“When I am with people whose greatest priority is the truth and work to let go of all that blocks their understanding, I don’t hear them say, ‘God, I’ve got to get my energy back; I’ve got to be someone in the world.’ Instead, they say, ‘I don’t have to be anything or anyone to be who I really am.’ It is a considerable insight for beings who have lived so much of their life, as we all have, in ideas and models of a universe of ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ that don’t exist. I see them touch the real. I see them become part of what is.”
~Who Dies? Stephen Levine, p.61
These words resonated at my core as I continue to seek the truth of who I am. Levine (1937-2016) was an American poet, author, and teacher of Theravada Buddhism. Like his close friend, Ram Dass, he wrote of his experiences, focusing on grief for survivors of concentration camps, of the Viet Nam War, and of sexual abuse. It was his reference to seeing the world through models that caught my attention.
Models of how we “should” and, at certain times, “must” behave, speak, and interact are all around us. Examples include “Minnesota nice,” horoscopes, self-assessment tools (Myers-Briggs, I Speak and many others), reputations, expectations of etiquette (social, business, sports, cultural), standards (college entrance test scores, technical certifications, professional continuing education credits, clinical and medical results), sales or other industry goals, and Profit/Loss balance sheets. Life seemingly cannot function without them, and Ego insists on their persuasive power: these are the realities of life, or what we think is real. Models are ego-related; our higher Self does not need them. How we interact, our futures, and who we believe ourselves to be are closely influenced by these models. That is, until they no longer apply to us.
Impermanence strikes. Change turns our world upside down. We are left confused, upset, and perhaps even defiant. Earlier in life, we allow our jobs, appearance, mobility, quick wit, achievements, possessions—everything external—to define us. Over the years, those patterns and emotions that we thought were constant and took for granted suddenly morph. Our careers no longer have the substantive severance and insurance packages we thought were in place. Upon waking one morning, we throw out our back. Invisibility comes to mind as we rarely are consulted on projects or walk down the halls of our workplace or town, unacknowledged. We are drifting into the background, not feeling revered as many Eastern cultures intend, and becoming a “has been.” Wishing for things to be other than they are, or resistance to the present moment, often leads to an immediate flurry of activity, the “over my dead body” attitude, of how life is supposed to be. Not me, this can’t be happening to me! I need to do something about it.
Feeling confused, we often rush to fill the void with the first answer, any answer. This makes Ego feels better. Having a plan also softens the effects of our not being able to live up to the models to which we are attached. When we are confused, we approach life through illusions and Ego, and not from the stance of our higher Self. We suffer.
This happened to me when I was working on my master’s degree. I had finished all of the coursework and had only the thesis to write. The assumption of my model was that there would be enough time and energy to complete this degree over seven years, even though I was a stay-at-home mom with two young children. Somehow I would get help, and my super woman presence would rise to the occasion. I felt like I had started this endeavor and I must complete it. Miraculously, I would get it done.
Although the program prerequisites remained the same over the years, my circumstances changed dramatically. Time ran out, and I did not finish my thesis. I felt like a failure. I let this feeling of failure seep into other areas of my life. It was hard to let it go, especially since I was inspired about the writing part of the program. Ten years later, I started another master’s program in leadership, but, by then I had a full-time job and four busy children. I thought this degree would be a sign of success because education held a premium value in my family of origin. Would it have given me a sense of accomplishment, happiness, or prestige? Maybe. Would it have made a difference to Source or changed who I am? No. Looking back, Ego was definitely alive.
When change happens, we want to scream, Wait just a minute! I’m still here. I have something to offer. I’m a good person and I didn’t ask for this to happen. Yikes! It’s beyond my control. Many of us feel that we’re not going down without a fight! We take control. Hiring a personal trainer and beginning a workout program; getting a new wardrobe, a new hairstyle, or taking a class; or traveling and expanding our knowledge become our go-to events. We resist, desperately trying to hang on and looking in every direction for help, bar one.
Inward?! We stare in disbelief. After rescuing our jaws from the floor and eating humble pie, we sheepishly focus on the realization that we, too, are impermanent. This is a rite of passage that everyone will experience sooner or later. The universe is not trying to sabotage our lives. We need to look within. Acceptance has not part of our vocabulary.
All of the “knowing” and models up to this point have not given our lives the level of love, meaning, or peace of mind that we have longed for. All that happens is that we end up grasping for other external satisfactions. If only we could stay in the present moment and gratefully accept who we are and what we have. And stop there. Contentment would surround us. Instead of a “Hail Mary” effort with our fingers crossed, our expanded heart and mind would experience triumph. Now is the time to practice acceptance see through illusions.
Inwardly speaking: What are some of the models, the “should’s,” “must’s,” “have to’s” that keep Ego in control of your life? What does the true you wish to be? Can you let go of just one model to open more space to be your authentic Self?
© 2015 Barbara L. Krause