Thursday, 25 November 2010

Suffering and Spiritual Progress

I have noticed that the experience of suffering makes us kind and indulgent toward others because it is suffering that draws us near to God. - Saint Therese

We all have our own buttons, and if you look closely at your life, you can see patterns in the situations that cause you to react with fear, anger and grief. I've personally always been too sensitive, particularly to unkind words from others, and by the time I reached adolescence, I was living in an inner hell, completely lost and confused in my own grief and anger. This great weight of suffering was the grace that drove me to look inward and observe my mental and emotional processes dispassionately, without identification.

We live in a world that runs from suffering. We run from it into sex, alcohol, drugs, entertainment, work... in some cases suicide. For most people, without periodic escape, whether that be into mindless television or heroin injections, I think it would be hard to retain sanity. There is such tragedy in the world, and in the heart of each person, the only thing most people can do is try to shut down, not feel it, not think about it, forget it.

“You see it, Igby? I feel this great, great pressure coming down on me. It's constantly coming down on me. It's crushing me.” - Jason, Igby’s Father, who is having a psychological breakdown. From the movie “Igby Goes Down”.

When we are forced to suffer, unwillingly, it can beget a cynical attitude to life, or worse - mental breakdown or suicide. However if we look at the lives of many saints, we see people who turned around and embraced suffering, who willingly underwent suffering. People who were filled with love of god and compassion for others, who suffered but were not cynical because of it. Look at Jesus, Saint Therese, Ghandi… I asked myself, what does this mean?

“Suffering cheerfully endured, ceases to be suffering and is transmuted into an ineffable joy.” - Ghandi

A while ago, some years before I discovered AYP, I read and implemented what I learned from a book called The Presence Process. It taught me how to suffer willingly. It was agony. My life became unbearable as I opened the inner floodgates and allowed suffering to consume me. However looking back, the suffering, willingly embraced, transformed me. In many places within my heart, where once there was personal pain, there is now stillness, a stillness that is full of compassion for others due to the knowledge of how it feels to suffer. Compassion seems to me to be like “suffering felt for others joyfully with intent to help”.

Furthermore, it put a kind of strength or determination inside me, which has given me the motivation toward spiritual progress, enlightenment.

So this post is really on a practical note, sorry to bore you with the life story, but I felt like it put things in context. Yogani touches on this in the bhakti lesson (, to continue from what he says, I find it really helpful to pray when I suffer, and/or self inquire. For me, it’s my most important spiritual practice outside of meditation and spinal breathing, to use my suffering constructively.

This post is for anyone who might stumble across it, feeling depressed, or hurt, or angry or upset.

Here are a few practical techniques to make a good use of unavoidable suffering:

1 - Just feel. I begin with closing my eyes, breathing in and out, deeply and slowly into my stomach, and just allowing myself to feel the suffering. Notice everything about what is being felt inside. Is there a feeling of suffering AND a feeling of resistance to suffering? A feeling of not wanting to suffer? Allow yourself to easily notice what is taking place, without resistance, give it the full attention of your heart, and allow your mind to be silent. Drop the stories, the accusations, just feel.

Emotional pain, resulting from unkindness from others can be, paradoxically, one of the greatest fuels on the planet for spiritual progress. There’s the Western/Christian concept of humility bringing one closer to God - “The meek shall inherit the earth’, then there’s the Eastern/Hindu/Buddhist concept of no-self and the ego. It seems to me that there’s a link between these two concepts. When we watch our own suffering with our quiet awareness, without retaliating or saying anything at all, we just quietly bear it and take it to a private place so we can willingly experience it fully, the ego is gradually melted away, and we increase in humility. You find where once there was a concept of a Self to defend, a concept of a Self who is being hurt by the other person/or life's misfortunes, there is now just quiet, compassionate awareness. I hope that one day I may reach the point where even if someone says the cruelest thing to me they can imagine, their words just fall on quiet, compassionate, attentive awareness - and cause not a stir of concern for myself.

2 - Prayer. I use something like “Dear Lord, allow me to make use of this suffering. Help me willingly feel it, even though there is desire not to feel it. Allow it to purify me. Allow it to humble me. Let me suffer this for you.” Whatever feels right for you. Often energy will shoot up my spine and I feel joy after this. The suffering continues when I’m still resistant to it, if I’m trying to use prayer as a method to control it, and to shut down. If that’s the case for you, it’s ok. Just gently return to feeling it again, and to feeling your resistance. Don’t struggle with it. If it’s just too much to take, read a book, or go for a run, whatever, come back to it later.

3 - Self Inquiry. Most of our suffering is in the sense of being a separate self. We believe “something is being done to us”. I’ve been reading the AYP Self-Inquiry book and there are some very good guidelines in here for self inquiry. When I feel myself getting angry with or judging others, I like to ask “is this anger rooted in truth?” (i.e. am I really separate from them? Who is judging and who is being judged?).

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Every moment as an opportunity for awakening

“We are like dogs chasing their own tails, the only difference is, dogs have more fun.”
Michael Brown (Presence Process author)

I’d like to share some truths that God has helped to realize. I was reading “To Be Victorious” by Paramahansa Yogananda recently, in which he said each desire is followed by the Siamese twins of false happiness and sorrow. Sorrow arises whenever we are denied anything we desire - whether it’s a desire for good health, a particular house/home, new clothes, a partner, (etc). False happiness arises temporarily whenever a desire is fulfilled. I read this during a day in which I was experiencing my desires being frustrated.

I woke up during the early hours of the morning, somewhere around 3am, 4am, with this immense feeling of energy in my solar plexus. It felt like something was being pulled out of me, it was a sense of being purged. After this moment had passed, I saw that I am like the dog chasing its tail, except I am not having as much fun. I saw this infinite string of desires running back into my personal history. I found infinite instances of false happiness soon after the fulfillment of a desire, infinite instances of sorrow when my desire was not fulfilled.

God showed me that not a single one of my fulfilled desires has ever brought me lasting happiness. I can’t remember even a fraction of the numerous desires I’ve experienced! Yet the body-mind unconsciously pursues its unending series of desires.

I feel as though every moment is an opportunity for awakening on some level, particularly those moments in which we suffer. If you make a practices of turning to your suffering and feeling it, willingly suffering, or if you can’t willingly suffer, willingly experience your unwillingness to suffer and your suffering intermingled, something good often happens.

My desire now increasingly becomes for non-duality, for God, for the end of desires, and my prayers are to this effect every time I experience frustrated desire. I don’t really know what those concepts mean and I can’t say what this ‘desire to end desires’ leads to, but certainly I am feeling more peaceful today than I did yesterday!

Tuesday, 28 September 2010


Siren echoes

Cold rain on pavements

Autumn in New York.

- Joshua Anderson

Friday, 30 July 2010

Pain and Desire

The way I've walked home has gradually changed over the past 6 months. When I first arrived in New York, in the midst of the cold winter, from the moment I left the subway I wanted to be home. I live near 86th street subway, and I have to walk 5 blocks north to 91st street and 4 blocks east to York Avenue. During my first few months here, whilst on my walk home, I always had a desired goal in mind: to be home. It caused me to walk hurriedly towards my destination, in the event of a bad mood, I'd find myself resisting the inevitable journey. The journey seemed a painful experience, it felt long and seemed an obstacle to be overcome.

Gradually that has fallen away. Now when I leave the subway, I no longer have a desire to be home. The journey is no longer an obstacle. I simply walk because walking home is the apparent course of action, it's a habitual action. As I'm walking I'm just conscious of walking, no goals or desires, I'm just feeling the energy of whichever moment of my journey I'm in. I feel one leg lift, and set down upon the ground. Then the other leg... My journey home is meditation. It feels timeless, instant. Then when I arrive home, it's almost a pleasant surprise. I was not conscious of a long journey. Sometimes now I do not even go home, I may dawdle in a shop, or go to the park and lie down upon the grass.

The journey is no longer a chore. The process is the same, I walk the same route everyday, but there is simply no desire to be home. I walk home, just because. I feel neutral about the journey, sometimes its really rather pleasant, other times less so, either way - I don't care.

Its a nice metaphor for how desire causes unnecessary suffering. I've never really intuitively believed in the idea that we have "a life purpose" that can be reduced down to a concept, let alone a career or set of activities. Eckhart Tolle says "our primary purpose is to be here, now". Is that true? I don't know, but I feel somehow that resonates with me. In what areas of your life do you fruitlessly desire for things to be other than they are?

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

What is the ego?

“We exclude the Subject of Cognizance [knowing subject] from the domain of nature that we endeavour to understand. We step with our own person back into the part of an onlooker who does not belong to the world, which by this very procedure becomes an objective world. [We are unaware] of the fact that a moderately satisfying picture of the world has only been reached at the high price of taking ourselves out of the picture, stepping back into the role of a non–concerned observer.”
- Erwin Schrödinger, Theoretical Physicist, Nobel Prize Winner.

The Western use of the term ego is often used to mean “an inflated sense of pride in your superiority to others”. We may refer to someone as “having a big ego”, meaning they have a disproportionately high regard for themselves. However, this is a very limited use of the term ‘ego’. It’s a highly worthwhile activity to consider the true meaning of the word.

The concept of ego relates to the perception of subject and object. It is a commonly accepted premise that the world consists of objects (entities) which are perceived by subjects (observers). Most languages accept the subject-object premise as a predicate. For example we may say:

· I [subject] gave him [object] the book.

I define the deeper meaning of the word “ego” as: The perception of a distinction between subject and object. From this structure of language arises all concept of division and separateness: us and them, myself and other, me and what happened to me, myself and my environment.

By this rationale, to judge another as having a big ego, is as equally egoic to being the one who to whom the quality of having a big ego is ascribed! Judge not lest ye be judged!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Attachment and Aversion

Whenever an impression is made upon our senses, such as those of touch, sight, sound, smell or taste a series of internal reactions occur within our mind / emotions.

attachment and aversion
When we are identified with our experience we generally then respond to our experiences with attachment or aversion, resistance or clinging. In other words, we either desire the experience to be / desire more of it, or desire the experience to be different to how it is / desire it not to be.





Truth: What we are really attached or averse to is the feeling we experience as a result of our perceptions.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

The Joy of Dying

"To be free in the world, you must die to [disidentify from] the world." - Sri Nisaragadatta Maharaj

The joy of dying is not about physical death, it is about ceasing identification with form. The true reality is god, the source, pure consciousness, allah, infinite awareness… whichever verbal label you wish to apply to something which is infinite, eternal, indivisible, nameless, omnipresent and impossible to conceptualize.

The true reality is that each of us is this pure consciousness. The body, the thoughts, the emotions, the circumstances that appear to separate us from each other, these are not our true identity, these are experiences that pure consciousness is having. To paraphrase Eckhart Tolle, you are the awareness that notices the emotions, the thoughts, the body, the physical world. You are not these things.

The material world is much like a video game. As we play the video game, we become identified with character whom we are playing. It becomes important to us that this character will win, we struggle to ensure the character stays alive, and avoids the pitfalls on the way. As we play the game, we forget ourselves, and the sole point of focus becomes the trivial game which we are involved in playing.

We are like this. In our physically transfixed (trance-fixed) existences, we become so identified with the body, emotions, thoughts and circumstances that we are experiencing, that we forget that our true identity is the pure, limitless consciousness which is having the experience of a body, thoughts, emotions and circumstances.

If we look back through history at our saints, sages and spiritual luminaries - the same thing has been indicated on multiple occasions, in a multitude of ways.

The question is: Are we supposed to accept this abstract belief as the truth because we are told by individuals supposedly more enlightened than ourselves?

My answer is: No. To each of us, the opportunity exists to realise this truth by direct experience. It is not a mental concept which we’re supposed to accept, it’s a direct experience each of us is allowed to have.

From hereon, let us throw out all belief systems, and forget everything we think we know to be true. The truth is within you.

Tessho's Death Poem

Finally out of reach -
No bondage, no dependency.
How calm the ocean,
Towering the void.
-Tessho’s Death Poem