If our heart longs to see a shooting star, that day will come when we’ll see one blaze across the heavens. If we keep looking for physical gold, by panning a stream or breaking through rock, chances are our search will be rewarded, but when we seek the more valuable gold of real self-knowledge, we are guaranteed to find it. It is there in abundance just waiting to be uncovered.
Opportunities for self-study — and the changes these discoveries yield — present themselves endlessly, with new ones arriving with each new moment. The key point here is that if we don’t undergo the changes within ourselves that we say we desire, it’s because we are not awake to these unfolding opportunities. In other words, our attention is on something else. It’s easy to have our attention sidetracked in this way. The truth is that even though we may feel a strong pull in the direction of self-study, and long for the special freedom it alone can grant us, there also exists quite often an even stronger pull away from it.
Constantly shaking ourselves into new self-awareness — and then struggling to snap out of the gravitational field of negative influences we find ourselves in — can be an exhausting experience. As long as we remain unaware of just how vulnerable we are to these influences while asleep to ourselves, it seems easier to just remain in psychic slumber. This is a state to which we have all grown accustomed, and the inertia that tends to keep us locked in it is very powerful. As a result, we’re easily convinced that a little self-pampering is just what the doctor ordered!
“I don’t feel up to working on myself today,” we might hear ourselves say, or, “I’m too tired. Besides, there’s no point in trying to quiet my mind when it’s in such a whirl. I’ll just wait for a better time when I’m more alert.”
We must not fall under the power of these deceptive voices coming to us from within our own minds. We must refuse to accept that the weakness claims as being ours is the same as our own. If we wait to do our self-study until we “feel like it,” we’ll never do it at all. We must engage in the process of self-study as a volitional act, deliberately embarked upon regardless of whether we wish to or not. We cannot wait until we feel the time is right for self-work. We must do our self-study consistently, making efforts every day to observe ourselves in action. Now is always the only time there is.
Although self-study may include reading certain inner life books or listening to lectures on self-transformation, these materials, as encouraging and informative as they may be, are really only preparational tools; they have their place. After all, if you were going to climb a mountain, you would want expert advice on the proper equipment to use, and you would want instruction from others who had climbed that mountain before you. From their past painful experiences, you might be able to save a few of your own! Or so the thinking goes. All of this instruction, however, cannot raise you one inch above the valley floor to bring you any closer to the mountain top. There is only one way to reach the peak: you, yourself, must make the climb.
In the same way, self-study is personal, individual work that sincere seekers must do for themselves. Far more intricate and at least as rigorous as trying to scale a real mountain, self-study asks us to begin with:
• Honestly observing ourselves as often as possible during the day to see the truth of what is actually directing our life in those moments
• Actively meeting each moment of life with a wish to understand our inner condition instead of looking for ways to justify it
• Living from a new center of gravity in ourselves: where our one prevailing wish is to see those truths about our daily experiences which might serve to change us, instead of trying to explain away our experiences in an effort to protect what we hope is true
• Taking small but definite steps into some personally challenging condition instead of mechanically avoiding it — just to see if any psychological fear ever tells us the truth
• Suspending negative emotional reactions long enough to learn something about their real inner origin instead of leaping to correct the outer causes these dark states always blame.
Real self-study begins with becoming aware of just how unaware we really are. Bit by bit, a day at a time, it begins to dawn on us that we are generally lost in a fog of thought. But even as our aim to be self-studying reveals the fact of this inner fog, what comes with it is a whole new clarity about our inner condition; for now we can also see that the many things we’ve done that were thoughtlessly cruel or self-harming, we did only because we had been caught up in this same dazed state. Perhaps most important of all, we begin to learn that a larger world awaits us if we could but remember that reaching it requires staying awake enough to leave our smaller one behind.
Beginning to see that we’re actually lost in thought all day is a valuable signal to us. It’s equivalent to the doctor’s diagnosis that is the necessary first step toward achieving a cure. We should never be discouraged by any discovery our self-study shows us. To be aware that we have been unaware is the beginning of real awareness. When increasing this kind of self-knowledge is our top priority, there can never be failure, but only new opportunities for growth. As we become increasingly aware of how we cause our own difficulties in our sleep state, we gain a new impetus to discover more about ourselves, to want something more from ourselves. And when this kind of inner wish is made sincerely and asked often enough, Reality itself steps in to make it come true.
Each time we feel an emotional pain, we should use that as a signal that we’ve made a mistake, that we’ve crashed and now need to find and try another new way. For example, our presently pained position is the proof that our past responses to personal crises are inadequate to clear the barriers we still are crashing into — that we not only need a new way to meet life, but that our old ways just don’t work. The problem for most of us is that we rarely allow ourselves to learn in this way. We have hundreds of experiences each day in which our expectations crash into reality. Whenever this happens, we have a close encounter of the truthful kind, because in that same moment of trial we see for an instant that we really don’t know what to do. These small and large self-crashes in themselves are not a problem. They are, in a way, the school of life. The problem is that we won’t admit we don’t know what to do. We don’t use the event to learn a new response. Instead, we become defensive and return to the same mindset that led to our latest collision. We tell ourselves we understand the cause of getting hurt, and that we know what or whom to blame. And once we’ve assessed fault through this unseen faulty approach, then we know what to do. Some self pops up and tells us to “act happy,” “eat something,” “call a friend,” “think about it.” But none of these responses has ever made us better equipped to handle the next crisis. We persist in our belief that we know what to do, and instead of trying something different, we just return to the familiar route.
Until we understand where the true cause of our unhappiness lies, we can never be happy. As long as our preconceived notions about life run into the reality of it we will continue to feel like we’re on the losing side, and since we do not learn from the crash, the process continues. We feel that our lives are out of control, and they are.
We start learning from life when we stop blaming reality, and accept that it was our lack of understanding that created the perceived problem. Our sincere wish to learn cannot fail to attract the healing truth we desire, which can then become a part of us and act through us. This can only happen through our own self-work. No one can tell us the truth, for then it would not become a part of our own nature. We must test our beliefs and question our responses for ourselves. When we begin to understand the truth about reality, and our own place in it (because we have actually entered into it for ourselves), that truth, along with all its power, becomes our own.
It goes without saying that what took place in Newtown is unimaginable, as is––in many ways––the pain and grief felt by those directly impacted by this monstrous act. And, of course, it’s natural and necessary that the individuals whose lives have been devastated should seek consolation and comfort from friends and family, from the community around them. My heart goes out to everyone, along with my wishes that such things, such suffering never have to be endured.
But wishes alone change nothing… and if comforting one another had the power to transform human nature, so that the need to comfort one another — born of heinous acts against one another — could forever be averted, I’d be the first person in line to embrace all those who have been hurt by acts of hatred. So if there is any message here, if there’s any true good to come out of this dark and terrible moment, it must be that we find a way to use events like this not just to change laws but to change our individual nature, so that we – individually — begin to die to this latent and violent darkness that lives in all human consciousness.
The world we live in is a reflection of our interior reality — regardless how we resist that notion. As difficult as it is for those who wish to be true aspirants of the higher life, we must see that any rage or violence we feel — that seems so justified — is the exact same dark state that drove this sleeping man in Connecticut to perpetrate the violence that he did on others.
The task in such moments – when we are tempted to let hatred be our guide — is to realize that no matter where it surfaces, no matter how much suffering it produces as a result, violence is violence wherever it appears. It is blind, dark, and dedicated to expressing itself, using whatever hapless human being it may appear temporarily within.
The true task of anyone who would share in the life of the Divine is to be aware of this flaming hatred, and to not be its instrument: Rather than lending it your life — as it demands its expression — to die to it in yourself by consciously suffering its presence without participating in its direction. The light of this awareness — the goodness and the love that is its source — then does what only it can do: transforms both the darkness that has been brought into it, as well as the individual who agrees to this transfiguration. For it means not only that some degree of that unconscious, raging force is made conscious of itself, but the individual within whom this has taken place is also integrated, liberated — in the truest sense of the word — from all that would denigrate and otherwise corrupt the soul.