Space. The final frontier. No, I’m not talking about the Starship Enterprise. I’m talking about the space that lives inside each and every one of us. It's the space that holds all that we desire and the answers to all of our questions like, Who am I? What is the meaning of life and what is my relationship to it? and What happens when we die? It’s a place that's ever-present, yet one we seldom visit.
As a counselor and personal growth facilitator for almost three decades, I have had the privilege to sit with Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Agnostics, Atheists, and people who say that they are spiritual but not religious. Some come with a diagnosis, given to them by a medical professional or a counselor who files insurance. Some do not. The stories they bring with them range from mildly stressful, dysfunctional childhoods, to accounts of some of the most horrendous things that human beings do to one another. And yet, despite the disparity in their beliefs, diagnoses, or life experiences, they all want the same thing - to feel better.
By the time they get to me they've generally started to realize that what they're looking for doesn't live outside of them. They've exhausted their search for it in food, relationships, sex, alcohol, or drugs. They have done their best to use their good, logical minds to try to figure out what needs to happen. They've prayed, used affirmations, positive thinking, willpower, and mind-over-matter strategies to make changes in their perspective or behavior. They've consulted books by experts, self-healing practices, personal growth workshops, yogis, gurus, and clergy.
Doing something normally makes us humans feel better. There is a sense of safety in thinking that we know or are at least on our way to knowing. And this is understandable. The problem is that as soon as we latch onto any of these practices and/or teachings as the truth, we become identified with them. What I believe, becomes linked with and ultimately confused with, Who I am. And anything the human mind identifies with as me, has to protect and defend it and feels very threatened by anything that seems contradictory.
And while it seems that our beliefs provide a certain sense of safety, in my experience, this sense of safety is an illusion. Life seems to have a way of shattering our illusions. For example, as soon as the devout believer in life after death is faced with a terminal diagnosis, they are terrified. And all of the doubt and questions and fear that’s been covered over with comforting, staunchly-held beliefs are brought to the surface. This is not a criticism. It's understandable, and seems to be part of the human condition, because most of us humans are addicted, regardless of the differences in our beliefs, to thinking.
I consider an addiction to be anything we can’t stop - at least not for very long. It seems to have a force of its own and tends to run our behavior and our lives behind the scenes. And, while it offers the promise to make us feel better, and does so temporarily, it ultimately makes things worse.
I don’t know about your mind, but mine, when allowed to run amok, doesn’t normally have great things to say about me or much else. If I watch closely enough, I can notice how it makes me feel bad, which gives me more to think about and more to figure out, which tends to fuel more thinking and the illusion that, "If I think about this long enough, I'll figure it out and then I'll feel better."
There is a way to be free of the compulsive, addictive nature of the thinking brain. Beyond thinking and beyond the suppressed emotions that are often driving our thinking, is the space on which it all appears. The very nature of this space is peace, compassion, safety, and well-being. You can’t access it by thinking about it. And you can’t skip over the feelings that might come up once the thinking brain is quiet. The feelings must be met with the same quiet observance with which you meet and thereby quiet the thoughts. It’s not a journey for sissies. But it’s well worth the exploration.
Please don't take my word for it. Just try it out for yourself. But I can tell you, in my own personal experience, as well as witnessing, being with, and guiding this process with clients, maybe over a thousand times, this seems clear: no religion, spiritual belief, or lack thereof has any better access to this space than any other. There is no emotional state, long-standing or temporary, that cannot be converted within and by the space. And, there is no amount of trauma in the bodymind too horrible, no nervous system too traumatized, that can’t be restored to balance, healing, and wholeness by the alchemical nature of this space.
Please understand that I am not suggesting an end to religion, belief, diagnosis, or the thinking brain. I’m just suggesting an exploration of what lies beyond. And I guess I’d like to close with a poem I wrote several years ago called, Who You Are.
Who You Are
all that you need.
all that you need within you
to feel what you want to feel.
You do not need a partner who loves you
to feel unconditional love.
You do not need a good job or money
to feel secure.
You do not need a symptom-free
to feel well.
The kingdom of heaven is within you!
But first you must navigate
the pearly gates -
only the gates aren't so pearly.
They have names like
resistance and fear
and are meant to distract you
and block you
from the kingdom
and the truth
of who you are.
They masquerade as busyness and doing
Facebooking and emailing
obsessing and worrying
blaming and opinionating
picking a fight with your partner
making somebody wrong
defending your position
watching television, reading a book,
eating, exercising, drinking alcohol, any addiction at all,
anything you can't stop.
But the sneakiest, most insidious habit of all?
Trying to figure it out.
Oh, it seems innocent enough.
You have a good mind.
Surely if you think hard enough
you can figure it out,
whatever your it
seems to be.
So you're seduced into spinning
round and round in your head
convinced that a satisfying answer
is just around the corner,
but it never is. The satisfaction
There's just more spinning
and the endless hook
(Mental masturbation I call it).
If you have the courage
and I know that you do
to stop spinning for a moment
then take a deep breath
and wait -
in the scary
wide-open space of
Be still with yourself
hold your own hand
and comfort yourself
in the wide-open space of
I think you will find
as I have
that there is peace
there is freedom
there is comfort and wellbeing
in the still quiet land of
And, there is love . . .
Love that's so pure
and so bright
that you know in your unknowing that
this is why you've been running
this is what you've been scared of
because this love is so big and so vast
so all consuming
so unfathomably deep.
This must be God, you say
and then you realize,
Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Shelly M. Smith.
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