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Fearlessly Feeling Fear

A teenage boy just heard that Tommy wants to fight him in the schoolyard. He feels fear, but it’s not OK to feel fear. He’s supposed to be a man. He’s supposed to be tough. Or at least that’s what his belief system is telling him.

A woman in college was raised Christian and believes we should all love one another. But someone named Maggie just was hitting on her boyfriend. Anger starts to rise up in this woman, but it’s not OK to be angry because of her beliefs. So she feels anxious and get a second level of emotion because of the conflict of the first emotion, anger. It wasn’t OK to feel the way she felt.

Let’s take it away from a belief based idea. Let’s just say that we don’t like feeling fear, or sadness, or anger. I get scared and I don’t like the way it feels. It’s not OK to feel the way I feel. Once, for whatever reason, it’s not OK to be who I am or feel how I feel, I am in trouble.

This talk is about that second level of emotions. When we feel something and that feeling is not OK. When we feel fear and we don’t want to feel fear. The added anxiety and discomfort that we add to what we feel. This talk relates to beliefs, emotions, and surrender. All our feelings and emotions are necessary. Emotions are the language to tell us how we are relating to our situation and circumstance all the time. And yet it takes courage to feel what we feel sometimes.

Some teachings say we should try to transcend emotions. Some say we need to endlessly honor emotions. I say doing both is really important. We must investigate the self that’s feeling the feelings. It could need to adjust it’s beliefs and hence, change itself. But we also need to really feel what we are feeling.

The worst thing I see in people, and myself, is when we resist what is. When I am resisting life, I am deeply unhappy. When I accept what is, I can face anything. I can fearlessly feel fear. Whenever I choose to spend my time wanting what is not, rather than appreciating what is, I’m lost. The practice is to become aware that we are fighting this moment, and to drop that critique. We can feel fear, and not want to be anything else. We can be sad, and fully feel it without running away. When we do that we open ourselves to the joy underneath.

Mastering Perspectives

This talk is about mastering perspectives. It assumes that someone capable of seeing more perspectives is better informed, and more able to act appropriately, happily, and well.

There are many perspectives to any situation. Every moment there is your point of view, someone else’s point of view, and third person perspective as well. There are also historical perspectives, we perspectives, singular and plural perspectives, inner and outer perspectives, emotional perspectives, and even imagined perspectives. To simplify, there are many ways to look at things.

So the practice then becomes to relate as fully as possible to the moment by being aware of as many perspectives as possible. Learn all the different perspectives, and work to integrate them into your life. It may sound like a lot of work to do this, but it becomes very natural. Also, in the beginning, it may be useful to apply this only when in conflict. It’s a great tool to use when you’ve hit a wall.

I suggested learning about Integral Theory for a deeper understanding of perspectives. I also mentioned that “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” is really just an ancient perspective teaching. We’re not all aware that there are many perspectives, and we certainly don’t often act from more than our own point of view. Learning about and applying perspectives can help us grow.

Referenced: Integral Theory

The Problem With Self Protection

Our self is more than partially defined by the assumptions and beliefs we hold about the world. Our emotions arise as that self rubs up against its edges. Emotions often tell us when our boundaries, or self, have been compromised. There is no doubt that we need to work on our understanding of emotions. Teachings that help us understand our emotions I label as self protection teachings. Again, those teachings are very important.

Once we understand self as the accumulation of our own beliefs, we can learn to drop it. I’ll call the experience of dropping beliefs experiencing no self. That doesn’t mean our self stops existing, it just means we learn that we are not as attached to the self, and that it can be put down for pure experience from time to time. Practicing meditation is the expression of no self.

Because many think self is the root of desire, and hence unhappiness, some spiritual teachings discuss limiting or denying self as a spiritual practice. It is important to understand that experiencing no self doesn’t make the self unimportant. It is not something that should be shunned. To the contrary, it should be learned about deeply. Much of life requires understanding of ourselves and others boundaries.

Possibly to combat the erroneous notion of suppressing self, emotional teachings often end up defending self, which is one of the reasons I call them self protection teachings. But while it is important to not deny self, those teachings often make a different error. They fail to mention that our self may not be healthy. While emotional intelligence is crucial to self knowledge, we shouldn’t blindly assume that the self we find once watching our emotions is healthy or correct. Many people in touch with their emotions act quite horribly. It’s neither the answer to deny self, nor to accept it blindly. We need to learn to work with self.

Learning to work with self takes nothing away from the importance of emotional intelligence or self protection. However, to be truly wise, we need to be able to judge ourselves and be open to change. Blindly following our present boundaries does not allow us to evolve. Suppressing or shunning self only leaves us fragmented and unhealthy. We need to learn about self, and no self, and allow both to change and evolve.

Dive In or Drop It

This talk is inspired by the question: In meditation, do we dive into frustration when it arises or do we drop it? I use this question to do an overview of meditation, and then answer at the end.

Meditation is really about state management. We are trying to foster a better state of mind. To do that, we try to become aware of all that we are. What we are ends up being thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. The investigation of these aspects of our self ends up being our spiritual experience. Many of us begin to meditate to deal with Busy Mind. To quell Busy Mind we try to separate thoughts from emotions and physical experience. That is the practice of meditation.

To become aware of all these aspects of our self we use mindfulness, which is placing the mind on an anchor and leaving it. We fail repeatedly so that we can foster awareness. Where is our mind? What is it doing? As we try to leave it somewhere, it wanders. As we become more aware of that wandering, we wake up more and more. This practice allows our mind the ability to still.

So during this training, and in life, do I dive into frustration, or drop it? What is the real practice here? Well, we actually do both. We dive into the feeling of frustration, the emotion and physical sensation, but we drop the thought of frustration. This allows us to become less attached to our thoughts. That lack of attachment allows us to foster stillness and ultimately gives us more control of our minds. For beginning meditators, the most immediate benefit is combating Busy Mind. As you meditate more and more, the benefits go all the way down.

Shining Light on the Shadow

Part of evolving as a human being, and part of the teaching that I’m trying to promote, is about bringing awareness to all the aspects of our lives. One of the big accomplishments in psychology has been identifying and naming what’s been called the shadow. To understand the shadow we’ll try to describe a fictional “whole self” and then discuss damage that occurs which can create shadow.

What is a whole self? We could say that it is someone fully identifying with all the ways he/she can interact with the world: Thinking for objective experience. Emotion and body for subjective internal feeling. Spirituality for a larger context. Having access to all those experiences is what we might call being whole or fully self. (FYI – This is a different meaning of self, a more healthy meaning, than what I normally use to describe self.)

Shadow literally means to obscure the light. A shadowed element of self is a part of us that we don’t identify with. Commonly that can be an emotion we don’t relate to, or it can be how we relate to our bodies, minds, or spirituality. Any part of self that we have become misidentified with can be termed the shadow. Again, our shadowed elements are any part of us that we don’t have the ability to identify with directly. Shadow elements are often brought on by trauma, and solidified by our beliefs. Working with shadow is extremely difficult primarily because we don’t see what we’re not conscious of.

How do we find our shadow? We begin to find our shadow by looking at things that bother us – anger in other people or situations – behavior we know we do, but deny as “us”. Often this will be perceived as someone else’s “stuff.” It can be out in the world, but shadow can also express itself in our dreams. Therapy can help us find the shadow, in fact most of what therapy tries to do is work on reintegrating splintered parts of self and foster becoming whole.

To begin working with the shadow we make the effort to bring aspects of our self into 1st person experience. Literally taking 3rd person experience and working to make it 2nd person, and ultimately 1st person – via role playing dialog and perspective shifting. This is a great way to reintegrate shadowed elements of self.

Referenced: Integral Theory

Turning Subject Into Object

Turning subject into object is both a concept and a practice. In this talk I discuss the difference between inner and outer experience and how that relates to subjective and objective experience. We need to define perspective – subjective experience is what I identify as “me”. Objects exist within my awareness, but are not “me”.

An interesting point to note here is that even things I identify as me can be objectified. I have a foot, but I am not my foot. My foot is still me on some level, but I am able to objectify it. That ability to objectify internal experience is important.

If we find we are angry, that is our subjective experience. Turning subject into object would be backing up from that anger with a question: What am I right now? That shines the light on our experience and objectifies the anger. We can’t see the subject, we are the subject. But we can see things once we objectify them.

You may say, but Rob, I see myself get mad all the time. That’s true on two levels: One level is that you flip between subject and object to some degree all the time, and the other is that you see it now, when we’re objectifying it together. But learning to do this as a practice can lead to profound change in your life.

Who is the self that backs up from the subject to objectify it? That is the age old question. Another question to ask is which of these perspectives is self? That really depends on whose talking. Self can mean egoic separate sense; or it can mean, in some Indian traditions as an example, the cosmic oneness. We can get lost in words very quickly here. But the aware self in the background is what is often termed either just “awareness” or “authentic self”. Ego would normally be considered the smaller self.

The practice of mindfulness is a subjective experience, practice of awareness is an objectified experience. We need to do both. When you are angry, you are smaller. When you are aware you are angry (have objectified the anger, but not dissociated from it) you are larger. You are the anger and potentially the solution.

So how do we make the subject the object? We use introspection, questions, and cultivate awareness. The desire to see what you are brings this objectivity to the situation. We see as objects what we are. This is the practice of meditation. What is arising for me in this moment? We can make a practice of it, or we can do it when we realize we are unhappy.

Just the simple action of making the subject the object allows us space for change.

Referenced: Integral Theory

Turning Anger into Compassion

Anger has its place. It is there to move us. It tells us things aren’t right. But we don’t want to get lost in anger. We need to be conscious of it.

Compassion means: Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.

There are two phases to turning anger into compassion. Phase one is looking at the situation from the other person’s perspective. Phase two is understanding that people must be in pain to act the way they act.

There are things that people do unintentionally that upset us. Phase one would be to take the time to see things from the other person’s perspective. There is really no need to be upset once we understand that we are all trying to get somewhere in our car. Once we see that that person doesn’t know our situation, and was just acting probably as we would act if we were them. That perspective allows space into the situation. It allows perspective and understanding.

Then there are times when the other person is actually being malicious. They are trying to sabotage us in our work environment, take our job, abusing power, trying to embarrass us in public, or they are treating us poorly in one way or another on purpose. What do we do then? Well, you still use phase one, which is looking at the situation from their perspective. Once we realize that that person is doing something we don’t understand, we try to find compassion.

The way we find compassion is we begin to realize, right now, that people don’t act poorly like that unless they are in pain. Unless they have been wronged in the past.

I will point out that it’s interesting that humans don’t need to be taught to lie. A small child will lie about being caught in the cookie jar all by themselves. But that’s just self preservation, it’s not really malicious.

If we make it a practice to one, look at problems from the other person’s perspective, and two, understand that people are in pain and act poorly because of it, we can turn our own anger into compassion.

The Gift of Trauma

Trauma is horrible, and we shouldn’t forget that. We all have trauma to one degree or another. We all have “our stuff.”

Trauma has the potential to widen and deepen our experience of pain. Which allows us to have a higher “high.” Imagine someone who hasn’t had much stimulation in either direction, good or bad. Their circumstances are not as wide and as varied to draw from. They have a skinnier history to draw from. So something somewhat “bad” seems potentially horrible – like gas prices going up. Whereas, someone who has lived through a rape, or a major car accident, might not be as affected by social issues. They care, they just have a different historical comparison to weight the situation against.

Trauma also allows us to see that we survived. We went through that stuff and are still here. It didn’t kill us.

This is not to say that we should look for trauma, or inflict it on others. Life brings enough of it on its own.

How does pain and trauma allow for growth? Well, let’s look again at someone who is sheltered. They never get the challenges to test themselves. The Buddha is the iconic representation of this. He left his palace to learn about life and pain. He was unsatisfied with being given everything. You, your kids, and loved ones will be equally unsatisfied. Have you seen wealthy kids at the mall who have everything? Nothing surprises them, nothing thrills them. They are bored. These kids may begin looking for trauma. They won’t know that’s what they are doing, but their boredom has the potential to make them look for thrills. Those thrills, in the form of drugs, etc. can end up giving those kids their share of pain. This is a stereotype used only to make the point that pain and growth is a part of life. We can use pain to stimulate our desire to live differently.

Pleasure and pain are related. In the spectrum of self, pleasure and pain mirror one another. To leave the ego realm of pleasure and pain, it can help to go through enough pain to say “I don’t want to live this way any more.”

It is really important that we process our trauma. We need to begin to work with our pain, and process it fully. We need to feel it, rather than run from it.

Our pain is the substance that we are supposed to traverse to grow. The more of it, the more we want to wake up from it. So as we hate it, from a certain point of view it is a blessing.

We can relax a little with our children and loved ones. We can realize that pain is a part of life, and that we need to allow for some of it to grow. It is often a dis-service to over-protect a child. Pain in general is there to wake you up. It’s asking for you to be present. To drop the valuation of the situation. To open your consciousness. This is how we can begin to kill the ego, or wake up from it.

Trauma can jar us free of the ego. It can re-prioritize our lives. Sadness, fear, and anxiety that is the result of trauma can become so loud that we want to put it down. Without that pain, we might never have woken up. We can become sick of being unhappy. That is a very healthy state to be in.

So how do we want to relate to our trauma? Do we want to be fearful of it, or realize that we’ve been through it, and we’ve beaten it? It’s important that we don’t continue the cycle of abuse. It’s our responsibility to end the cycle of abuse.

Show Music: The Shanghai Restoration Project