When the Body Listens

Date Posted: August 03, 2015
When the Body Listens

I grew up at a time when the transformation movement was flourishing. The Beatles were taking psychedelic trips and studying TM with the Maharishi in India, while Werner Erhard was screaming to large audiences to "get off it" and wake up here in the United States. The landscape of psychotherapy was expanding its horizons with new paradigms that focused on treating the whole person rather than worshipping just the intellect. Between Gestalt therapy, marathon group therapy sessions, silent meditation retreats, colonics, acupuncture, and Rolfing, I was hell bent on arriving at the pearly gates of enlightenment in this lifetime. I hung tight in community with other spiritual seekers by day, and read with fervor books about Buddhist philosophy, esoteric meditations, and the teachings of the I Ching at night. It was an amazing time, and I loved being part of the counterculture movement and all it offered.

But, along with the fun and excitement, there was a strange underbelly of fear and insecurity. For example, much of my daily effort to connect with a higher consciousness left me feeling vulnerable to the critical voice in my head that said, "You aren't enough and you are never going to be enough." I was consistently confused about when I was supposed to keep striving to be a better person and when it was time to stop and embrace myself, warts and all. Even in the stillness of a beautiful meditation, my mind would sneak up on me and whisper meanly in my ear, "The feelings you are having of self-acceptance are not a sign of your self-love, but self-delusion." Naturally, these thoughts made it hard to know which signposts along the way I should follow and which thoughts to trust. 

The bevy of spiritual teachers I followed around were busy assuring their followers that angst was part of the process. They promised that at some point my ego would be tamed and great clarity would come if I just stayed the course. But, what was THE course? ChögyamTrungpa, one of the great Buddhist masters of the 20th century, was asked by one of his students, "How long does it take to reach enlightenment?" He answered, "It takes as many lives as it takes a bird to fly back and forth with a scarf in its beak to wear down the largest mountain in the world." I'm not sure how many millions of lifetimes that meant for me, but the thought of it was beyond what my mind could comprehend. I would wonder, "If Trungpa is right, and I have that many lifetimes ahead of me, then why am I breaking my back in this lifetime for it to be my last as a sentient being?" "What if the bird that is carrying my scarf in its beak has only flown back and forth but a few times so far?" Despite my mind attacking me with self-doubt and causing confusion, I stayed the course and continued to seek actualization.

I don't know how it happened, but after many months of sitting with my frustration and confusion, I made the decision to approach the path toward enlightenment as a mystical koan to be discovered through my experience and not as a Rubik's cube to be figured out with my mind. In other words, I surrendered. As a result, profound answers started coming to me in the form of a friendly voice. (No, I wasn't having a psychotic break.) The voice seemed to rise up from my toes to my heart to the top of my head. It was kinder and gentler than the negative voices I was much more familiar with. The first time I heard it, it said to me, "Enlightenment is not about trying to be anywhere else than you are, or being someone who you aren't; it's about accepting things exactly as they are."

Although I had read or heard these same words spoken by many great masters over and over again, they were just words until I heard them come from within me. The voice has remained loud and clear inside me since that first moment, and when I make the effort to sit down and listen to it, it has kept me steady on THE course. MY course.

I can't encourage people enough to be patient and wait for the pay dirt to come from hanging tight and waiting for the right answers to come from inside themselves. Even if your bird does not wear your karmic mountain down in this lifetime, you can still gain great wisdom and peace by maintaining a daily practice of getting out of your head and into your heart and not giving up on the kind voices that are looking for a home inside you.

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