Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Benevolent Invitation

People have been coming to me with their heartbreaks. Mostly men the past few days, interestingly enough.

I'm not talking too much these days, and I have declined to get into much conversation. I see my role more as one of opening space within myself, feeling infinity, and knowing from here that the sad times are also filled with grace. They are grace ready to come out. When I'm riding the heartbreak waves, and I can remember this, it makes the experience very interesting.

What is it like to go through emotions that we call dark and at the same time feel light emanating from them? And how is it possible to have both?

It comes from a stillness of the mind. No thought can allow for such openness during heartache. The fire that burns as our suffering is fanned by our thoughts, playing out the story and its tale of woe.

And then there's a place deep inside that can actually contain . . . can hold you and your fear and your agony and the watery flow of sadness. For it is flowing. It is not fixed. Thoughts and emotions together want to lock something down, fix it as black or white, and hold to it. Only in letting our emotions erupt - with neither judgment of them nor of the catalyzing situation - can we experience this flow and allow everything to move.

This is a way to allow old emotions - I'm talking those that have been stored up since you were too young to remember - to arise and be released, leaving a door wide-open for the stillness that exists as our natural state to permeate the moment and, subsequently, our interactions with others.


We can't think our way into it. We just can't. Don't even try. If you find yourself doing it, just see it. Take a breath. Take a moment. And with that, you've used the futile attempt to mentally fix as a bell of mindfulness that brings you back to this. And this is it.

All of these situations are inviting us, sometimes subtly, sometimes like a raging storm, to awaken. It is a benevolent invitation. We needn't be afraid (see footnote).* Let the feelings come. Keep breathing. Feel the inner body. Feel infinity. Stay open.

I've been reading this Rumi poem for years, and I came across it today and saw it clearly. Can you find the knowing within yourself, when the head is bound with emotion and tragedy, that allows you to open your chest, relax your shoulders, breathe and surrender to this moment? Surrendering because you know deep within that there is grace in the sadness, and rich comfort on the other side of the woes . . .

I speak from experience. So does our beloved Mevlana (Rumi).

He Gives to Taste ~ Rumi (translated by Jonathan Star)

Do not despair
if the Beloved pushes you away.
If He pushes you away today
it's only so He can draw you back tomorrow.

If He closes the door on your face,
don't leave, wait --
you'll soon be by his side.
If He bars every passage,
don't lose hope --
He's about to show you
a secret way that nobody knows.

A butcher cuts off a sheep's head for food,
not just to throw away.
When the sheep no longer has breath
the butcher fills it
with his own breath.
O what life
God's breath will bring to you!

But the likeness ends here --
For God's bounty is much greater than the butcher's.
God's blows don't bring death but eternal life.
He gives the wealth of Solomon to a single ant.
He gives the treasure of both worlds to all who ask.
He gives and gives
yet does not startle a single heart.

I've traveled to all ends of the earth
and have not found anyone like Him.
Who can match Him?
Who can hold a candle to His glory?

Silence already!
He gives us the wine to taste,
not to talk about. . . .

He gives to taste.
He gives to taste.
He gives to taste.


* I wasn't sure about saying, "We needn't be afraid." Tonight I came across this excerpt from the Be Here Now blog project I've been participating in:

"The point is not to feel better; it is to feel. The depth of this moment is all there is and our folly is to attempt to escape this. We will never be away from the now. [This is how we must die. To every sensation but this moment. To past, to future, to thoughts that think past and future exist at all.]

Scary? Go ahead and be scared. There’s the paradox — having the courage to be scared. I mean, what did I expect, taking on a process such as this? And these processes . . . am I willing to look into that mirror? Whose face will I see back?"

If questions arise from this writing, please email

Saturday, November 13, 2010

On the Topic of Self-Esteem

Hi Carina,

We in the West are plagued with that critical voice in the back of our heads, telling us that we're not good enough, or we're bad. It is reflected in the fact that we are always told to "become somebody" instead of being somebody (implying that who we are now is somehow not good enough). And if we tell people that we're working on loving ourselves the way we are, people think it's narcissistic. How to combat this attitude? That's the tough part.



Dear Steve,

I appreciate this topic. It seems to be one of the most common issues that people deal with. I'm seeing lots of pages popping up on Facebook that send out daily cheerful messages letting people know how great they are -- just as they are. These messages wouldn't be coming by the volume (and be being eaten up by the voracious readers) if the readers weren't convinced that self-esteem is something to be reaching for.

What if self-esteem and self-loathing are two sides of the same delusion?

Consider this: Having high self-esteem (in the way that our culture touts it) is as much a costume -- a role -- as having low self-esteem is. Both are built on foundations that lack inherent truth. That is, they are both passing, impermanent, in the world of form.

I know well that voice in the back of the head that says I'm bad. It's a specter that likes to hold my head underwater so I can't breathe and tell me that all of who I am is a failure. I'm happy to say that I don't experience it that often, but I do, and it is a convincing voice, to be sure. Here's the okay thing about it: none of it's true, nor is it fixed. It's a wave of energy passing through, and it can knock down everything in its path, or I can inhale, exhale, and surf it.

Neither is preferable nor better or worse than the other. That is, if you're being bowled over by thoughts and emotions, so be it. Can you consciously allow the knocking around? Surrender to the noise of the moment and just let it do its thing? You'll find in here the paradox of then being able to surf the next wave.

A thought comes in: "I'm so fucked up . . . I hate myself," and there are several ways the mind can go. It can join up with the thoughts like jumping on a box car and riding down the track with the train. Or you can turn around and face the thought, almost looking backward, to see what the source of the thought is. And then you see, it's nothing. Thoughts arise out of nothing.

When you are noticing thoughts coming up and rolling by, rather than running after them or trying to attack back (both actions are magnetic for attaching to your thoughts), you dis-identify with the content of the thought. And then it's just another ephemeral flower, bloomed and now dying. And we are still here.

In this moment, you are giving yourself access to true self-esteem, true confidence. In a non-dualistic sense, there is no such thing as a self to have confidence in. True self-esteem comes from stillness and a relaxed knowing of the deeper essence of consciousness, the field out of which all individuals and our corresponding egos and ego trips arise.

So when you're able, when you're sitting back in the spacious place of observation, and you hear, "I'm a horrible person," you can benefit yourself most greatly by taking a breath right then. Inhale, exhale, drop out of the mind and feel the rippling sensations in your body. That wave is moving and if you allow it, it will move on out, and there will be calm before the next one comes.

In this culture, so set on having us constantly striving and wanting, driving us to do more and shift more and change more and heal more and lose more and earn more, we are terribly misguided to hitch our wagons to stars with no foundation. True worth, which is ultimately neutral and spacious, comes from calming and quieting the external chatter and breathing with the waves that inevitably arise in any human's experience.

All of the experiences we have that seem negative -- and all of those that seem positive, too, for the excitement of good times and success is simply the other side of the despair and failure coin -- have within them the golden opportunity to come into that self-loving space, that tender space that sees the poignancy in human experience and opens and welcomes it, transmuting the fear of wrongness into the great space of awakening.

This has been great to contemplate. Thank you so much for writing.


If other questions arise from this writing, please email