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The Inner Self
by Jasmin Cori If you want to be rich stop chasing after the things of the world. Go inside. What you will find will stop you dead and you will want no more.
This is the essence of most, if not all, spiritual teachings. The real riches lie in the kingdom within, yet many people live their whole lives not knowing how to find them. Their energies are absorbed in the outer world, keeping up with the demands of a busy life. The only inner life they know is really the inside lining of the outer life, for it consists almost entirely of their emotional and mental involvement with the world around them.
There is another inner life. We may enter it through this surface layer, but it goes far, far beyond that. It is concerned, not so much with the ups and downs of our personal lives, but with our deeper relationships with life and spirit. It is concerned with an inner nature that is the ground of everything.
Although culture at large does not support this inner life, there is growing interest in it. The marketplace is booming with books, classes, and workshops, all appealing to this hunger for a more genuine, free, actualized life. While there is much that we can learn from these sources, we must remember that real freedom is not something that anyone can sell us. We cannot purchase enlightenment, any more than our ancestors could purchase salvation. We need to learn how to re-source our inner life by once more making our way to the source of it.
It is a long journey with many paths, some straight and narrow, others circular and inclusive. If you want the straight and narrow path, I suggest you find a spiritual teacher and make this your life. For most of us, that won't work. We take what may look like (and be) a longer route, but the changes we make are broad and sweeping. We're not necessarily in a hurry. The goal is not just to get enlightened, but to self-actualize as well.
In a sense, there are two journeys: one to find ourselves and one to lose ourselves. Of course it is not that simple. At different levels, the truth looks different. That is why the teachings of sages like Ramana Maharshi at times sound contradictory. Many of Ramana's teachings are a record of his responses to questions asked by various seekers. His answers were tailored to the individual needs and consciousness of the questioner. Just as the view from the mountain looks different from different vantage points, so too the view of reality varies according to our level of consciousness.
This is why the relationship between these two journeys is so difficult to describe. Some would say that they are really one journey, and they would be correct. Others claiming the same thing would not be correct because they would mean something quite different by it. Because I think there is more harm right now in equating the two processes than in differentiating them, I am emphasizing the distinction.
Many of today's popular books on spiritual growth deal more with finding yourself and expanding that self than with the ruthless task of losing yourself. Self-actualization, which can be defined as fulfilling all of one's unique human potential, becomes confused with Self-Realization, defined as knowing your true identity as the more universal Self.
Actually, I don't like using the word "self" in this context because it is so intricately wed in most of our minds with the sense of individual identity. When we are talking about the transpersonal ground of being that is our true nature, we might better describe it as the "suchness," the "beingness," the "isness" that constitutes everything. It is a far cry from the individual self, which, because of our identification with it, keeps us from knowing this larger Self. To keep this distinction clear, I always capitalize the word "self" when referring to this deeper, broader experience.
The journey to find ourselves (the first journey) is the process of individuation. When we realize what this really involves, we see that it is a journey very few people complete. Few break free from the conditioning of the past to fully and completely express their unique being. So it is fitting that much of our collective attention, as well as the fields of psychology and personal growth, are concerned with shepherding people through this process.
Much of what I say about contemplative life can be applied to this first journey. Making space to be with yourself, examining the issue of identity, becoming more open and present, learning to tolerate stillness and to let go of control -- all of these are useful to the process of becoming a more authentic person.
They are also useful in the process of losing ourselves (the second journey). By becoming more open and more present, for example, we come into deeper contact with the larger Being, which allows us to recognize that we are not the identity we carry around inside our heads. This helps us let go of that identity and know that we are not truly separate from the larger unity, which is exactly what the second journey is about. In a similar fashion, learning to tolerate stillness not only helps us face ourselves more squarely (the first journey), but takes us beyond the activity of the ego. Without that activity, the ego falls away (the second journey). So the same process serves both ends, depending on how deeply we pursue it.
It may be said that both journeys culminate in knowing who we really are, yet they do not point to the same thing. In the first journey, what we discover is the authentic person, without mask or self-limitation. In the second journey, we learn that any such identity is still only a part of the picture. It is still the outer skin. In the second journey, we discover that we are something much more eternal and mysterious, something that can change into almost any form and still be true to itself. It is hard for our minds to grasp an identity that is independent of the particulars in this way. It helps if we can let go of our minds a little bit and try to feel from our bodies and our hearts.
The first journey is familiar to us. In many ways, it is a self-improvement project. We can use our usual motivations and strategies to get behind it. The second journey, in contrast, is a radical departure. We must let go of almost everything we know, every familiar way of being. It represents a complete metamorphosis. There is a paradox here: as radical as this second journey is, it can lead to an outer life that looks totally ordinary.
In many Buddhist teachings, we hear the idea that after enlightenment, all that is left is chopping wood and carrying water. We don't disappear into the ethers, but return to the chores of daily life more embodied. We come into our bodies and sensations in a way that allows us to really experience them. The commentary -- the story we impose on life -- is gone, and what is left is simply what is.
To some people, this seems to imply that the experience of pure sensation is the totality of spiritual life. This is not how I experience it. When I am in deeper states, I sometimes feel a fine presence that pervades everything. I am in contact with vast dimensions inside of me -- or which I enter by going inside. Sometimes, it is hard to tell what is inside and what is outside, or which world is more real, although I see that the outer world is but an expression of this invisible reality. When chopping wood and carrying water, I can be present to the wood and the water, to my hands and my feet, and I can also be present to the formless essence that makes the universe sing.
THE ROUTE HOME
The two journeys contain many roads. The journey to find ourselves includes personal growth work, psychotherapy, education, relationships, parenting, career, interests, spiritual community, and much more. Often, it follows the shape of our lives. The first journey is broad and inclusive.
The second journey is not. It whittles us down rather than builds us up. We lose structure rather than gain it. In the second journey, it doesn't really matter what you do for a living, how fulfilling your relationships are, or what temple you pray in. It doesn't matter what you wear. (In the first journey, there can be a lot of experimentation with personal style and appearance.) The second journey strips us of all that. In some sense, we are stripped of our individuality -- or what we have taken to be our individuality. We give up many of the outer distinctions, not because they are bad and should be extinguished, but because they are not our true being. This is not to suggest that our true being is some homogeneous mush in which everyone is the same. There is a uniqueness that the mind cannot anticipate and that can only be known when we come upon it in our inner travels.
What is this reducing diet? What can whittle us away like this? Hard spiritual work. This doesn't necessarily mean twelve hours on a meditation cushion with a Zen master whacking you on the back. It doesn't require a guru who throws your ego onto the ground and humiliates you. It doesn't necessarily come with years of selfless service. Any of these may be part of your path, but there are gentler ways as well.
What I am describing in this book is an entrance ramp to a contemplative lifestyle that can fit into the modern world, that honors individual differences, and that is true to the natural intelligence that is operating through the universe and in each person who knows how to get out of the way and listen. Contemplation is about listening. It is not about ordering God around, not about creating rituals to manifest our desires, not about secret formulas for spiritual transformation. Contemplation is the yin of spiritual life. It is the receptive side of things.
Thus it is not about controlling, but about giving up control; not about knowing, but about entering the way of unknowing; not about getting more, but about giving up everything that stands between you and the no-thing-ness of your true nature. The mystical way of expressing this is to say that the contemplative life is about giving yourself to the Beloved, about surrendering everything between you and God.
Such terms are stark and demanding, and I don't want to scare people. When you feel mystical passion, you want to give everything; before this, you may just want a quieter life, to recognize the spiritual in the commonplace, to find solace in silence. It is enough.
FRUITS OF CONTEMPLATIVE LIFE
Contemplative life is not a starvation diet. A bounty of fruits lines the path all along the way. One of the first of these fruits is the sense of spaciousness that comes when we stop filling all of our time. Because we are not racing about, we have a sense of more leisure. We slow down and smell the flowers.
As we break free of our conditioning and listen to our own rhythms, we enjoy a sense of harmony and flow. We feel more balanced because we are not run by the requirements of outer life alone, but have also begun to cultivate an inner life. We come back to ourselves. What a relief! We step out of the haze of our thoughts and come into the moment. In a word, we become "present."
From this sense of presence, along with a growing sense of connection, comes the feeling of more meaning and, at the same time, less need to articulate what that meaning is. We are not living for something that is down the road. The meaning is right here, in the moment.
Unresolved feelings may rise to the surface as we sit and face ourselves, but we know that this is the road to peace. We are no longer running away. We are here, facing the good and the bad, learning to hold it all.
These are juicy fruits, rewards enough for our changes. But they are not all. As we deepen into the second journey, we find an even more abundant harvest. Most of these fruits come as we release the small self. It is like stepping out of a tin suit, free at last to be and move without constraint. A whole new dimension of being opens up inside of us. We come home, our hearts overflowing with gratitude. The fruits of our own essential nature are more wondrous and delectable than we could have hoped -- the sweetness of our own nature and the sweetness of divine nature, one luscious ecstasy.
Am I exaggerating? Not at all. The language may seem flowery, but the riches are far greater than even the most superlative descriptors. I don't mean to imply that contemplative life is all some kind of honeyed bliss. There are deserts to cross, times of great aridity and discouragement, times when we are terrified. But the fruits most certainly are there, and the fruits are real. They liberate in us a love that transforms us, giving us new eyes through which we view the world. Here is a poem about this experience.
Running through the village
embracing everyone she meets,
she laughs in ecstasy.
People call her mad.
"New eyes!" she cries.
"I have been given new eyes!"
And it is true.
For the scales which had previously blinded her
are gone now, erased
revealing such utter glory
that her mind took flight,
leaving only a rapturous heart
in an old, weathered body
racing through the streets
on fire with love. � Jasmin Cori
Freefall to the beloved: mystical poetry for God's lovers
(Boulder, CO: Golden Reed, 1996), p. 111.
This article is excerpted from Tao of Contemplation: Re-sourcing the Inner Life by Jasmin Lee Cori, �2000. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Samuel Weiser Inc.
About The Author
Jasmin Lee Cori is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice who uses a transpersonal approach to help people live from a deeper place. You can find out more about her books and forthcoming tarot as well as her online journaling course, writing and editing services, and counseling at Jasmin Cori
Reprinted with permission of Red Wheel/Weiser LLC. The Tao of Contemplation by Jasmin Lee Cori is available at better bookstores or directly from the publisher at 800-423-7087, by fax at 877-337-3309, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.