Updated: Mar 27, 2020
I expect the physical world to provide me, among other things,
a sense of purpose
I expect the physical world to convince me, among other things, that I am
These expectations drive me bonkers and distract me from the profoundly abundant source within.
Within is a banquet of meaning. Instead, I hunt world for morsels.
Within is a waterfall of happiness. Instead, I squeeze world for droplets.
Within is a surging, crackling sense of purpose. Instead, I fly kites in the world's storms.
I get angry, feel cheated, feel abandoned, when world does not provide me, or I do not therefrom seize, the very gifts that flow abundantly within.
Within is a beautiful garden with infinite variety & no horizon. Instead, I forage for blooms in the eyes of others.
Within burns the love of a silky flame, a kissing sun, a liberating & soothing explosion. Instead, I mine world for flint & steel to make sparks of my own.
Within is a gift I was born with. How could I not be worthy of something I was born with? How could I be worthy of it, for that matter? I could accept it. Instead, I keep an ear pricked, an eye peeled, for a solid indicator that world finds me worthy.
Which is a false antidote to guilt, a bogus antivenom for shame.
Deep within, I know that milking & hoarding world is a fool's game. That no amount of physical abundance & personal accomplishment could come close to nourishing my soul. I think we all know this, on a level beneath words. Why are so many billionaires restless and miserable? Why are so many accomplished high performers suffering from anxiety and depression and a lack of self worth? Why must circumstances be nearly perfect to create a sense of deep & abiding joy, and why is that joy so fleeting?
We are seeking something - spiritual nourishment - exclusively from the outside, even though spiritual nourishment flows freely and copiously from within. We tirelessly seek in the outer realm of scarcity what the inner realm ceaselessly provides in abundance.
We put our physical resources to the task. Our intelligence helps us track down tidbits of spiritual nourishment in the outside world - the sublimity of a crashing wave, a breathtaking artistic performance, the rush of looking into another's eyes and seeing them look back with attraction & love. Our willpower keeps us tirelessly seeking those tidbits, constructing habits and systems to track and mine them more efficiently. Our memory helps us remember the pleasure of the tidbit, and the path thereto. Our identity reminds us what tidbits we like and we don't. With all of these physical resources working in concert, for years and then decades, no wonder I've become accustomed to this way of being, and no wonder I've neglected, and largely forgotten about, the way of seeking within.
Knowing that is easy enough. Believing it is harder. Breaking addiction to the system is agonizing. All usual indicators of well-being - how do I feel? how are my thoughts? how are my actions? - are attuned to world-milking, not source tapping, because for decades I've trained them to be that way. My thoughts, feelings, and actions are calibrated to my sense of how generously the world is providing for me, and how effectively I'm receiving what's given and taking what's available. If it seems like world is taking care of me ("good fortune," "being in the world's good graces"), and if it seems like I'm receiving and taking efficiently, then I feel good, I think "ok, good," I act with a sense of pride and comfort and confidence.
Breaking the habits of outward seeking, and cultivating habits of inner seeking, violates long-established chemical expectations, resulting in confusion, lethargy, rage, indignation, and the other symptoms of withdrawal. Struggling to break my habits and forge new ones, I don't feel good. I think, "terrible, unbearable, very goddam far from okay," I act with a sense of dissolution and scatteredness and leaking. It feels like falling apart.
There's a strong temptation to stop. To take a break, at least. Specious urgings arise. Cravings demandingly beat their drums.
Beneath those ephemera lies the serpent of shame, a writhing, constricting thing, telling me "you're kidding yourself," "you're only human," "stop being pretentious, live your silly life."
Its partner is pride, a shiny, sparkly thing, which tells me that that I prove my worth through acquisition, that I demonstrate my worth by how effectively I take what I need from world, and that by taking, I establish myself as a great power, a self-sufficient force of nature, who needn't rely on gifts ("alms," "handouts to the helpless"), who shouldn't feel humility ("weak"), who shouldn't feel gratitude ("why should I, I earned this"), who is clever enough to not waste time exploring realms within ("navel gazing"), who is powerful enough to push through doubt ("is this really all there is?") and confusion ("why am I never satisfied for long?") and pain ("why don't I feel whole?"), because those are worthless distractions that hamper the weak, not the strong, and I am strong, and only the strong thrive, and only the strong deserve to, because only the strong are worthy, and only the worthy are strong.
The shame has power because, deep down, I know I've made a mistake. I want spiritual nourishment. I have an infinite inner river that's utterly swollen with the stuff. But I neglect that river, usually ignore it entirely, so I can devote all my waking efforts to...building acqueducts? Banging on the plumbing? Walking under a cloudless sky with my dry tongue out for rain?
It's foolish. And I know it. And so does shame.
Shame deploys pride to distract me from the realization and entice me back into the loop. Pride drives me to acquire, accomplish, conquer. And I do. And pride beams: you did it! Here are some good feelings. Then shame steps in and points out, isn't something still missing? Why did those good feelings melt away so quickly? Why isn't the deepest wound healed? Are you really here on this earth to just compete? Here are some shitty feelings, to compliment your disappointment. Oh, you want to feel better now? Meet my friend, pride. While you've been moping, he's been compiling a list of taks to help you feel better. And when you get sick of that, and remember that it's a carrot dangling in front of a treadmill, and you feel stupid, again, for having gotten trapped in our loop, again, here I'll be, with a cocktail of thoughts and emotions to match your miserable state, and pride will be waiting, whenever you're done being miserable, for another round of tireless pursuit,
Quite the spin cycle! A vicious one, too. Because the longer I run on pride-shame-pride-shame, the less confident I feel, the more I buy into the pride-shame narrative ("you need us" "what else are you going to do?" "it's too late in life to change that much"), and the harder it is to be honest with myself and my loved ones about how profoundly foolish I'm being.
And that's where shame lurks, ready to elaborate on my idiocy ("you've been doing this since 1st grade?!"), ready to amplify my growing hopelessness ("can't teach this old dog new tricks, and man we've tried"), ready to pounce on my secrecy ("and now look, you're hiding the truth from your friends, shady"), ready to pummel and peck and bleed me into submission, to the very edge of defeat...
...and then, like clockwork, in waltzes pride, the good cop, with a warm burger and a cold soda and a winning smile and cooing assurances and, ah, yes, a plan to make things right again.
I renounce you, shame and pride. I feel you reeling with laughter at my renunciation. I hear you saying it'll never work, never last. Your rhetoric is quite effective on me. You've been honing your skills for decades. You know me inside out. Thinking I'll "beat" you is a trapdoor to pride. Thinking I'll "avoid" you is a trapdoor to shame. Thinking at all is a trapdoor into your lobby.
Surrendering, letting go, and opening to source - that's my spiritual jiu jitsu, my soul's sacred alchemy.
You'll keep doing your thing. I will surely succumb, again and again, and again, and again, and then a few times more, and again, then maybe a few hundred thousand times after that (shame claims "millions, millions.") So be it. If I try to be a hero and battle you, I empower you. If I try to be a villain and spread you, I empower you. If I try to be a victim and endure you, I empower you.
So instead, I renounce you, I rechannel all of your power into my jiu jitsu and my alchemy. Laugh at my wrinkly oversized karate outfit. Mock my empty wizard bowl. That's your nature. I'm ready to embrace mine.