The Paradox of Fear and Intimacy

It’s ironic that the thing most people want more than anything is also the thing they fear more than anything: intimacy. Intimacy requires us to risk opening ourselves to another, saying what we want, what we feel, and what we fear. The more we let fear separate us from our truths, the more power it has to separate us from those we love. We can’t be intimate with secrecy. We can’t be intimate with silence steeped in lies. Every time we refuse to truthfully answer questions about how we feel or what we want, we add another layer of separation between us and our loved ones.

I read somewhere recently that anger is the guardian of fear. I think that fear has a phalanx of guards. Glibness, optimism, transcendence, sarcasm, shyness, stoicism. There seems to be an almost infinite number of disguises for fear. We develop early on an awareness that our tender innocence is vulnerable and easily wounded. We learn to withhold, dissemble, retreat, or even attack when we are hurt. And the catalog of hurts begins early and grows with us. Paradoxically, we feel unsafe as children because we are surrounded by those who also feel unsafe and who deflect our and their own vulnerability with fear’s many disguises.

As adults then it’s no wonder that we have to unlearn the patterns of deflection that shaped us throughout our early lives. When we enter into intimate relationships, those old patterns, slights, and buried fears awaken. Once the glow of first meeting and new love ignite into passion and from passion settles into familiarity, the literally familiar becomes the coals on which we begin to cook. She reminds you of your mother. He channels your father. It’s difficult to see the face of your beloved through the lens of your early wounding. So you strike out, or retreat physically or emotionally, and a small door closes in your heart. Over and over, these small doors close until your heart is a shuttered and impregnable thing.

The only way to be fully intimate with another is to be fully intimate with ourselves. We have to be willing to open the old, stuck doors to our own hearts, release what’s hidden there. Let it flow freely through and from us until it finds its level and becomes us. Door by door.

I’m writing this from my own lived experience, what I have witnessed in myself and others. I learned and lived the lie of a sunny disposition in a childhood where tears and melancholy were not welcome or tolerated. I created a story to accompany the lie. I projected this elaborate falsehood into every relationship of my early adult life. On the surface, it was attractive and accepted, but it was not durable, and it ruptured every time a partner reflected the familiar patterns of my youth. The other problem was that it cast a distorting glare like a fun house mirror. If I was so sunny and easy going, then why did my partners sense turmoil?

The milestones of my journey to embodied consciousness realization were years of short term serial monogamy. Relationship after relationship, I strove to find the fit for the hole in my Being. It was a long, lonely, heartbreaking saga, fumbling in the miasma of mutual isolation.

Okay, yes, there were periods of joy and ease glimmering over the shifting sands of my lack. I had to rot out of this search. I realized when I turned fifty the mistakes I’d made, and I began to search in earnest for the truth of my Self. The details of that journey are recorded elsewhere. It was Love, of course, that tireless and exacting master, that finally led me to the one with whom I could build a space of risk and revelation.

Intimacy is not found. It is built one revelation at a time. When I reunited with the love of my life after eight years and committed relationships with others, we thought that we had matured to the point when we could love each other freely and honestly. We were wrong.

Five years in, she told me one winter morning, “I can’t do this anymore.” The “this” she couldn’t do was not be herself to be with me. It was an excoriating breakup for me. I felt like Gilgamesh at the death of Enkidu and went on a search through the dim, dark places of my heart to find relief. It cauterized my Being. Luckily, I found some heart-centered Buddhist teachers whose retreats gave me a safe haven to drop into the mess of my emotional life. It was not easy.  Each retreat gave me another opportunity to be with my Self in an unadulterated way, and the few, brief vocal check-ins with the teachers helped me to see that it was not something that I could fix. I simply had to live it. I became, in a small way, like a monk, living my dharma day by day and waiting to see where it would take me.

Fortunately, enough happened that when, the following fall, we found ourselves at the same events, talking briefly each time, and she could sense the change in me. We decided to just spend time together and not try to be in a relationship.  By early the next spring, we found our way to the work that would awaken us fully to our true nature, then Waking Down in Mutuality. And after an event one night, sitting in her car in the cold dark, she said, “if we’re going to be together, we’re going to have to be completely honest.” I felt such a deep relief at those words. Something in me recognized that this was the only way to be intimate with her.

We had both done some work on our patterns, and as we continued to do the Waking Down work, we had ample opportunity to see, feel, and Be our conditioning and by doing so to slowly integrate it. At one point, when we were living on opposite sides of the country, on the telephone one night I told her a secret from my childhood that I had never told another partner, something that felt deeply shameful and that had plagued me for nearly all my adult life. I took that risk because I had enough experience with her, enough trust in the container we had built, that she would not judge me, and her response gave me succor and healing.

So when I tell people that the only way that their relationship is ever going to go someplace, go where they think they want it to go, I am not speaking idly. We all have our wounds, our fears, our feelings of worthlessness. Poets have written this over and over across the eons. We have to open the door, me, then you, then me, then you, over and over and over again until the light of our love illuminates the dark corners, and we know ourselves loved.

This process is never finished as we ourselves are never finished. Conditioning runs deep, and it wants to come up and be seen and allowed to relax its grip on us. Romantic relationship gives us a place to rest at the same time they activate our wounded nature. If we take the risk to love, to reveal ourselves, to build trust, we can know an intimacy with ourselves and another that we can find nowhere else except maybe in God. And how much more lovely to know God this way, in the life shared with one who can hold us and be held by us no matter what. It’s worth the risk.


Mystery and Mishap: Living Embodiment

I’ve been on a two week long journey into embodiment and pain. The source of the pain is unknown. Did I injure a muscle skiing the flat and reasonably unchallenging Nordic trail where I celebrated my first ski of the year? Did a follow up ski a week later reinjure it? Was it activated in some way by a massage I had, or yoga? Am I simply experiencing my body’s slow and inevitable decline, or genetic history of spinal degeneration?

To question is human. We want to know. Why? How? When? As if their answers will give us some purchase on the slippery ground of Being. It’s easy for me to rest in Being. I’m a recovering Transcendent, so the old pattern is there to accept what happens with a sort of fatalism, to try to impose a patience on the effects of life.

In this case, though, the pain got the better of me. I have used the word “excruciating” more times in the last 15 days than in the last 15 months. On a scale of 1 – 10, my pain has at times hung in at around a 12. Finally, I went to the “doctor,” actually a Physician’s Assistant whom I trust and respect. Time for answers. She ordered medication and X-rays, a first step toward finding out the cause of the pain.

The X-rays found no breaks or herniated disks. Somehow, the pain got worse. It was difficult to move, to turn over in bed an impossibility. The toes on my left foot started to tingle and go numb. I woke on a recent morning and felt completely done in. I went back to the doctor to go over the results of the film and let her examine me further. This is a very kind, patient person with a deep source of empathy. I felt so vulnerable in my pain. She prescribed another medication that “50% of people found helped nerve pain,” and upped my allowable level of Ibuprofen. I took a pain pill and headed home.

My days in this limbo of not knowing are punctuated by pill intervals. The medication helps immensely and fortunately does not have a significant negative effect on my thinking or sense of well-being. In fact I have experienced long periods of bliss and ease when the pain is present but like a ghost of itself, a mirage that slowly reasserts its grip on my body.

I find myself ever present. The pain increases, then decreases, then increases. I do laundry, read, drink coffee, work online. I grieve a little each day that finds me indoors instead of out on the beautiful, beloved ski trails of my home. I think of my mother, severely limited by chronic pain for the last twenty-five years of her life. I remember my occasional impatience with her. I wonder if I am slowly moving in her direction. I cry when I think of her and with the frustration of the gnawing pain in my leg that comes back online as the drugs wear off. I rest in that feeling, let it sing its song throughout the finely tuned cathedral that is my body.

For me, on my path of awakening, embodiment has been an edge. I was trained by my father, dead at fifty-seven of lung cancer, who used to say, “It came by itself; it’ll go away by itself.” And by my never-the-less long suffering mother, whose favorite response to pain, sickness or difficulty was to “persevere.” I remember when she sent me an article about meditation and pain management years ago, long before her death. I embraced this idea that we could get out of our suffering, out of our bodies; that this was noble. That equanimity was the ability to transcend our humanity and respond to life with serenity, no matter what.

Ha! That will only get us so far. Life is a beautiful and horrifying venture. We are typically born in blood and pain, and we are likely to die in it as well. Along the way are poignant stops that bring us great blessings and joys and then the unfathomable grief of their loss. We must allow ourselves to live the full spectrum of this truth. Anything else is a lie, and we will leave this body and the life it has either enjoyed or endured without having known our full potential, without having known God, Love, Truth. Whatever we call it, the only way to know it is to let ourselves descend fully into each experience, to make room for it, to live it to the fullest of our ability. This is the path to wisdom; this is the path to living a life in and as consciousness in whole Being realization. This is the path to awakened life.

I continue to follow life’s path of mysteries and mishaps with an open heart and trust in Being. There’s no right or wrong way to Be. We are as we are in the moment, in pain, in bliss, in emptiness, in love, in anger. The fabric of Being is rich and varied. Let it enfold you, and see what I mean.

The Privilege to Rest in Being

It’s such a blessing to have a free day, a day in which the movement of Being is unfettered and flowing. Today has been just such a day, off from work, a morning unscheduled. I woke at 7:30 to the bright cold, laid and lit a fire, meditated, ate. I split wood and kindling, ate lunch, brewed and drank coffee. Read.

Recently I read an article in National Geographic about the three happiest places to live. In each, Denmark, Costa Rica, and Singapore, the common denominator was a governing infrastructure that guaranteed physical well-being: work, income, housing, healthcare and access to food. I do not for a moment take for granted their role in personal happiness, my own included, although our government does not guarantee these to us, not in practicality. I have been blessed to work in my field for forty years, to come to a point of financial security and simplicity such that I am now able to support myself working part-time. I have investments that, potentially at least, should guarantee me a fairly secure elderhood. I trust that this will be so.

What I am feeling into today is the way Being shows up when we have the freedom to rest. When our immediate needs are met, and we are able to live in the flow of what arises. Today, it is ease and well-being, physical strength necessary to keep my home comfortable, the food to sustain me, shelter that is able to withstand the weather. I have love, companionship, and a direct line to the Divine Nature that is in everything.

It is not always so, not completely. Some days, I struggle with the demands of earning my living, warming the house, driving the car, being with others. Nevertheless, the direct line to the Divine Nature is always present. Sometimes it shows itself in the natural world; sometimes it is in the kindness of strangers; sometimes it simply arises out of the smoke and ash of my own emotional discomfort. It’s like my heartbeat. I’m not always aware of it, but it’s always there, steadily keeping me alive, upright, awake, aware.

There are spiritual teachings that encourage us to subdue difficulty, to repeat the mantra this, too, shall pass. Teachings that encourage us to find our bliss, transcend the body, to treat death as a non-event, in which grief is a weakness, a belief in an illusion. I know that these sorts of teachings have their place; they made up some of the paving blocks on my path. But coming to the place of Sahaj Samadhi, the simultaneous realization that I AM THAT, and that I am also this body, both awareness of consciousness and its lived expression, has changed all that.

I’m discovering a new and deeper understanding of the nature of embodiment. It’s been slowly coming forward in me as I continue to navigate my embodied conscious awakening. My knowing of it is rooting itself deeper and deeper into my very cells, each one an arising of Consciousness. There is no separation between Me and Myself. I know myself in, as, and through, this body. It is a highly sensitive receptor of stimuli. My yoga training gave me the language of the koshas, the sheaths of the body: Pranamaya kosha, energy; Manomaya kosha, mind; Vijnanamaya kosha, wisdom; and Anandamaya kosha, bliss. They are merged into the skin, nerves, muscles, tendons, organs, bones, and blood of me. In any given moment, I am knowing myself as Consciousness through one or more of these sheaths. When I’m relaxing in the morning sun, I may access most of them; when I’m reactive to slights, disappointments, delays, I may access some. But I am always accessing them; they are the network of my aliveness to which I am fully awakened.

The Dharma of Trillium Awakening is, in a way, a Tantric Dharma. It is an outpouring of harmonized masculine and feminine energies. It is not transcendent. It is embodied. To fully know ourselves, our Dharma says, we must come to a place of “radical embrace” of all of our parts. Radical is the right word for it, drawing its meaning from the word radix, or root. We must come to the root of ourselves, and be willing to not just tolerate, or accept, but embrace what we find there.

This can be a slow process. Everyone’s awakening is different. Everyone’s conditioning is different. The shell that separates us from our true nature may be more or less dense depending on a multitude of factors. But once we catalyze the process, we can be sure that it will take us with it to the eventuality of a deep knowing of all that we are.

If you’re reading this, then you may already be in its embrace. Maybe you are one with it, and maybe you are wrestling. But you know its hold, and you can be sure that it is not going to let go. This is a beautiful thing.

With some luck, you have a good roof over your head, food in your belly, meaningful work. You are free to explore the regions of awakening without worrying about your physical well-being. You can rest in Being and let it unfold itself in you like the kaleidoscope it is. You can become its unfolding, multicolored, infinitely changing self and know it as the Self, your true and total nature.


Relaxing into the Feminine

In Vedic astrology, my chart has two exalted planets, Jupiter and Saturn, the Guru, and the master of difficulty, delay, and setbacks. It’s a powerful combination as it requires me, or maybe predisposes me to seek the wisdom of what is difficult. Recently when the Cassini space shuttle beamed pictures of Saturn, I was thrilled to have their up close views of that majestic planet. They revealed what is typically unseen.

When he was in Kindergarten, my nephew Stephen, when asked why fell behind in his school work, said, “There’s a lotta things out there and they all gotta move.” There are a lot of things out there. The universe is teeming with the unseen, both manifest and unmanifest, beings and fields of energy. This is the creation point of the Feminine mystery. It can be very subtle, but it is ever present. When we contemplate, meditate, or pray, it’s this mystery that responds. It shows up in intuition, synchronicity, coincidence. The knock on the door, the lump in the throat, the gaze that finds ours across space. When we find ourselves moving in harmony with what is happening, we are in the arms of the Feminine. This is true free will; we follow where we are led.

When we relax into the Feminine, we create a receptacle, a place and a way to hold what arises. We are receptive and vulnerable without being passive. We create the space, set our intentions, and focus our awareness on what is arising. It’s a stance of being rather than doing. Yet it can be difficult to differentiate between these, between the healthy Feminine and the healthy Masculine, which are only facets of Being, dancing, interacting forces. For me, the symbol for Ying and Yang is useful here, the way the dark and the light flow against each other. Or the nearly permeable boundaries between colors in a rainbow. Where does one end and the other start?

Holding the Feminine is like that. The healthy Feminine shows discernment when we heed our intuitions, when we lean into the rub between idea and reality, when we allow ourselves to feel what is painful knowing that it will stretch us beyond our comfort zone AND that we have the resources to remain grounded in consciousness even as our hearts are breaking.

There is so much that is unseen, in our own bodies, and lives, and in the world around us. A woman in China holds her new baby. A man in Norway gazes out a hospital window. Your neighbor is answering a phone call that will change her life. You cannot see them, but they are there: love, loss, birth, death, mercy, cruelty, generosity, manifestation of your deepest desires and fears.

When we risk resting in what is, we are rewarded with the experience of life. When we resist, we limit our ability to know deeply the texture of human existence. Resting opens us to pure feeling: joy, love, grief. Resisting hardens us into deflecting shells. We fear that we cannot contain it all. It will overwhelm, even annihilate us. So we turn away, close our eyes, ears, hearts. We harden ourselves with the belief that it makes us safe.

Meanwhile, life continues to unfold, blossom, ripen, fade, and die over and over and over again. You are big enough. You contain multitudes. There is always more room to receive, but only if you allow yourself to relax and expand. To stretch until it hurts and then resting, stretch again. This is the Feminine principle at work, like birthing; once it begins, we cannot choose to stop it. We must open to it to bring it into the light. Once there, it can be seen, known, familiar, more manageable. Breathe into your own dark, tender places. What do you find there?  Can you open to it, speak it, know it? Can you relax into the mysterious embrace of the Feminine?


Exit 0: Coming to the End of Suffering

New Jersey, where I grew up, is bisected north to south by two major highways, the Garden State Parkway and the Turnpike. If you’re a South Jersey Girl, like me, they take you home from metropolitan environs of New York to the rural, marshy farmlands of this small, coastal state. The terminus of the Garden State Parkway, Cape May, the southernmost tip of the state, is Exit 0.

I was thinking of this recently while pondering the frequent refrain of students of spirituality: I want an end of suffering. I was struck by the image, both a little trite and at the same time extremely accurate, of life–especially spiritual life–as a journey. We could say that life is a journey to liberation for, as all life ends in death, with its unknowable terrain, at death we are free from life and all it brings. The ancient Greeks believed, as spoken by Sophocles’ chorus at the end of Oedipus Rex ,”Count no man happy until he dies, free from pain at last.”

For most seekers, suffering is something to be avoided at all costs through a variety of bypassing behaviors. And yet, paradoxically, we cannot come to the end of suffering until and unless we have passed through it, not by it. To evoke my journey metaphor, if we go through life in the express lane, never taking the roads through the small towns of suffering, we have no experience, no understanding of it. We haven’t seen its byways, tasted its flavors, smelled its odors. It’s not possible to live without suffering, so to pretend to do so by avoiding or ignoring it, is to pass through life being only partly alive.

In the work of Trillium Awakening, we teach students how to live fully as themselves. Our tools of greenlighting, holding, and feeling deeply with and as the body, develop our capacity to live the paradox of our limited humanity and our boundless divine nature. Resting in this paradox brings about a Second Birth into a life of authentically being who and how we are. And as we arrive at this portal of embodied awakened life, we continue to integrate our experience of suffering, which has helped to shape us into the human beings we are. We arrive at our destination: a deepening ability to fully feel all that life holds. And yet the journey is not complete.

Second Life is a process, an unfolding, a continually expanding capacity to be with what is. Like Exit 0, which is both a beginning and an ending, Second Birth is a portal, a culmination of one process and the beginning of another. And suffering is part of the landscape we traverse along the way. It becomes a part of our lived experience, more familiar so that we can open our hearts to it with vulnerability, compassion, and trust in the nature of Being. We cannot live and be completely free from pain. To fully awaken as embodied consciousness does not give us a free pass from life’s often unfathomable and painful mysteries, but it does give us more heart, greater sensibility of the nature of our aliveness. It gives us a way to trust in Being.


Getting What You Need

This is a mystery that has recently been revealed to me. It’s the tail of life’s comet full of “unexpected” events, and a way to fall more deeply into love with life, your life, as it shows up moment by moment.

I’m sitting in a big easy chair in my living room surrounded by silence and the gray light of a February day. I’ve just awakened from a short nap that overtook me while reading a book after chopping wood.

I’m home today because freezing rain falling across the valleys of North Central Washington closed the college where I teach part time. I’m tired because I got up at 5:00 to cover an 8:00 class for a colleague, and I wanted to leave enough time for the forecast sleet and stop at my favorite coffee place before school. Halfway through my breakfast a little after 6:00 am, I got the email that the College was closed due to the weather.

I’m here alone because my partner is working on two new paintings in  her studio, something that takes her out of the house now daily as long as there is light to paint by.

None of this sounds particularly meaningful on the surface, but for me it is the source of a deepening relaxation into what shows up.

Recently I resigned from a job that, while part time, occupied my mind 24/7. It had been both a profound source of joy and more recently the cause of considerable discomfort. The discomfort, my partner has helped me see through the ongoing process of lived daily mutuality, came from my refusal to love and honor myself enough to listen to my intuition, which had been telling me for months that the job was over for me. Once I opened the door to that, a great equalizing of pressure swept me out of the position like an energetic tsunami that has cleared out three more days a week for me to Be more than Do.

At nearly 62 years old, the tail of my comet contains remnants of the emotional detritus of this particular and conditioned life. The person who needed outside validation, couldn’t be or act alone, emitted a bitter projection of my neediness on those in my personal and professional sphere, a force field of activity to counteract the discomfort of being alive.

Today, I am relaxed about the emptiness of home, life, days. I am always getting what I need to come, and be, more fully alive in each moment. Minute by minute I’m letting go of ideas and leaning into what arises. To the unfathomable curious mystery of Being alive.

To riff off the old Stones standard, you may not always know or get what you want, but if you relax into what arises, you always get what you need.

Now you might say, do I need disease, disaster, and death? This is where the mystery deepens. If you accept that you are not, despite your best intentions, in charge of what arises, what in the common human parlance, you call your life, you will go more easily through it. A teacher of mine once said about the awakening process, “be prepared to live with a broken heart.” If we can trust our human vulnerability and live and love in this broken openness, our lives unfold exponentially.

Don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself. The next time you find yourself wishing things were otherwise, dare to lean into the way things are and ask yourself: what’s in this for me? There’s a gift under the disappointment that only you can open.

It’s snowing now. Tea is steaming on my desk. The dog wants to come in. There’s a woodpecker eating the suet in the pine. Moment by moment, life is revealing itself, following its own path like a stream or a river in which we are afloat. Let go and see where it take you.