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Enlightenment is not something you achieve. It is the absence of something. – Charlotte Joko Beck
One of my earliest memories is riding my tricycle with my sister on back, pushing. I yelled, but she wouldn’t slow down. I clearly remember deciding that if I put my big toe in the front spokes she would have to stop.
The ploy was very effective. I’ve forgotten how much it hurt, but I remember we stopped.Despite my size and status, I had gotten my way. The clear lesson was: pain works.
Sacrifice came naturally, though. My family was passive-aggressive. We practiced suffering in silence as an advanced form of communication. Aggression hid behind brittle smiles. I learned to read minds by interpreting various martyred expressions.
So it may not be a surprise that I have waged a lifelong inner war with myself. Whether it goes by “beating yourself up,” “self-hate,” or just “being hard on yourself,” it’s self-attack, and it was my winning strategy. I stuck pins in myself to control the world. It was natural that I would make myself do things the same way. Hold a gun to my own head as a negotiating tactic.
This makes for lots of grinding of wheels and teeth, drama and despair, but doesn’t advance the plot very well.
Early on I thought God could make me better. My baptism at seven had proven not to be the radical rebirth promised. I was supposed to be born again, made new, free of sin. All I got was wet socks – no improvement in what we call “the real world.”
If no outside powers were coming to save me, I would have to liberate myself. Art and poetry made life bearable, but I was looking for real transformation, real joy. I decided that psychology might work. Everybody thought I was insane anyway, I told myself.
Insight replaced faith as my longed-for salvation. If I could truly understand the mystery of what identity was and what my behavior meant, that would change everything. The books all said it could happen.
That storied flash of understanding became my Holy Grail, radiating milk-white beams from its hidden chapel. I set out on the quest with trumpets, flags and vows.
All because I wanted a better me. The me I was issued was hopeless, depressed (not just bummed – suicidal, hopeless) clueless about identity, socially anxious, etc. Obviously defective.
So began my dirty little war between the selves. Bitterly, relentlessly I fought the self that had stolen my name. I became an insurgent, a guerilla. At best the struggle was stalemate, at the worst self-mutilation.
I began researching myself. My reading switched from science fiction to nonfiction (Abnormal Psychology was one title). I studied numerology, astrology and Tarot for clues about my makeup, and soon began meditating and recording dreams. I punished my failings without mercy. If I was master of my soul, why couldn’t I change its behavior?
What I didn’t see, not for a long time, was that it was all based on an intense conviction that there was something fundamentally wrong with me. The form was improvement, but the content was rejection.
I slaved away digging nugget after nugget from my unconscious. Theoretical frameworks came and went over the years – NLP, gestalt, Jungian, psychosynthesis. Only my disatisfaction was constant.
I decided my mother had a personality disorder because I had inherited it. From lack of mirroring, my self had never developed properly. I was identified with a false self I had cobbled together before I was even conscious. This self feared any move toward autonomy. It avoided authentic decisions and heartfelt expressions at all costs, as they threatened the masquerade. This rang true. It certainly explained my self-hatred. I had never felt “authentic,” and had huge difficulties knowing what to do. Blaming this on my “false self” was a useful tactic in distancing my “real” self from depression and helplessness.
At long last came the Course, and with it a vast new framework that seemed not only to include all the others, but subsume them, reconciling contradictions. Fundamentally all-encompassing, it seemed to transcend ordinary categories. A Course in Miracles doesn’t invalidate anything. It’s not against anything. I didn’t have to throw away a single belief or theory. Each was a stepping stone, and now I had the big picture into which they all settled like puzzle pieces.
I learned I did have a divided identity. My true self lay deep in coma. It dreamed a world in which the dreamer caused everything. Where it was center of its whole universe.This dream-self was called the ego. It fought anything that threatened to wake me by throwing up a sensory extravaganza. A show comprised of time, space and the physical universe to distract attention from my real identity.
Further, this dreaming generated great guilt, terror, and rage, which threatened to interrupt sleep. The ego expelled it from consciousness like a hot potato, and to catch it dreamed up “others.” When the pain vanished, I believed it belonged to those separate others, so I couldn't feel it. As rage continued growing, I just made more enemies to absorb it .
Hence, the world as we know it – hostile, treacherous, spiteful.
This parable didn’t quite liberate. It wasn’t my Grail. Not until I heard one teacher of God speak of self-forgiveness. “Often rage gets projected onto the person that you think you are,” he said. Suddenly it was clear.
You see, I am an introvert. Most egos focus their anger outward, onto “others.” But my guilt and rage, like most of my attention and interest, is directed within.
Instead of identifying with the ego, I disociated from mine. I dimly remembered my divinity, but dreamt it was trapped in the ego’s dream. So I identified with the image of God it feared: Yahweh, lord of jealously, judgement, and wrath. Instead of projecting rage out, onto “others,” I poured all my dreaming anger onto the ego.
And since ego is the self I believe in most of the time, I seem to attack myself.
When I understood that, I saw I stood not before the grail of insight, but the Holy Veil, the last luminescent barrier to knowing my true face. It took only one breath, like a puff on a dandelion, to disperse the illusion. The mask of guilt exploded into a billion pieces and gently floated away, leaving me face to face with my original innocence.
Thus ended a quest started long before my birth. Before even this mad dream I was born into. I have always been in search of that one mighty relic, touchstone, token, truth which would free not only me, but all I unknowingly held captive. Only at the last instant did I find that what I sought was not to be discovered, but relinquished. And no sacrifice, either. I needn’t give up anything I wanted. This final layer waited only for a trembling breath to lift it, scatter it across heaven to shine there as stars without number.
By such soft light I saw the ego is not to be hated, blamed, fought or feared, but only forgiven. Like any other folly it needs releasing each moment it occurs. Resisting only strengthens it. What removes the layers and layers of the ego’s veil is the love it was made to block. Simply love its mistaken intention and forgive the suffering it asks you to cherish. All-encompassing love transforms it from a world-making monster into simple error, then releases it into the bright stream of God’s breath to float away.
Please let me know if this message in a bottle makes any sense out there in "otherland." Blessings.