Letting go 09: when spiritual struggle is an obstacle

My fascination with solving problems and searching for deep and meaningful answers has been the central theme of my life for more than twenty years.

This is my personal form of assertion: an attempt to take control of my life after concluding that life itself could not be trusted to bring me happiness.

I embraced this struggle via forms of mysticism that encouraged my negative view of life. With a deeply melancholic perspective I believed there was nothing worth striving for, nothing worth attaining, nothing that could bring lasting happiness in this lifetime.

Except to transcend it all; to find a state of being the mystics spoke of, where reality was transformed as the individual became united with the ultimate reality, the ground of all being.

Spiritual cynicism

You know the Socratic injunction that “wisest is he who knows his wisdom is worth nothing”? That’s supposed to be an insight earned through experience, not something to memorise and move on. It’s not wise to be a kid who parrots nuggets of philosophical wisdom.

But that was me. I took onboard a slew of sayings and aphorisms. I read the books they came from. I immersed myself in spiritual texts and tried to see the world through the eyes of these enlightened teachers, saints, and sages.

But this whole effort was an epic work of assertion. I was no different from a kid who thinks he can be president or a kid who wants to be a billionaire.

The only difference is that I thought spiritual enlightenment was going to be more powerful, more desirable, and more enduring than those “worldly” aims.

My struggle resembled a strange, entirely introspective version of the kind of person who chases after “get rich quick” schemes. Get enlightened quick, I guess.

But I never found myself willing to practice or pick a pathway or a discipline. I just wanted to work it all out myself using all the available resources.

And I’m not entirely wrong

And yeah, I’m not entirely wrong. I’ve seen in other areas of life like Kung Fu a similar struggle to master or attain an answer to my questions.

The answer eventually came. I just made it more of a struggle than it needed to be. A lot more.

Desperation doesn’t yield results. If we want answers we have to be in the right mode to receive them.

My spiritual quest is therefore two things. It’s an actual path of learning, experience, and progress; and it’s a massive assertion of control as well. It’s my attempt to force reality to comply with my wishes. It’s a hammer I use to feel like I’m shaping my life the way I want it to be.

That second part just doesn’t work at all.

And it arises out of fear. It’s an action-pathway I took to assuage feelings of misalignment, hopelessness and powerlessness. It’s something I crafted to give me a sense of being more than the dismal world I saw around me, to be more than the disappointing self I seemed to be.

Reconciliation

I can give up the spiritual struggle, and profound thoughts and wisdom will probably still appeal to me.

I’ll probably still be someone who cares about meaning and purpose and existence.

What I want to stop doing is using my spiritual search as the answer to negative feelings of fear and insecurity. Because it isn’t an answer, just a course of action, an assertion of control that hinges on an outcome.

Those negative feelings need to be acknowledged and faced on their own terms, not silenced and avoided with vague promises of enlightenment and transformation.

Owning up to feelings of envy and jealousy, inferiority and shame, insecurity and fear can be really tough. But letting them fester in the background doesn’t nullify them either.

And with the Abraham-Hicks teachings I’ve learned that these feelings aren’t bad: they’re guidance showing me that my thoughts, my vibration, is out of alignment with God/inner being.

That’s actually a good thing. Our negative feelings mean we’re looking at things in the wrong way.

In the past two and a half years I’ve practiced many tools for changing how I feel. I didn’t have these tools when I was younger. It makes sense that I would seize on the ideal of enlightenment to try to overcome those bad feelings.

But now I have the strength and the skills to face them directly and soothe them. I can accomplish real vibrational change instead of looking for escape.

One final answer

For years I longed to find the one final answer.

But no such answer exists, because there is no one final question.

I thought a final answer would bring me peace and happiness and set me on the right path.

But that’s not how I’m supposed to live. Every answer I find is because of a question I’ve asked. And I’ll never stop asking questions.

What is the path then?

It’s too big to complete in a single step, so even though I know my path, I know it in the kind of generality that will never impose upon or limit the unfolding of the details.

Relief, ease, letting go of the oars; accepting, allowing, and appreciation.

Instantly change your reality

People often come to the Abraham-Hicks teachings because they want their life to get better. And the teachings promise that it will. They promise you can be, do, or have whatever you desire.

But then they point out that you only desire these things because you think you will feel good in the having of them, and it’s up to us to let ourselves feel good right now.

The path to a good-feeling reality is to feel good now; that’s the crux of “believe that you have received it, and it shall be added unto you”.

Proof

It helps to be able to prove to ourselves that this is indeed how it works.

So here’s some proof.

If you close your eyes and forget about who you are, where you are, and anything that needs doing, you will feel immediate relief.

That feeling of relief is proof that you can change how you feel by changing your focus. You instantly changed your reality to an experience of relief.

Not very impressive?

That may not seem like very impressive evidence. No doubt you opened your eyes, immediately remembered who you are, where you are, and what you’re meant to be doing, and the relief vanished.

But that’s just further proof, isn’t it? Bear with me…

Thoughts->feelings->reality

Your thoughts tell a story, and for many of us we’ve ended up telling a s*** story that makes us feel bad.

When you “forget” in meditation you stop focusing on those thoughts and your feelings immediately change.

That’s how easy, simple, and direct it is. Then you focus on your story again and feel bad. Your reality changes.

You need to practice. It took me two years before I was ready to meditate, because I’m a stubborn, intense, incredibly focused person who spent more than half his life digging himself into the deepest hole he could imagine.

I spent these past two years reading books and forums and listening to YouTube videos about the Abraham-Hicks teachings, and learning to find better feeling thoughts, tell a new story, soften my approach to contrast, and find relief no matter what.

Now I can meditate, and meditation is like letting someone lift you gently out of the hole you’ve dug. So that’s two years learning to stop digging before I was ready to let myself be rescued!

Relief is real

If you look out on your world with a mind full of relief, is it still the same reality you see?

If I feel appreciation for my home instead of frustration at it, hasn’t my reality changed?

At first these teachings sound like you can close your eyes, imagine a mansion, and then it will magically appear and you’ll live happily ever after.

But what it’s really like is closing your eyes, forgetting you don’t like your house, and then magically feeling better.

Better-feeling thoughts

Using meditation to forget my old story allows me to instantly inhabit a reality where I feel extremely good.

My old story was fairly intense, so it’ll take some practice to change it. But when I feel better from meditation I naturally gravitate to new story elements that reflect my good feelings.

And then I won’t have to forget my story in order to feel good, because my whole story – and my reality – will be about feeling good deliberately.

From relief to appreciation

Everything is changing, evolving, and expanding.

The last few days of meditation have been like a flood of relief. Today it no longer feels like relief, and once upon a time I’d have lost faith and given up because “it’s not working anymore”.

But relief is the feeling of releasing resistance, and it doesn’t make sense to think that there must be never-ending resistance to let go.

Think of relief as preparing a space for appreciation. When the same practice of meditation – letting go of your thoughts and your stories – is no longer bringing relief, that’s actually a sign of progress.

Appreciation is a more stable, powerful, aligned energy than relief. Relief only comes when we let go of resistance, but appreciation can be forever.

Sometimes it’s easier to focus on relief without finding the appreciation implicit in it. It’s a relief to get what you want after a long period of feeling deprived. But often we get what we want and then immediately forget about it, moving on to the next thing.

It’s how you play the game

I’m gradually getting my head around this idea, from the Abraham-Hicks teaching, that life will always contain contrast and always call us to expand. The question is how we welcome (or don’t) this call.

From a negative point of view nothing in life will ever be “enough”, we will always want more and never find contentment. No sooner are our desires fulfilled than we want something new.

But from a positive perspective this inherent incompleteness is the source of growth and expansion. If we can just learn to appreciate what is, and find a way to feel eager about what is coming next, then instead of an unending struggle or Sisyphean frustration, the exact same life is revealed to be an infinite journey of discovery and ease.

The flip side of “something always goes wrong” is that things are always getting better.

Floating downstream

When we look at life in ways that feel bad, we are fighting the current that carries us.

But as we learn to let go of the oars, we feel relief at giving up the struggle followed by enjoyment of the easy journey before us.

It’s the ease of this journey, and the sheer genius of the blessings along the way, that offer us endless opportunities for appreciation and savour.

Relief comes when you rest your tired muscles. But when they are no longer tired, then relief is replaced by enjoyment, satisfaction, and appreciation.

Life without anxiety

We went to the art gallery today. No stress, no fuss. Just went, found a park, went inside and looked at the art for an hour.

I never longed to do stuff like that, but I did dream of being able to do it with ease. That’s another milestone to appreciate: feeling so good that a modest outing like that is taken in my stride.

And my wife was pleased 😀

Feeling really good all day

I thought I was feeling good before, and I knew there were levels of good feeling above me.

But the feeling of relief that comes when I let go of my story is just fantastic.

According to the Abraham-Hicks teachings, this good feeling is exactly why I’m here in this life, and embracing it will not only make it more consistent but will also allow my circumstances to change and reflect this feeling.

I’m so glad I finally took the time and swallowed my pride enough to investigate these teachings. Two years in, I’m no longer depressed and I’m doing things that would have once seen me struck down with anxiety.

I’m beginning to feel like a different person, living a different life.

What I always wanted

What I always wanted was to completely change and transform my reality. I knew there had to be something pure, powerful, and wholly good; a true happiness I could somehow reach.

That’s how it feels when I let go of my old stories about everything in my reality. When I let go and let my mind soak in relief.

How do I bring this into my everyday life? How do I embrace it more fully?

I think the answer is: keep doing it. Don’t stop. Stop the heavy, leaden thoughts before they even arise. Don’t interrupt your relief for anything. Because nothing benefits when you retell the old stories.

This relief is the relief of being “in the moment”. The moment is all you ever have, that’s why losing it to old stories of past and future feels bad.

But what you have in the moment is…your whole entire being, your spirit, your life, the stream of joy and appreciation that is always flowing to you and through you.

In the moment your most profound happiness is fully available to you, and the circumstances and conditions of reality must change to reflect the happiness we allow.

This momentous joy may not match what we thought would bring happiness. But most of our thoughts of happiness are entangled with thoughts of unworthiness and burden and necessity anyway.

If you can let go of your story, give your mind the relief of being outside the story, then you have the vantage point of eternity.

Stay there, breathe it deep, and make relief your resting place. Let relief rewrite your story one moment at a time. Let relief be the plot and the theme and the setting and the protagonist.

Let relief tell you what is possible, and stay there as much as is possible for you right now, without beating yourself up for when you forget it and go back to old habits of thought.

Why does letting go feel so good?

Why does letting go feel so good?

Because I’m holding on to falsehoods and untruths.

The more relief I feel, the better this world looks to me. I could even end up liking this place.

I took the holy men seriously when they said a pilgrimage to some sacred space will do you no good if you cannot find holiness at home.

But home itself is more about the story you tell than any physical locale.

Everything around you can be seen from infinite different angles and endless new contexts. “Here” is all in how you choose to see it.

Why do we love holidays if not for the break we take from our own story? We see someone else’s home with a stranger’s vantage. We give it the benefit of the doubt.

My relief at letting go is so palpable, can I not bring this home? Be the same person with a new mind; pause the story and put it on hiatus til the new chapters come to me.

If I were a character this part of my arc would be a mysterious journey in the mountains with some monkish mentor, resulting in transformative self-discovery.

I’ll make do sitting under a tree while a gardener meanders by, leaf-blower buzzing, filling the air with two-stroke fumes.

You can hear a sutra in it, the guttural drone of Tibetan lamas. It’s the right pitch and harmonics abound within it.

Going beyond answers

Caution: may contain answers. Please do not touch the paradox.

The basic law of attraction idea is that you get more of whatever you focus on.

I’ve been focused on understanding and answers for about twenty years, super-intense rumination, philosophy and mysticism, hoping I would suddenly find the pearl of great price and be perfect.

It was mostly motivated by fear and lack, so of course the answers I found were never enough.

In learning to meditate I’m wanting to go beyond that whole dimension of answers I’ve accrued and find something more satisfying and more pure.

That’s a good intention. In fact it’s inspiration. I have a backlog of unfelt relief three miles high just waiting to be enjoyed.

Meditation for narrative discontinuity

Without going all author-itative on you, I know what it’s like to write a story, a narrative, and keep thinking “what’s next?” while smoothing out the continuity.

There’s a whole lot of unspoken convention and flow that keeps the audience engaged, and a potentially infinite number of things that could be written that would break the narrative and ruin the story.

We don’t like stories where the character or the setting change for no reason.

But that’s exactly what I want for myself

My own continuity is holding me back, and the continuity lives in my habitual thoughts. Meditation as a way of finding relief without habitual thinking is like a personal deus ex machina swooping in to change things without regard to narrative coherence.

Deus ex meditatio?

My Latin is crap but you get the idea.

Meditation feels like intense relief because it takes me out of the old story, the confining narrative I’ve kept alive for myself.

When I was severely depressed the stories I wrote were bleak and horrible without meaning to be. It’s just what made sense in that state of mind.

How much moreso the story I’ve told myself only half-aware?

When meditation stops the story, it’s the ultimate freedom from old narrative pressures, conventions and constraints. It’s a new creation, true rest, and respite from a world that doesn’t need to be.

I don’t have to make this relief fit; I can’t. My old story is an old wineskin. Time to start afresh.

Learning to meditate

I want to learn to meditate – specifically to quiet my mind.

I’ve tried to learn before, but I didn’t really understand myself enough back then. And contrary to what we are told: meditation is not a panacea.

Learning to meditate isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation, any more than learning to run. Running is good for your health, but the unspoken assumption is that you are able to do it healthily in the first place.

Some people need rehab or physio treatment or personalised training before running can be a regular, healthy activity. Meditation is the same.

Quiet your mind

Meditation 101 is to quiet your thoughts. But some of us are intense and driven thinkers, and our intense and driven thinking often has a cause.

If you take people with PTSD or chronic anxiety and get them to quiet their thoughts, they may find it impossible. In my case I suspect my intense focus on thinking is a way of finding control and stability amidst anxiety.

Yet I want to feel the relief of a quietened mind. I want to find my mind at peace before anxiety begins and before my thoughts race to manage it.

The first step is acknowledging that my constant stream of thoughts is not the whole of my mind. In fact it’s more like the tail end where wordless insights are translated into language.

Focusing on them will bring me more of them, but they are only translations and cannot surpass the wisdom and clarity I already possess.

It’s like these blog posts: focusing on a subject enhances my clarity and insight, and rereading them may focus it even further, but I can’t learn anything new from the words themselves. It’s the focusing, not the words or the thoughts that really matter.

The front porch and the computer

I used to spend many hours at home sitting at the computer. But as I learned to feel better I noticed that it left me uncomfortable and weary to stare at the screen for so long.

I discovered I could lie on the couch and use my phone instead. For some reason it hadn’t occurred to me before.

And now I’ve discovered the front porch is a really nice place to sit in the cold wind, all rugged up, with a cup of coffee and some incense burning nearby.

I’m envisaging my mind in a similar way: I’ve spent many hours focused on the part of my mind where thoughts turn into words, sifting and analysing and planning and predicting.

But that leaves me tired and uninspired. I don’t need to be there!

Quieting my mind means finding a different place to sit and focus. Somewhere more relaxed and enjoyable. Somewhere that gives me energy instead of taking it, and allows inspiration to flow.

The approach that works for me is bathing my mind in relief. That’s what letting go of thoughts feels like to me.

Posture, eyes open or shut, duration, that stuff doesn’t matter too much if I can just find the feeling of relief and immerse my mind in it to the exclusion of all worries and cares.

Feels like a good place to start. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Feel good all day 10

If you can’t feel good right now, feel less bad. Relief is the key. Find the feeling of relief and enjoy it, trusting that relief will take you in the direction of better and better feelings.

Sometimes the way forward feels like going backwards. But in time it’s easy to see how much good came from releasing resistance. And releasing resistance feels like relief.

Whatever shook you out of your natural joy and inspiration as a child must have seemed pretty scary back then. And if you’ve kept those scary thoughts alive for years, then cut yourself some slack.

Expecting yourself to be beyond this kind of resistance and contrast is itself a form of resistance. Go easy on yourself, because ease is your aim after all; start by feeling ease right now.

Feeling joy where there was resistance before, no doubt it will be a bit uncomfortable and raw. But it will be okay. Soothe everything. Reach for relief, comfort, and ease.

Notice how these episodes of contrast resolve quicker and quicker, easier and easier each time. Your practice is paying off. Even in the midst of contrast you now know it is good.

Whatever convinced you to abandon your naive happiness as a child must have seemed very compelling. But now it is only your thoughts that keep the compulsion alive.

It doesn’t help to compel yourself in the opposite direction. The true opposite of compulsion isn’t more compulsion but ease, relief, and letting go.

So find ease. You don’t need answers; ease is the answer. Feel relief. The only reason you want solutions is for the relief they promise. So just skip the solution and practice relief right now.

Find a relieved way to live your life. Find an easy approach to the things that trouble you. The spirit that makes all things new is already within us. It’s just up to us to embrace the ease and relief it brings.