I would like to shed some light on a subtle but significant idea concerning what I call the “circle of self.” We will examine the secret mechanism in us that drives us through certain unconscious life cycles where, in moments of crisis, we think we are making wise choices, only to realize we have chosen against ourselves once again.
To begin, we must examine two important ideas. First, the most vital moments in our lives occur when we are most conscious of ourselves, when we are fully present to all of the lessons this same moment brings into our awareness. It is in these moments that transformation of self and awareness of self are as one movement.
The second idea is equally important. As a rule these moments in question, where we are enabled to transcend ourselves, occur during those times in our lives when something “unwanted” happens to us. It is for this conflict we feel with life that we are more or less made to become conscious of both the disturbance and ourselves at once.
This discovery holds many implications. If it’s true that self-transformation is facilitated by moments of heightened self-awareness — and that this higher consciousness stands in sharp contrast to what must be our “usual” state of being — then we should inquire into the nature of this lower level of consciousness whose presence seems to preclude the possibility of real self-change.
Let’s put two and two together. A disturbance comes along in our lives and leads us to see ourselves in a new light. So what is it that has been disturbed in us by the frontrunner of this necessary life lesson? The answer is surprising: We are momentarily pulled away from and out of the habitual flow of our own mechanical thoughts and feelings. Let’s look at this idea more closely.
Moments before that unwanted shock of reality whereby we see life anew, our thoughts and feelings seemed to be the light; after all, we followed their course; their guidance we accepted blindly. It’s only in those vital moments in the midst of the disturbance, as the lesson in it is received, that we see we had been living in the darkness of ourselves. We had been deceived.
Can we take the “leap” here? Can we see from these first few lessons the startling truth about what is required if we want to help make truly positive changes in our lives? Let me spell it out: If higher awareness is our partner in realizing our True Self, and life’s disturbances serve to bring us into its company, then we should learn to welcome these disturbances in our lives!
When I brought this idea up at a recent meeting with several students they responded to it much as I imagine you are right about now: “Hold on a second. I’ve spent my whole life trying to avoid disturbances. Now you’re saying to invite them in! What in the world are you talking about?”
Instead of instantly closing our mind to this new idea, let’s explore it together. Let’s see why common disturbances in our lives can help us unlock the higher consciousness we all long to know. With willingness to learn the truth about ourselves as our guide, we ask the following question: What’s the first thing that happens in the moment in which we are disturbed?
I think we can all agree that our first response to any moment of feeling disturbed is an involuntary surge of thoughts and feelings whose basic cry is “Don’t disturb me!” After all, it seems “only human” to resist those moments where something disturbs us. Which brings us to this next logical question in our exploration: “Who” or what is it within us that does not want to be disturbed?
This question may sound silly at first; but let’s not judge too quickly. For while it seems more than obvious that it is “I” who doesn’t want to be disturbed, this isn’t the whole story. If we will dare to look more closely this is what we see: This sense of “I” in us that resists the disturbance is born out of being identified with the “status quo” of our own habitual thoughts and feelings. It is this sense of self that’s woven from the fiber of repeated thoughts and feelings that does not want to be disturbed. And when life naturally moves left or right — falling out of step with whatever dream parade we may be marching in at that time — this self gets “tripped up” and we fall down. Clearly we have mistaken our thoughts and feelings for being the same as our True Self.
Yes, it goes without saying that we spend more time with these thoughts and feelings than with anyone or anything else. In one sense they are our closest “friends.” They not only tell us what we should do and how we should feel, but they define and direct our lives as a result of this assumed identity. But let’s be clear: We are not them. We are individual beings with multiple features; so that even though one’s True Self includes the world of his or her thoughts and feelings, our True Self dwells effortlessly “above” them.
The resistance we feel to life’s disturbing moments comes when reality contradicts what our thoughts and feelings tell us we need to be whole and happy. In other words, we resist whatever we do because our thoughts and feelings “tell” us that things should not be as they are. Upon hearing these laments within us — that our mind justifies with its backlog of reasons — what choice have we but to start feeling angry or sorry for ourselves? Now we feel bad for what an uncaring world has done to us; and this is where things get really interesting.
Whom do we turn to for answers on how to get rid of this unwanted feeling? We turn to our own thoughts and feelings, to the same self whose dream has been disturbed, to tell us what to do to escape the pain come over us. And please keep in mind that this present pain wouldn’t even exist for us were it not for having listened to this same self tell us last time how we could live disturbance free!
And what do these thoughts tell us to do to get rid of the ache we are in? They tell us to go get something, go fix someone, get rid of something. In short, we are suddenly sure of what we either need to go do or become in order to free ourselves of this suffering. In other words, in all such moments as these we are given something new to desire.
In case it isn’t already clear, what disturbed us the first time, and gave rise to our “new” desire, is that life itself came along and shook up our established sense of self that had been identified with former desires. So that when reality shifted, we shook. What we need to see is that this self that shakes is not real. When we do, instead of seeing the cycle start all over again, we can escape the circle of self and walk away from the unconscious desires that drive it along.
An important first step is realizing that nothing our present self can desire can ever be new! All such longings are created from the reconfigured content of its own thought nature, and even one’s most clever thoughts are still the stuff of the past. This discovery in itself should be enough to snap us out of running in these circles, but we have one more thing that needs to be seen: Hidden in all of this mental running around is an unquestioned assumption that because something in us resists life it knows better than life what should be happening. Parts of us believe they know the best path to contented living even though, for all of their certainty, our conflict with life is unabated. Let’s see what’s “behind” this undetected deception.
In order to continue its pseudo-existence, the thought-self continually considers life around it using the content of its past experiences to gauge whether things have gone well or badly. And so it tells us how we should feel depending on its assessment of the moment, a conclusion based on a false assumption that it understands the true meaning of the moment it evaluates.
Unfortunately for this often-shocked sense of self, it doesn’t know that the true nature of reality is nothing like it dreams it is; for as we now know it to be true, every moment of reality is new. This means that the essence of Now, the truly present moment, is unknown. This discovery sets the stage for recovering our True Self and its native freedom from painful desires.
It is our willingness to take part — to be a part — of this unknown moment that gradually awakens us to our own higher consciousness. It is our full awareness of the present moment that frees us from the fear of being disturbed by it, because in this higher self-awareness there exists no essential difference between ourselves and all that unfolds in the present moment.
Again, this pure present moment, the new “now,” is absolutely unknown. Its secret nature is endless space, pure silence. It has no “individual” qualities because nothing exists outside of it to lend it any subjective attributes. And I stress these ideas here because of what it means to our study as follows: The only so-called observable qualities any given moment may have are those given to it by a thought self that “names” that event according to its own conditioned nature. And it is from these self-assigned qualities that we then think (further) about what the moment means; so we find either satisfaction or disappointment in it, never knowing that we read our own labels.
We also don’t see that the nature in us that labels any moment in our life as being a “disturbance” is the same nature that created the conditions that caused this! Our inner task is to be aware of this truth, which empowers us to act consciously in any moment of disturbance brought about when our false self goes into conflict with life.
It is seeing our present nature in its action of avoiding some aching, continually creating the circle of self as it creates one new desire after another, that enables us to break its hold upon our lives. And as we awaken to this higher reality through awareness of ourselves, we also become aware of a new consciousness that can be described as this: We realize that our True Self is the same as the present moment. And in the true present, in the Now, there can be no disappointment because of this great and wondrous spiritual fact: Life desires and fulfills Itself.
Let’s summarize: We must see that desire is always an inadequate response to any moment wherein we find ourselves feeling disturbed by some action of life. When that disturbance comes (someone bothers you, a piece of bad news lands in your mailbox, etc.), realize that life is not asking you to fix it so that you can remain without having to change. Instead see this truth: Life is asking you — inviting you — to take part in a whole new moment of relationship with it. Life is saying, “Let me show you the New and True You that already has its home in me.”
So, instead of becoming lost in that instantaneous response of resistance, repulsion, and negativity, try to watch the whole moment rather than wanting to control it. Let go of your resistance and there goes with it whatever desire was about to dominate you again. Drop the names of your pains and you let go of all the reasons you have for them! Now you are free.