Nearing the speed of light
October 17, 2014 § 2 Comments
We all have core beliefs about who and what we are that we hold to be true but which ultimately have only relative value, at best. These are what we call our identity in that we identify them as “me” or my “self”. The true nature of self, however, is empty or emptiness.
At a deep level we are never separated from our true nature, even though most have forgotten this truth. This means that at some level we know there is something wrong with identifying our self as some content of consciousness rather than as consciousness, itself. When, therefore, our beliefs are exposed to criticism or in some way threatened, we are apt to feel defenseless for we know the criticism is true and that we are not what we pretend to be.
To say that at some deep level we know our self to be empty does not mean we recognize we are this no self. From our present point of view emptiness is a negation of self with the meaning of personal death. The instinct of the ordinary man or woman then is to avoid emptiness as a means of ensuring one’s personal survival.
To avoid emptiness we fill it with things to create an identity. Like one floating in a vast sea who grabs onto some nearby flotsam, we select an object of desire and grasp at it saying, “This is me!” Believing this to be our salvation, is it any wonder that the thought of letting go creates fear and dis-ease that is then seen as a warning that emptiness is near?
In “The Places That Scare You,” Pema Chödrön writes that what we most want to avoid is crucial to awakening. “These juicy emotional spots are where a warrior gains wisdom and compassion. Of course, we’ll want to get out of those spots far more often than we’ll want to stay.” (p. 34)
If we accept that behind our core fears lies emptiness then we better understand why Chödrön says these “juicy emotional spots” are crucial to awakening, as what we awaken to is our true nature as emptiness.
When near my emotional hot spot I must admit it appears but briefly, like a flash of lightning in the night sky. There is a tremendous energy in that flash that is quickly followed by my old habitual ways of dealing with it that can best be described as avoidance or denial.
Needless to say, in my earlier years the emotions feed by this energy were often overwhelming. This discomfort automatically triggered the awareness to turn away and toward old, well-established patterns that initially were alluring and brought comfort.
It is through meditation and mindfulness practice that I am beginning to slow this automatic response so I can stay with the discomfort. Much as time slows down at speeds close to light, my practice is allowing me to get longer glimpses of the central tender spot within. In doing so I catch myself before I turn away, holding my fear filled images in the awareness to see that they are not real. This process gives me a better understanding of why meditation is a matter of staying alert to watch thoughts arise and fall, while not becoming attached or averse to them.
It is at that moment where the awareness has become conditioned to withdraw from unease that the opportunity for awakening lies. At that moment we have the chance to break from our traditional identity to see the self as emptiness. Yet because this moment is also is laden with fear, aversion and denial it is best approached with patience and self-compassion. Without it, we risk developing new ways of closing this open space that is the true Self.