From Ram Dass to Brene Brown; Jon Kabat Zinn to Mooji; and Gay and Katie Hendricks to Miranda MacPherson, I’ve soaked up as much timeless wisdom as any human sponge can!
I completely failed my first silent retreat with Adyashanti. I fell in love with Chameli Ardagh. And I am forever grateful for my time spent with Bill and Donna Bauman. My intention here is not to impress you with name-dropping, but to underscore my sincere commitment to understanding this human experience, especially mine.
As the story goes, in traditional psychotherapy, people on whom we are largely dependent for survival inevitably wound us as children. We instinctively learn we must please them, often at our own expense. We simply are not capable at a young age of processing these wounding encounters—both small and large—in a way to manage them head on. There is no such thing as a perfect parent.
And so we must, in order to cope, push these wounds underground through a variety of protection mechanisms, like denial, repression, and projection, (which later becomes known as our shadow). It takes the human brain awhile to gather enough data to develop a full picture of one’s life, let alone the language to describe it, and the capacity for understanding. It is inevitable, this human experience we spiritual beings find ourselves in, and must navigate through in order to learn, grow and transcend. But how do we do this?
You may not have been very powerful when you were little, but you are powerful now. You may not have been responsible at all when you were young, but you are responsible now.
Given this precarious start, no wonder we have difficulty communicating, getting along, and finding our way. As human beings, it is often much easier to look outside ourselves and find someone else, something else to blame. Of course this is done unconsciously. Eventually, these stored bubbles of memory work their way to the surface. Life happens. We get triggered. Wisdom through the ages tells us, look within! Here, I am suggesting an easy to remember model for healing:
First, we must make the unconscious conscious. We must be willing to get honest with our selves. We must let lose our demons—all those things that hurt us, then and now, big and small, obvious and subtle. As Eckhart Tolle and others explain, we must develop a part of ourselves that becomes the witness, in each encounter, each relationship, and in fact, each moment.
We must witness our own behavior, slow down just enough to glimpse the unresolved pain lurking below the surface, and ask ourselves some important questions. What am I feeling? What is my motivation here? What do I really want or need? With awareness we can shift from reactivity to responsiveness. Letting ourselves feel fully our long-held emotions actually frees us from their grip. Without awareness, we react unconsciously, blame others, and continue the wounding. With awareness we can let go of old wounds and start taking responsibility for our lives.
Without awareness, behavior remains unconscious and unchanged. And behavior encompasses all aspects of being human—mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical—our thoughts, attitudes, words, feelings, beliefs and actions. We lash out verbally or physically. Or we can find ourselves quietly carrying around old anger and resentment for years! We often develop crazy indirect ways of communicating (or not communicating) that might make us feel not quite so vulnerable. But it’s only a temporary solution as the wounding continues. The protective mechanisms we learned as children no longer serve us as adults.
Becoming conscious to the choices you are making ensures improved behavior, and automatically influences those around you. Life’s events can be managed with more ease. Taking responsibility for the choices you make is actually very empowering. Hew Len, teacher of the beautiful Hawaiian healing method called Ho’oponopono, suggests the work is ours and ours alone. By focusing on our selves, others can be healed as well. With awareness, comes responsibility. Four simple phrases are used like a mantra. “I love you. I am sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.”
Closely interwoven with awareness and behavior is compassion—compassion for our selves as we navigate this bumpy terrain—and compassion for those sharing the ride. Only when we can witness ourselves, our behavior with a strong mix of awareness and compassion will we have the strength and courage to see it and feel it without shame and guilt, and then let it go, finding a new, healthier way of being in the world. Without compassion for others, and ourselves we continue the blame game. The negative self-talk goes unchecked. We perpetuate separation. We continue to wound.
And when we can find compassion for ourselves, we can experience radical self-acceptance—for the good, the bad and the ugly—for our whole selves in our perfect, human imperfection. As Byron Katie teaches, only through “loving what is” do we find freedom. We no longer need to hide, or battle for survival. It is through the awareness and compassion of radical self-acceptance that we are empowered to thrive. With compassion we remember that we are all in this together. This IS the human experience—finding your way through what Buddhists call “ten thousand joys and sorrows.”
In the words of spiritual teacher Paul Ferrini, the most important question we can ask ourselves is this: Am I loving myself right now? We must learn to love ourselves, in order to heal our wounds, transcend this human experience, and connect again with our true spiritual nature. Focus on your own behavior with awareness and compassion, and celebrate all the magic available to us here on Earth.