I was a close student of a self-proclaimed “enlightened master” during my late twenties. The enlightened part is debatable, but he did teach me a great deal about mindfulness that remains with me 25 plus years later. Once he told me he was always looking for students who could play a fast game of tennis – which required skill, focus and finesse – and keep it going. He’d found few who could perhaps become impeccable warriors, in the vein of the books by Carlos Castenada.
I didn’t fully grasp what he meant at the time, but years later, I understood what he was saying via my own observations. It’s possible to give a great appearance on a consciousness level and look like we’ve attained the high level of self-mastery that a top tennis pro must have, yet when put to the tests of transparency and integrity it’s sometimes all smoke and mirrors. In other words, it’s easy to talk a good spiritual game, but drop the ball when it comes to actually doing authentic, deep inner work and reflecting it back out into our daily lives.
The old adage of “actions speak” applies perhaps more in the sphere of inner revolution than anywhere else. We may be able fool others, and even our own ego, for a while … but we can never fool ourselves on a soul level. We are all human beings, and by definition imperfect. And we have the choice as to how we show up in the world in every moment, regardless of the circumstances. We can choose self-ownership humility, bravery and positive spirit of the impeccable warrior of which my former teacher saw the potential in all his students, yet often witnessed them falling by their own sword. We become paralyzed and self-sabotaging when it comes to being all that we possibly can be during the short time we have on this planet, during the one life we are guaranteed to have. Why is this so?
The majority of us are held back by fear. Fear of looking deep within, with radical self-honesty, accountability and a healthy sense of humor for where we are and the impact we have upon ourselves and all we come into contact with. We can proactively choose to transcend the shadow thoughts, choices, actions and behaviors that keep us spinning around and grasping at our worn out status quo. Granted, it’s a daunting task, but probably made more so by the self-created paralysis. As the late mythologist and author Joseph Campbell once stated, “The Hoarder, the one in us that wants to keep, to hold on, must be killed. If we are hanging onto the form now, we’re not going to have the form next. You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. Destruction before creation.”
Many people fear death more than anything. No wonder they don’t want to break their own eggs and see themselves whirling about disassembled and then reassembled into something else. Holding on to the known is much easier, even if it causes suffering.
Although it may appear to be deceptively simple, purposeful and full-throttle secular mindfulness practice has the potential to change and rearrange your life experience in an incredibly productive and empowering way.
I’m not talking about the trendy “mindful” person who is being raved about everywhere you turn. It could be someone who says, “I’m OK as I am. Period.” I think this leads to self-indulgence and avoidance. It confuses negative judgment with honest discrimination and discernment.
To grow and evolve in awareness one mustn’t skip steps. We live in an instant gratification culture that can cause some people to expect “instant enlightenment” in a weekend retreat, between the covers of a book, or just by sitting in the presence of a revered teacher. The reality is it takes hard work: consistent practice and repetition of the transformative skills we learn over time to actualize lasting change. We can’t leap from A to B without getting our hands dirty and being humbled as well as empowered. The steps along the way are precious and essential, and there’s no rush. Beginner’s mind and practice is a beautiful and vital thing to always stay in touch with, and taking our time is so valuable in terms of becoming grounded in the lessons learned – as long as you don’t get stuck that is – because it gets really juicy when you dive in deeper, and courageously decide to break some eggs. That’s where the 3D action is.
Proactive, deliberate and fearless mindfulness practices have the ability to put you eye-to-eye with everything you’ve managed to hold at arm’s length, with every roadside distraction that comes your way. It allows you to sit still in the present moment with radically honest reflection and say, “Whoa, this particular thing about me isn’t very pretty – but I accept who I am right now and all my imperfect human-ness. Now, I better roll up my sleeves, ‘cause I have some serious work to do.” The thing is – and it’s a Big Thing – you’ve got to really want to take on the challenge whole-heartedly and whole mindedly. Focused and fearless … with a sense of humor to keep it fun. Otherwise, it’s more appealing to turn on the TV and twist open a bottle of beer.
We can all be an Indiana Jones, a hero-archeologist of our own consciousness, making it past our own inner snake pits with an absolute spirit of discovery and fearless bravado – even if snakes freak us out! The treasure of mind-full, more awakened and interconnected, compassionate, alive living is worth every challenge we face to acquire, as making it through every single internal maze along the way is the truest path of liberation from the egocentric self that mucks around playing small in every area of life. Consciously choosing to upgrade our inner operating system out of its buggy shadows and boring, predictable patterns as best as we can, and leading by humble yet strong example is the highest path of service to collective humanity we can take – and doing so doesn’t make us special in any way.
If it were easy, then it wouldn’t be valued for the investment in time and energy it is. We simply have to stay focused, do the work and persevere, as there is no “instant enlightenment” we can “manifest” just because we want it. As we move closer toward more fearless, benevolent and conscious awareness, the “I” that desired doing so in the first place decides to truly play big in life – no more lame, tired excuses. Shedding the skin of the smaller self isn’t as scary as we think it is. Breaking through our old worn out status quo becomes a joy, not a chore. Cracking the ego’s shell becomes a celebration of the possible. In fact, if you approach life with curiosity, honesty, presence, humor, grace and fearless panache, you can actually experience deep inner work as an adventure, a grand mystery to investigate, with exhilarating gratitude for being awake and passionately alive in every moment.
Anyone up for an omelet?
Suzanne Matthiessen is a certified hypnotherapist and secular mindfulness educator who has been teaching and writing about the mind-body relationship for over 20 years. Along with her private coaching practice, she is an instructor for eMindful, which is bringing mindfulness practices to corporate employees word-wide. To learn more, please visit her website.
Featured photo by visualpanic.