Key Lesson: Count the number of ways in which we have acted to protect a fear — as in fawning before others for fear of falling out of their good graces — and we also know the exact number of times we have been the fool of fear.
The Right Choice That Keeps You Safe
There was once a young prince who, having reached the age of majority, left home to live on a grand estate given to him by his father. He was told that if he ever needed help he was to put a light in the uppermost tower window, and his father would send a special horse and carriage to carry him to safety. However, his father also warned him that an evil wizard, an enemy of the kingdom, lived not too far from his new home. The prince was told to be wary when setting his signal, for this wizard would also see this light and might himself send his own horse and carriage — one that would carry him to danger. Of course, this frightened the young ruler-to-be. After all, how would he be able to tell the difference? His father assured him there was a foolproof measure. Each time, before entering the rescue carriage, he was to closely examine the horse pulling it. A light-colored horse would always take him to safety, but a dark horse would always take him to danger.
As the story progressed, many rigors of the ruling life befell the prince, each one causing him to put a light in the window. For many months, because he was too taken over with trying to escape his castle when he felt in danger, he failed to heed his father’s warning and neglected to examine the horse that came to get him. As a result he often found himself on one sometimes painful wild ride after another, but before too long the prince realized it was his own inattentiveness that caused him so much distress. Eventually, he found the presence of mind to come awake before entering the carriage each time so that he would remember to examine the horse and determine whether it had been sent by the evil wizard or his father. His growing ability to recognize and refuse the dark horse kept him safe.
This little truth tale is deceptively simple, but before you discount its power to help you, please consider that the only responses to life’s challenges that any of us ride are those we think can carry us to safety. Leaping onto the back of these reactions, according to our old habits, is like entering a runaway carriage being pulled along by runaway thoughts and pounding feelings. Fortunately, like the prince, we can learn to shed the light of reality upon these responses before we look to them to carry us to a safe place. Let’s look more closely at this life-healing possibility for higher self-protection.
It is not necessary to continue being defeated by our own mechanical responses. We can learn to recognize a dark-horse reaction before we are carried away by it. We already know what many of these runaway reactions are, and so the battle is half won. Fear is dark. Anger is dark. So are anxiety, dread, self-pity, and feeling the whole weight of the world upon our shoulders. Add to this list the dark horses of hatred, revenge, insistence on being right, impatience, and depression — and you have most of those negative states which, if not outright trampling us under their heartless hooves, are certainly sources of unconscious torment.
So you see, knowing the difference between a horse sent by the evil wizard and a horse sent by the good king is not that complicated. It is as simple as recognizing that the wrong horse hurts because its real purpose is to take you on a punishing, pounding ride. You can be sure you’ve taken the wrong horse and carriage whenever your inner state has you feeling:
like you’ve lost control
frightened by what you see
angry with yourself or another
confused or anxious about where you’re headed
pained in your present position
hatred or resentment for someone else
sorry you were ever born
envious of anyone
desperate for a solution
certain nothing else counts besides fixing how you feel
Now, the truly amazing thing is that in spite of these “rides” that wreck everything from our health to our relationships, we still take them! Surely, if we were aware of what we were doing, nothing on earth could convince us to hop on what is hurting us. So, let’s see what’s happening to cause us to continue making the painful mistake.
An event occurs. We’re not sure how to react so we naturally look for help. This is the part of the story where we put a light in the window. We know that a right response is the same as a rescue. And it is. But before we know it, up pops a self that always comes complete with the appropriate thoughts and feelings to support why we should let it be in charge of the moment. Simply put, this is the dark horse and carriage, and it’s there to carry us off. In the past we’ve always been so grateful for the arrival of that response that told us who we were and what to do that we never questioned it. But now we want to be self-ruling rather than going off on one ride after another to nowhere. We remember the warning the king gave to his son. We know that before we release ourselves into the hands of any automatically appearing rescuing agent we must first take it into the light in order to see who sent it. This royal power to discern dark horses from right ones is already yours, but to wield it, there is a key, a secret step that must be taken. This higher power to choose what will carry us and what won’t is only as powerful as our willingness to come to a special kind of psychic pause, an inner halt. Momentarily anchoring ourselves in the fully present moment, we bring our own thoughts and feelings into the light of consciousness to see them for what they are. Once again, that test is fairly clean and simple. In that moment, it’s not so much going with what “feels right” as it is basing your choice in seeing what is truly for you; in knowing without thinking about it that no negative state wants what is right for you.
This exercise of taking a psychic pause may sound as though it would be easy, but it takes practice and persistent effort. You see, it’s very tempting to just let ourselves be carried away. In fact, there’s nothing to it! Then the rest of our time is spent trying to straighten out the bad rides we’ve taken. All this not only steals our energy, but also keeps us from being someplace real. So now, we’re going to take that pause before we believe that any automatic response is the right one. We’re going to learn to stay awake. And this awake state is crucial, because the evil wizard is clever. He has tricks that can take a dark horse and make it look bright. For instance, haven’t we all had bad spills born out of our own false sense of elation or over-confidence? And a feeling of triumph over the defeat of others can be just as punishing as a state of desolation or anger. With time, we learn to take no horse at face value. When in doubt, try to recall this axiom: The proof of the horse is in the ride. If the ride is punishing or meandering, we’re in the wrong carriage.
Now, suppose we wake up and realize our position too late, after we’ve entered the wrong carriage and are already rolling along. Perhaps we see that we’re being dragged along by a state of anxiety or anger. In the past we always accepted these negativities as being appropriate reactions, but now we recognize them as being wrong for us and unnecessary. We no longer want their direction to be our own.
What do we do now?
First, we shouldn’t try to stop the horse. It’s a waste of energy. So is trying to convince ourselves that we’re not in that state, or to feel guilty about it, or fighting it in any other way. These choices are just back-up dark horses! The only way out is for you to choose to just come wide awake. This conscious choice transforms us from a person who is completely identified with the runaway state into a person who is aware of it. Through that awareness we jump out of the wild carriage back into the safety, sanity, and solid ground of the present moment.
Jumping clear of your own jumbled selves takes special skills, but these come to you as you see the need for them. So, don’t get discouraged. Stay off of that horse! You may fail many times before you jump clear successfully, but look at the progress we’ve made already. We now know that we tend to get on wrong carriages, and that it’s not necessary to do so — those thoughts and feelings are not who we really are. Our aim is now to try to be aware and know what’s happening, so we don’t fall into the same mistake again and again. When we see ourselves looking for a reaction and putting a light in the window, we know there’s a strong possibility that the wrong horse is likely to arrive. Therefore, we make an effort to determine the quality of the “help” that comes to get us by first choosing to help ourselves by stepping back from our own rush to be rescued. Standing apart in this way is the only way to see whether the arriving solution is, for us in that moment, true or false.
Some Additional Help to Detect, Stop, and Drop Inner “Voices”
The best time to practice going quiet — to detect and drop dark inner voices — is when the world around you is more or less already in a natural state of silence. So, early morning, upon arising, and just before you go to sleep, are the most likely times to yield the best results. But, as you’ll no doubt come to discover for yourself, any time is the right time to go quiet.
Find a place to sit where your back can be more or less supported and held straight. Let your hands rest, open or closed, in any position that won’t cause tension to themselves, your arms, or shoulders, as you remain seated for the duration of your practice. Twenty to thirty minutes, twice a day, is a suggested minimum time to sit quietly. But do the best you can. There are no laws that govern inner silence. Besides, the day may come when you’d like to sit for longer durations, so you be the judge. Let the length of this time for inner quiet be whatever it wants to be.
Allow your legs to assume whatever position is most naturally relaxed for them. It’s better if you don’t cross your legs one over the other, as this posture interferes with your circulation, and the ensuing discomfort will become a distraction.
Once your body is situated and at relative ease, close your eyes and let your awareness sweep over the whole of your body. Adjust your limbs again, if necessary, so that no individual part of your physical self is calling out for your attention.
Now, with your eyes still gently closed, let your shoulders take the full weight of your head. You should actually be able to feel the physical transfer of this weight take place.
Then, give the weight of your shoulders and your arms to the armrests of your chair, or to whatever part of your body is beneath them. If you’re doing this properly, you’ll be surprised how much of your own bodily weight you were unnecessarily supporting without knowing it!
Finally, give all of this collective weight — head, shoulders, arms, upper body, buttocks and legs — to the chair or sofa you’re sitting upon. Consciously transfer the weight. Let it go. Then let yourself sink into the feeling that comes with releasing all this unconscious physical stress and tension.
The next step is to continue expanding this relaxed and increased awareness of your body to include within it the awareness of your thoughts and feelings. In other words, bring into your enhanced physical awareness the further awareness of what your mind and emotions are doing in the moment. You watch yourself. You’re to be an impartial witness to the life of your own thoughts and feelings. Let them fly and hop around within you without the slightest concern for their direction or character. Neither resist, nor let yourself be drawn into any of their attention-stealing antics.
Again, all you want to do is watch. Detached self-observation is your aim. So each time it comes to you to realize that you’re no longer watching, but rather that you’ve been captured by a thought or feeling, and are being carried along by it, just quietly withdraw yourself from that temporary psychic wave. Come back to the awareness of yourself in the Present Moment. This part of your practice is the heart and soul of going — and knowing — quiet. You must experience it for yourself. So, as you sit: Let go; give up; go within, and watch. And over and over again, bring your awareness of yourself back into the awareness of the Present Moment.
Pay no attention to what your own thoughts and feelings are trying to tell you the whole time you’re sitting. Which is namely this: “You should give up this worthless, unproductive practice!”
Learn to watch, and drop, these dark inner voices. They don’t want you to succeed and there’s a good reason why: They can not dwell in that silent world you wish to enter, and that wishes to enter you.
So persist! You will prevail. For even as you struggle to stay aware of yourself in the Present Moment, that moment itself, changes. And as it does, so do you.
Slowly, subtly at first, but eventually even beyond those protestations raised by your own mind, the distinction between your sense of self and your awareness of the Present Moment melts away. And as it does, a new, deeper sense of silence floods into you; filling your awareness with itself and, at the same time, with yet another Awareness that the source of this supreme stillness is arising out of your own Being. It washes everything out of its way. And so arrives a quiet mind.
This article is excerpted from Design Your Destiny (page 95-98) and Who Put That Stone In My Shoe?.