I had an experience.
It happened while bartending. Over 12 years ago.
The bar I worked in had a cigarette machine in the back. The bartenders were told to keep an eye out for under-18 teens sneaking in to get cigarettes.
One night three young-looking guys walked in and headed toward the cigarettes. I stopped them to check their I.D.s.
I looked at the I.D.s but my mind got dizzy and I couldn’t make sense of how to figure out their ages (this mind dizziness still happens, especially with numbers. doesn’t bother me too much. But it used to).
I tried but couldn’t make my brain work and I felt a wave of panic. The guys were staring at me, waiting. I had to go find my shift manager for help. When I asked my manager to look at the I.D. cards, he looked at me like I was crazy. Yes, they are 18, he said, annoyed at me.
As I walked back to hand them their cards and saw the expression on their faces, I felt the shame intensify and engulf me. And then the experience happened.
I suddenly became bigger than myself. I expanded to about 6 feet bigger all around my body. I watched from this bigger space, somewhat above myself, yet everywhere at the same time. From that bigger space I watched myself being embarrassed and hand the I.D.s back.
But as I watched I was unattached from it all. Just fascinated by what was happening.
Unattached might give the impression of flatness. It was not flat at all. It was magical and joyful. It was total and pure curiosity (not an analytical curiosity, but a “see what happens” curiosity).
I was free from the need to control or direct anything, including myself or what I was feeling.
The whole experience must have lasted only a few moments. But it felt longer, like it happened in slow motion.
For the following few days I felt peaceful and then the peacefulness faded and I went back to my usual inner turmoil. If anything, feeling even more unsatisfied.
In the back of my mind I was wishing I could find a way to make that experience happen again. I sensed this to be the way out of suffering. But I couldn’t figure out how to do that. Because I didn’t make it happen to begin with.
It was a completely spontaneous experience. I wasn’t really meditating or doing dedicated inner work at the time. I was actually working 3 jobs, barely sleeping, and living off Redbull. I was saving money for my “dream” of traveling the world.
I had been reading books on how to make your dreams come true, visualizing, etc. I couldn’t think of a dream that would make me happy except traveling. So I decided for a little while, with nothing else to go on, that traveling the world must be my dream. As usual for me back then, I was focused outside of myself and on the future (I thought that's where 'happy' must exist). I was ignoring what was right in front of me and within me.
Even though my life didn't immediately change much on the surface, that experience was a glimpse of a truth for me.
That glimpsed truth was that I am not my body, my mind, or my emotions. There is something else to who I am.
I recognized this something else as what teachers and mystics call witnessing awareness. I've heard descriptions of this witness being a non-judgmental awareness of all that is, and that it is full of joy. That sounded exactly like what happened for me.
I never had anything like that experience again until I did travel, but not the outer world, I shifted my search inward, traveling instead through my inner world. Instead of making my dreams come true, I started seeing the untruth in the dream I had been living in.
As I began peeling away the layers of my unconscious, the experience of expanding beyond my mind, emotions, and body, and witnessing have become regular occurrences.
My perspective on what it means to Be Conscious.
It is not in the way I talk or words I use. It's not the way I look, act, or dress. It is not a technique I use or approach to life I prefer. It is not the teacher I love working with. Nor is it about some kind of gift, talent, or ability. It is not in being kind nor is it in any particular trait in me.
It's not a list of good deeds I can show off.
It's not in the money or any outer success I can attain.
It's not in environmentally aware habits, living clean, or simple. It's not in not having money, success or possessions either.
Becoming more conscious can certainly influence and bring profound changes, it has for me. The outer changes though, for me, are really secondary.
Consciousness for me is an inner alert state of being. It has nothing to do with spiritual correctness, in fact it obliterates it. I've come to a realization that consciousness is the only thing that recognizes and detects consciousness. Which is one reason there is so much confusion out there. This confusion is when we try to think ourselves into being conscious.
A story to illustrate what I'm trying to say…
Years ago, through a few documentaries, I became aware of how horribly animals are treated in the meat industry. Months after this I began to ask myself "If I care for animals, why am I still eating meat knowing how cruelly they are treated?"
I wasn't judging myself. I was honestly curious about this.
Not long after this question arose for me, I discovered that deep down I believed myself to be dark.
I was initially nervous to find out where this belief came from and what the darkness was about.
In allowing this belief to fully surface and be expressed (using the Dalian Method) I discovered this rigid stubbornness in me insisting that I AM dark. Insisting that this is who I am: “I like being dark and dammit I'm not letting this go!”
During the healing session this then shifted and I felt the fear that was behind the stubbornness. I was afraid (terrified actually) to dissolve into the light.
The fear lasted several minutes then it released from my system. A wonderful peace and clarity surfaced. I realized that the so-called darkness didn't have much substance to it. It was just my ego that wanted to stay in that identity of being dark because it was afraid to dissolve into the light. I let go of that identity and welcomed the beauty of more light (of expanded consciousness).
After this I decided it was time to stop eating meat. The next day after I made the decision, during my lunch break from my office job, I went to my usual Mexican food place. Out of habit I initially ordered something with meat and then stopped. I remembered my decision and changed my order to a vegetarian option. In that moment when I switched and ordered the vegetarian item I saw a vision of myself stepping out of the stream of darkness I had been attached to.
It was a beautiful experience in honoring with action my shift in consciousness. It was a way for me to step out of the old identity.
Now, here is what I didn’t have a desire to do…
To BECOME a vegetarian. Meaning I was not interested in now having a new identity for my ego to attach itself to. "I was dark, but now I'm light and don't eat meat".
I wasn’t interested in telling people they should do it too or feeling superior to meat-eaters and making any assumptions about them.
I was simply letting something go. I didn't want to fill that new space with something else. To fill it with a new identity (even if it does seem like an improvement over the old one). Instead I can enjoy having more space and light in me.
Working inside-out is how I like to do things. If I had become a vegetarian before that inner shift happened because I "should" than I am not sure how it would have gone. It would not have had the same meaning for me and I would’ve struggled with sticking to it. I probably would have also created another battle within (by trying to think myself into consciousness).
And if I’m really wanting to eat meat, which I do every now and then, I just let myself have it. I’m not going to fight with my cravings (been there, it sucks). I'm not bound to anything either.
My habits, including "bad" ones, are just to help me understand and discover new things. About life. About what it is to be human. About myself.
After what I've personally released and have worked through over the years, the last thing I want is more programming or another ideology (however healthy or altruistic it may seem).
There are definitely major turning points in my life but Being Conscious isn't a place I arrive at, it is an on-going expansion into new experiences. Some experiences I admit are way more enjoyable than others. But it is a never-ending discovery that lets me stay open and flexible so I can adjust when I learn something new (or UN-learn something new).
This is how I work best, it's not necessarily going to look this way for everyone. Perhaps for another it is expansive and fulfilling a purpose for them to tackle certain problems in our society. Just like those documentaries influenced me and I'm glad someone created them.
**Technically I’m a pescatarian because I eat seafood.
I love my body.
Not in the physical way and in the "my body is beautiful as it is" kinda way. That's there as well.
But what I mean is how my body brings me to the Truth.
I've had times where my mood seems very low and I'm thinking things are not going well in my life. Then I allow my attention to drop deeper into myself, into my body, and I have felt a surprising lightness and a palpable sense that all is okay and fine.
Sometimes I will be excited and in a whirlwind of feel-good energy, but then I realize that my body is signaling to me that something isn't right. This has happened to me a lot actually, since I tend towards excitability.
This can happen in my love life, it can happen in my friendships and in group settings. All is seemingly great but then I get a moment to myself and something in my body doesn't feel good.
It might feel like being suddenly drained or tired. I've also experienced it as uneasiness in my own skin. Sometimes it’s a heaviness in my heart.
Nothing wrong with that bubbly fun energy. I like that about me yet I've been looking more closely at times where I am in that experience and have momentarily disconnected from myself. In these moments I'm not truly experiencing connection or real joy, I'm actually escaping from something.
I might have been escaping because I don't want to acknowledge to myself that I do not resonate with the ideas coming from people I'm around in that moment (nothing personal against others and their choices). Or it might just be time for me to rest and be alone and I'm resisting it. I've also seen myself be entertaining to people to get attention I've been craving.
Exploring escapism, especially in social situations, has brought up valuable opportunities for transforming my blind spots.
A major one for me right now is the fear of being alone. In working with this fear I've had beautiful glimpses that I'm never alone because I have myself. And within myself is all of existence.
But there are deeper layers still operating on this fear. I am actually feeling sad as I write this. I realized yesterday how I still diminish myself, my wisdom, and the work I do to at times to avoid feeling isolated and misunderstood (being alone).
Ouch. In diminishing myself I broke my own heart.
I know this sadness is necessary though and I'm just letting it be there and feeling it.
This is why I love my body, it connects me to the Truth, even if that Truth is uncomfortable. It won't let me kid myself.
Where have you noticed the difference between what your mind or mood is saying and what your body is saying? Feel free to share in comments.
I hated talking about my feelings. Ugh. Sharing my inner world. It was awful. This is how I felt up till my early thirties or so.
But I would have times of intense depression and desperation and the psychiatric medications I took weren’t enough to completely numb it. There was this idea I had that when you have an emotional or mental problem you “get help”. Like some kind of magical solution happens when you “get help”.
At that time “getting help” meant therapy to me. Going to some kind of expert, a professional. So despite the dread, I would motivate myself to seek out a therapist. This happened a few times over the years. I would go to someone and hate the sessions and then leave feeling worse. After a few sessions I just couldn’t bring myself to go back. When I stopped seeing that person I felt I had failed at “getting help”.
One main reason I felt worse after these sessions was because I had so much repressed pain that would start to surface and I had no idea how to talk about it. I didn’t understand it at all.
But there were other reasons. I felt like a sick patient in those sessions. It was also awkward because I would be blocked and it was hard to talk and the therapist would stare at me waiting for me to say something. The pressure was difficult for me. Sometimes I would share what was happening in my life and would feel I was being psychoanalyzed and would get further labeled or diagnosed. They wanted to pick apart my childhood and my relationship with my parents and that was excruciating to me.
I was intimidated by them. But I could sometimes sense their fear of me too, of my self-destructiveness, of how traumatized I was (even though I didn’t really know it then myself). Other times I would feel the person’s projection on me and I knew their solutions and ideas had nothing to do with me, it was their own unresolved stuff.
But then one day I attended this short workshop on dream symbolism at a local holistic health fair. I was immediately drawn to the woman who led it. I’m going to call her Nan (not her real name). Nan radiated a certain presence. After the workshop I looked up her website and found out she gives therapy sessions in her home in my neighborhood.
I started seeing her once a week and this went on for several months.
I loved it. I loved her. I started to open up. I was coming out of my shell a little. I felt lighter and happier than I had ever felt up to this point.
Interestingly enough she seemed to have no desire to fix me or label me or even try to help me solve my problems. In fact, sometimes I would tell her about the latest health problem I suspected I had and wanted to obsess over it. She would refuse to even discuss it saying “No, we aren’t talking about that”. I would be confused and disappointed at first. Isn’t she supposed to help me figure this out? Doesn’t she see I could be sick, maybe even die? Doesn’t she see something is seriously wrong with me?
Other times I felt relieved and elated with her permission in letting go of guilt and doing what made me happy. But then I would start to blame the other person for guilting me. Again she would say “Nope, not doing that”.
I didn’t realize it at the time but I was forced to let go during those sessions. Nan refused to indulge my fearful obsessive mind and my tendency to swing from blaming myself to blaming someone else.
Sometimes on the way to our session I would feel there was no point to going. I had nothing to talk about and nothing was going on. Those times we would just sit silently together, no pressure or expectation for anything to talk about. Out of nowhere I would start talking about something seemingly random that happened to me recently. And then I realized that yes, something did happen and it bothered me. Nan would listen. She sometimes shared a story. Sometimes just reflect what she noticed in my sharing.
After a few months, she moved away and I instinctively knew it was time for me to move on even though I struggled with losing her. (After this I went on to the work I'm doing now which has given me a depth of knowing that was unimaginable and unattainable for me at that time of seeing Nan)
So why was Nan’s approach to therapy so helpful to me while all the others weren’t? Some therapists I went to had successful careers, books published, and advanced degrees in psychology. Nan didn’t have these things, she was a retired social worker.
It took me years to understand why this woman had such an impact on me.
The two things that stand out to me:
She Respected Me
She Was Present
It seems so simple. But it is profound. Why? Because in order to give these things to me she had to have done it for herself first. That takes focused inner work and wisdom. Can that come just from learning psychology? Can respect and presence come by studying ourselves or another solely through mental concepts and elaborate mental explanations and strategies? No, not in my experience is this possible.
I see it as a deep, very honest, and mystical personal exploration inward. It’s facing the unknown, over and over. And over and over. Until it begins to be more of a way of life. In the unknown we inevitably come to layers of fears and pain from the past. Transforming what we come across frees us and we no longer need to project that onto others.
At that time of seeing Nan, I had not yet learned to respect myself. I had not yet learned to be present with myself. She modeled this for me though. I was not a broken human being that she had to fix and put back together, even though sometimes I wanted her to. She taught me without teaching me. She did what was easy and natural for her. Because of this, I was not a burden to her. I was paying her for a service she provided, yet she refused to take on my worries and fears.
Was she perfect? No. Could she help me understand what was driving my obsessiveness and my guilt and blame? Could she help me see the truth behind my dependence on medications? No. That wasn’t her purpose for me though. That came later when I started working with Mada Dalian. That’s when I started to uncover in myself the respect and presence that I continue to deepen and grow today.
I don’t blame those other therapists for not being able to help me. How could they? They were suffering deeply themselves. In some ways they were also a reflection of myself.
I know now that LOVE is not what we think it is.
I write this in gratitude to all who have guided me towards the next step, regardless of their level of awareness. Most of all to my teacher, Mada.
“This Should Be Easy” <- Ever have this judgment toward yourself?
I have this habit - When anything breaks or something needs to be maintained: on my car, on my computer, or in my home. I immediately go into mental complaining and resistance. If possible I will find a way to avoid dealing with it.
Even the smallest things. The other day I got home and a light bulb in my kitchen went out. My mind immediately said what it typically says “Oh man, such a pain. Nah, I’ll change the light bulb later. I can live with less light in here”.
I saw the resistance and thoughts very clearly. Instead, I went down to my basement storage to get a new light bulb and changed it.
I find these daily life things a struggle and often the thought comes “This should be easy” which fuels more resistance to what is.
What I started to do is have a little “I’m so proud of me!” party when I deal with something I would normally put off.
So after I changed the light bulb…. instead of being a stern parent by telling myself that I did something I SHOULD do...I recognized that little victory and celebrated it. I gave myself a hug and said “Good job Leela!” and then did a little happy dance.
Imagine me in my kitchen dancing around singing and flailing my arms up “Yay I changed the light bulb!”
I already give myself credit for more obviously challenging things, but wanted to speak to the less-obvious & under-acknowledged challenges we face.
So here is what happens when I give myself credit:
I know what is easy for me and what is challenging for me. I can honor this instead of letting comparison, and the outer world’s ideas (including my own mind) dictate what 'should' be easy.
After reading this do you now realize what you need to give yourself credit for? Let me know in the comments. We can have a “I’m so proud of Me” party!
Or don’t share and do it alone if that feels most self-empowering for you!
***If you are unable to go beyond a particular place of struggle or self-judgment, then there is something causing it that you haven’t yet become aware of. Explore what that could be! You can also give yourself credit for something that feels already pretty light with not so much self-judgment (for example, my ‘should be easy’ judgments I refer to in this blog were not very intense for me to begin with.)
Light and positivity are not the same thing to me. If I relegated light to being positive my actual inner light would be restricted and stunted.
Light in the way I'm meaning it here is Consciousness.
Think of a flash light in a dark room. It reveals what has been hidden.
I allow both my “positive” and “negative”. I put those in quotes because truly to me, whatever reveals the truth, is ultimately positive. It is a YES to life itself.
Once I was at a retreat and was wearing a shirt with an opening in the back. Someone poked me in the back playfully and I asked them to not do that.
As I walked away I said to the person walking next to me “I guess that's what I get for wearing this”.
Wow. I didn't know that thought was in me!
If someone would have asked me if what a woman wears matters when she is receiving unwanted touch, I would have said “Of course not”.
But that would have been on the thinking mind's level. Deep down that thought that I said out loud at the retreat had been imprinted in me: Meaning I had at some point in my life heard this and believed it.
This happens to me frequently when I'm allowing myself to be authentic and spontaneous. I never know what I'm going to say, do, or discover.
There may be an expectation that I'm supposed to say or do things a certain way. But I want to continue expanding my consciousness (my inner light), so I can't focus too much on fulfilling superficial expectations.
Sometimes my insecurity is very visible. That's where I would like it, on the surface, living itself out. Not hidden, buried, and safely stored in order to fool myself behind a facade of confidence.
I am grateful for the people in my life who point out things for me that I’m unaware of. Sometimes though, a well-meaning person will try to help me fix what they think is a negative belief or my attachment to ‘my story’. They don’t realize that the story that is spontaneously falling out of my mouth and the emotions moving through my body are already unraveling….they are surfacing and disintegrating on their own.
Showing confidence is great! Unless, it's used as a protective facade, then it doesn't allow for healing what we’ve been trying to cover up. The healing would let the real inner confidence to open and bloom.
Sometimes it's our clarity that allows us to see the issues and lack of sensitivity in another person's behavior towards us.
But If we stay fixated on blaming them for our own stress & unhappiness then we lose contact with true reality. We haven't seen what the situation and person is there to teach us.
If you are reading this thinking your situation is an exception. If I were you, I would think again. You might very well be staring straight into the liberation you've been asking for and telling it….
“What is this situation here to show me?” is a question I use often. But I have to mean it when I ask it. I have to really WANT to know.
If this resonates on some level with you but seems very difficult: Have you first acknowledged, and fully expressed and felt any blame, hurt, anger, judgments, and self-judgments? This is how we compassionately and bravely take full responsibility for ourselves. For all we experience.
Another way to avoid reality and liberating yourself is to sugarcoat or spiritualize the situation. We can do this by trying really hard to or pretending to be loving, accepting, forgiving, grateful...when inside we actually feel very differently.
If you allow the challenge to deeply transform you, you may be shocked to experience a spontaneous gratitude for the asshole :)
Self-Empowerment is super messy. For a while.
If someone’s been living in a largely dis-empowered state for quite a while and their inner power is waking up - there is an adjustment phase. There will be mistakes and finer areas of learning and growth. Just like with anything new that we do or step into.
I was this person and when an exhilarating freedom emerged from within - I would sometimes bring more fierceness than a situation called for. Sometimes WAY more.
Imagine a situation where a soft simple expression would have gotten the job done but I’m yelling at the top of my lungs. (I can laugh now)
I had to go back and apologize a few times… hey, I’m sorry. I was being a jerk. You didn’t deserve that.
But I was like a child learning to ride a bike that felt a little big for me. Wobbly and crashing into things.
It’s different for everyone, for me it came in waves and lasted several years.
If the pendulum has been mostly at living life in a very small watered-down way, or just feeling small. Then naturally it needs to swing the opposite way for a while.
It takes time before things become more centered and stable. If we try to push or force stability, we interfere with the transformation that’s moving in and through us and our lives.
It eventually comes closer to center on its own.
So if you know someone that’s been recently difficult for you and they are sincerely working on themselves, hope this helps bring understanding. If this person is you, have compassion for yourself and trust the process.
I've been called weird almost all my life.
Such a sore spot in me anytime someone would say this to me. Ouch.
I reacted by trying to figure out what was weird about me and get rid of it. I wanted to and tried to just fit in...Blend in...Belong. This approach just kept me in the insecurity. And from seeing the truth about why this kept happening.
The truth is people called me this and it hurt...not because it was true, but because I BELIEVED it. It was my own conclusion about myself at a young age when the world outside didn't make any sense to me; It must be me. I’m weird.
When I began exploring and working with the insecurities and beliefs it brought up, most of the charge around the word dissolved.
I don't remember the last time someone called me weird. I don't remember the last time I worried about it. It just stopped happening a while back. Life is so interesting that way!
And it's not because people have such positive opinions of me or that I fit neatly into social situations. It just stopped mattering so much to me.
Sometimes I fit and connect, sometimes I don’t. That’s life. And it’s fine and good. Because we are all unique little universes.
We are all aliens here.
Do you have anything like this? Something that when is said about you just feels very raw and painful? Something that has been going on for a long time? Is it time for you to explore it, to go deeper?.
Feel free to share your insights and your ‘ouch’ place in the comments.
Thank you for all your strength. For all the times you had to go into battle and face harm and even death. For all the hard work you have done under the pressure to provide and to protect.
For thousands of lifetimes, you have had to be the strong one. The one who knew all the answers. The one who took charge. Who fixed it all. Who could never show weakness. You have had to stay on guard for so long.
I know it takes time for the armor to come off. It’s not fair to expect you to suddenly rip it all off at once. It will come off when you are ready. You decide.
I know these are confusing times for you. First, you had to carry the job of being the bigger sex. Now there are messages out there telling you to make yourself small and be obedient. That it's wrong to be powerful.
You are seen as both, God and the Devil.
It's not just women. You too have also been manipulated and used. Projected upon. You experience deep pain and fear too.
Personally, I disagree that it’s your job to fix “patriarchy”.
I also know you have been shamed for your sexual desire and yet told it makes you a "real man”.
You feel pressure to perform and know what to do, without any guidance. Unrealistic expectations that no human could satisfy, much less experience love.
Vulnerability is a challenge for me. For you, that challenge is multiplied, many times over.
I think it’s so perfect and beautiful to be a woman. And it's so perfect and beautiful that you are a man.
I don't want us to be the same or to always agree or see life the same way. How boring would that be?
Thank you men. For teaching me to be compassionate and understanding. Thank you men for pushing me to find my strength and independence. To take responsibility for my own thoughts and feelings. And my boundaries. Most of all thank you for teaching me that my choices are my own.
I know the moments of power struggles and those little battles will still happen. But even when it's chaotic and messy, deep down I still remain so grateful for all of it. So grateful for you being you.
I have seen so clearly that we were never meant to save each other and satisfy each other's expectations. But instead to help know and love ourselves. And share our self-knowledge, presence, and love with each other.
I love our dance of interdependence.
Dear Men, you are essential. Essential to everything.
You are one half of this earthly experience. You are one half of me. I'm so glad you exist!
To all men, I just simply love you.
**This one felt too personal to use a stock image for. So I dug out some old photographs that I took and processed a long time ago in a college photography class. The model is my then-boyfriend. Back then I thought being naked was all it took to be intimate.
Leela Haris ~ E x p a n d i n g Consciousness