“You are either free, up against it or hiding.”
is something one of my teachers said recently that really hit home.
My understanding of what he meant was something like: in any given moment in life we are either (a) touched by our experience, not feeling separate from it and flowing easily and naturally with it, (b) fighting with life and suffering and often realising that we are doing this, or (c) so detatched from our experience that we don’t even realise that we are distant from it, alternatively knowingly putting our heads in the sand and trying to pretend it isn't happening.
I had a profound experience of the first two very clearly recently within a very short space of time, which I’d like to share with you. The third is very familiar to me too, but this experience was mainly about the freedom and fighting.
I had recently given notice from a job that I’d held for 15 years, which I had fallen out of love with. I’d decided to follow my heart and devote all of my time to building work based around heartfulness and presence. To say that I felt excited and energised was a bit of an understatement. I was stoked.
And then I went dancing. I went to 5 Rhythms, which is a dance practice somewhere between clubbing and meditation. We dance for the joy of dancing and we dance to come home to ourselves and to connect to others, to connect to life.
As well as being great fun and really joyous, it can also be a challenging place to be. It certainly is for me, and others have told me the same. In addition to the easy, openhearted bits, I often see myself playing out all of my life patterns on the dancefloor - feeling self-conscious, comparing myself to others, judging them, sometimes even fixating on them. It’s not pretty. But because it is a dancing meditation, we are encourged to notice what’s going on. We see that we are suffering, and quite often we have haven’t got a clue what do to about it. I often haven’t got a clue about what to do about it, if in fact there is anything that actually needs to be done.
And on this particular evening for the first 30 minutes that just wasn’t happening. My habitual patterns weren’t running. I was simply in my experience and loving it. I was free.
I was able to have a very conscious experience of what free felt like. I loved my dance (though there was no ego attachment to it) there was just loving my dance. I loved everyone else’s dances without exception. I wasn’t judging them, I was loving them. If I felt attraction for someone it felt simple and easy - I was able to celebrate it as my feeling of attraction and to share it with them without wanting or expecting anything back - and I could see from their response that they enjoyed receiving the simple gift of my appreciation without any of the usual strings attached. Everything, but everything felt simple and easy. I was flowing with life.
It gave me a glimpse. A glimpse of what’s possible, when I’m not run by my patterns and when I’m simply living as part of life. As life. Separate, but not separate.
And then, as predicted it happened. After about 30 minutes of freedom, my patterns started to re-emerge. I found myself feeling slightly dissatisfied with my dance, and judging and comparing others. When I felt attraction for someone I could sometimes notice my attention becoming fixated on them, which didn’t feel nice. (I’m guesing it didn’t feel nice for them either, but even inside me it didn’t feel too good). Things no longer felt completely easy. There was in fact a quiet but persistent sense that somewhere, just out of direct line of sight there was an (as yet undefined) problem. I knew that this was something that I was doing to reality - but I didn’t know how to set myself free. Damn! I was “up against it”.
And it was a wonderful contrast. To be able to experience both so clearly and so fully within a 1 hour period was a great gift and allowed me to see certain things much more clearly.
After about half an hour of this general grumpiness, I was reminded of my recent insights and I started to get curious. Were there feelings in my body that wanted to be felt and that I wasn’t feeling? I checked. Yup. There they were. I couldn’t fully feel them but I could just about see where they were hanging out. Why couldn’t I feel them? Most of my attention was outside on the others, liking them, disliking them, making up stories about them, obsessing over them and generally fixating on them. Very little of my attention was on my own body. I’d left home. I’d abandoned myself - at least temporarily. It felt painful and a little lonely.
I resolved just for that moment to bring all of my attention in. To ignore everyone else and to carry on dancing but to feel the feelings. Could I do it? Yes. Was it difficult? No, not really, once I’d noticed that I needed to do it and made a firm decision that that’s what I was going to do for a bit.
And so I did. I carried on dancing and felt the feelings. I let the feelings become part of my physical expression and danced the feelings. All of them. I danced my sadness and frustration, my anger and my joy, my grief and my delight.
In the mix there were some strong so-called “negative” feelings - sadness, anger, grief. But there was nothing happening in my life that I felt these things about. Where did these strong “negative” feelings come from? My sense is/was that they are old stuff - old “stories” stored in my body, from days gone by when strong experiences happened that I wasn’t able to process, and so my body has buried them. (A bit like the way that we currently bury radioactive waste, becuase we don’t know how to process it and make it safe). And by not paying attention to these strong buried feelings they were leaking out all over the place, making my life and that of those around me a less pleasant place to be.
So, I just felt them these feelings. I gave myself to it and them 100% for a little while. And the effect was amazing. The feelings didn’t go away, but I came home.
There I was, in my body, dancing and feeling, just dancing and feeling, eyes half closed, having my experience, no separation - once again, free.
But this was a slightly different free from earlier that evening. Earlier it had been free with no painful feelings. Now it was free with painful feelings. The first one didn’t seem to take any practice to do. The second was a little bit more challenging, because my usual pattern when there are painful feelings to be felt is not to feel them.
And yet in some ways I noticed that it was the same free. All I needed to do was to feel what I was feeling, to embrace my experience and life became easy again, the sense of dissatisfaction and problem disappeared and I was able to celebrate - everything. Even though I was not in contact with others, I noticed I didn’t feel lonely, not a bit. I felt...loved.
I noticed that along with feeling the pain, I was suddenly able to feel joy too. Gradually I was able to open my eyes and see the others and include them. I wasn’t judging them anymore, I was able to see them, just see them and appreciate them for who they were, as they were. Gradually, being careful to “stay at home” with myself and my feelings I was able to make eye contact. It was a bit vulnerable at first, because I was allowing them to see my how I was, with all of my feelings, but also felt simple and easy. Nothing to hide. Hello you, this is me. I’m like this right now. Ah, you’re like that. Nice to meet you.
I had some exquisite dances from that place, of meeting people including all the feelings that were happening in me and by doing that being able to include them too. I was so touched to be sharing myself with them and to be able to appreciate them as they appreciated me and I appreciated myself. I felt such gratitude. Gratitude to myself, gratitude to my partners, gratitude to life.
And this was a deeper glimpse. A glimpse of how I could be free in the world when things inside didn’t feel easy. How I didn’t need to zone out or withdraw, but how I could completely include myself and from there relate with the world. I didn’t need to wait for the moment that all of my “stuff” would be resolved. I could do this in any moment. In any moment when I was able to notice that I’d left home and when I was willing to come home, face the music and feel the feelings.
And the simple insight that I gained from this experience was I can now see the suffering and fixation as a reminder - a reminder that I’ve “left home”.
Whenever I notice my attention is out - that I’m judging others or myself - that I’m wondering whether they like me or what they are thinking, when there feels like there is a problem with life - its a sure sign that there’s something closer to home that is crying out to be felt.
All I need to do is to come in, and just for a little while give in all my attention, before being able to open out my attention and include the rest of the world.
How do I know if I’m actually feeling the feeling? It’s not as obvious as I originally thought.
I had a craniosacral session the other day and told my craniosacral therapist that I was feeling tired. I thought that’s what I was feeling. And to some extent it was true. But then she said “can you sink into the tiredness and feel what’s there?”. I realised that I had been hovering above the tiredness, not really feeling it, somehow resisting it (and yes, that background sense of “problem” was there too). When I sank into the tiredness and let myself feel it I contacted something else, a sense of deep sadness/grief. And with it came a sense of relief, a sense of coming home. It was touching.
I found myself writing the following words this morning:
*If I am getting externally fixated it’s because there’s a feeling that want’s to be felt and I’m not at home to feel it.
* If there is a sense of tiredness/contraction/resistance - I’m probably floating just above the feeling...almost feeling it but not quite.
Can I melt into the tiredness/resistance? What is there that I’m not yet fully feeling?
* Feeling the feelings doesn’t have a scratchy resistant quality to it (that quality indicates to that I’m not quite in the place of my experience).
That resistance is probably the “self contraction” that keeps me seperate from life/oneness/unity.
Feeling the feelings has a relieving - coming home quality.
Even if it is accompanied by sadness/anger/grief.
It is touching.
(Because it is touching experience).
If there feels like there is a problem ask:
Am I touched by my experience right now?
Can I melt into my experience and let it have me, let it touch me.
If the answer is no, then can I be touched by that?
By my feeling of separation from life and the loneliness that accompanies it.
Keep gently enquiring.
Stay with yourself - not trying, but not abandoning yourself either.
You’re just up against it, that’s all.
Until you are touched by your experience.
Until you are home.