Monday, August 19, 2013

Awakening To The Heart Of My Own Being

The seed of awakening was planted deep within my heart after experiencing a tragic event that took place when I was only eight years old. In 1980 my father suffered a massive heart attack that completely disabled him for life. He was only thirty-three years old when it happened. He lost oxygen for seventeen minutes on and off. Extensive brain damage prevented him from regaining the ability to speak, walk or function normally ever again. It left him in a vegetative state and he was hospitalized for close to twenty-five years until he died in 2004.

My dad had always made me feel so safe as a child, and I naturally relied on his presence to give me this safety and comfort.  After this happened, it became clear to me at this early age that events in the outer world were not fundamentally reliable as a source of happiness, stability or comfort.  I couldn't trust life, yet this was impossible for me to digest fully at such a young age.  So, I shut down around it and went on in hopes to one day find the safety that I experienced with my dad.  I kept looking for it in relationships with men, in friendships, in food, exercise, dieting and finally I sought to find it in spiritual enlightenment.    

The first time I can remember my consciousness expand was when I was in college. I was walking home from class one day and all of the sudden my consciousness entered into a state of absolute vastness. In this place my sense of self was obliterated and I could not define anything. Definitions held no meaning to me. There was no ground to stand on or any reference point for what was happening. My mind looked to grasp onto anything familiar as I was taken over by stark raving fear. These episodes continued throughout my senior year in college and all I could think about was death and annihilation. I felt trapped by these thoughts and desperately wanted answers. But when I would describe what I was experiencing to others, I always got back a blank look from them. No one seemed to be able to identify with my experience of the vastness. This left me feeling extremely isolated and like there was something terribly wrong with me. I can remember making a conscious decision to do everything I could to distract myself from this and go on living like everyone else. However, that didn't really work.

Throughout my twenties I found myself contemplating God a lot and reading books about the after-life. I had grown up Catholic, believing in Jesus but never felt connected to religion or God. After my dad's heart attack, my mom experienced what is known to many as Shaktipat (an act of grace given by the Divine). At some point during her darkest moments, she found herself on her knees praying to Mother Mary asking for her help to lead her to Christ. She felt there was nowhere left to turn and the question "why did this happen" overtook her being. It was right then in the midst of her deepest suffering and vulnerability that she awakened to Christ's presence, and had a glimpse of her true nature. She said that this left her with a knowing that no matter what happened with my dad, she knew it was going to be okay, that it really was all okay because she felt this energetic presence that was "not from this world", as she called it. This gave me hope that there was some kind of God, but it didn't take away the profound fear of death and annihilation that I continued to experience on and off throughout my twenties.

It was not until my thirtieth birthday that I felt like my prayers were finally answered. I was living in Northern California at the time and things appeared to be better on the surface. I had been able to distract myself enough from the existential angst and was living what most would call a successful life. I was married, had a high paying job and had just achieved my weight loss goal and ran a marathon. It was during this time period that I met my former spiritual teacher. I had bonded deeply with a co-worker from my job (who years later became my husband and deepest spiritual comrade) and really began to open up about how painful my life really was underneath it all. He let me know about Satya'Ama Adoyta, his spiritual teacher that he had been studying with and recommended I see her.

This meeting was one of the most significant events in my life and the second catalyst in awakening me to my deepest self. As I began to share my experiences of the vastness with her I felt a deep sense of relief. My teacher was the first person that was able to explain what was happening to me in such a way that made perfect sense. There wasn't anything fundamentally wrong with me; the vastness was actually my true nature making itself known to me.

Driven by my relentless desire to realize this truth, I spent the next decade living in an ashram (a spiritual community) in Northern California, immersed in a spiritual practice given by my teacher that included Vedantic meditation, Self-enquiry, tantric teachings of India and yogic disciplines that I practiced in all areas of my life.

I dove deep into my enquiry around existence and fell apart completely. I experienced the dark night of the soul and felt a sense of homelessness that I could not escape. I felt like I was in a black hole and would never come out of it. My teacher's wisdom and understanding around surrender and letting go was so invaluable to me, though she couldn't do it for me. She couldn't open my eyes. I had to stay and keep staying, and showing up as best as I could to hear the teachings. And then after about a two-year period of living in this horrific state something shifted. I could tacitly feel that God or Consciousness Itself was real...not just a belief to comfort me. This experience put me on the map of reality and gave me the courage to keep exploring.

My teacher also helped me make the connection that when we cut off from pain in life, we are not able to access the love that is our very nature. This helped me begin to face the profound sense of loss and pain I felt around my relationship with my Dad. The more I got in touch with this pain, the more connected I began to feel to life, myself and all my relationships. My teacher’s unique way of communicating the teaching of transcendence and a more relaxed participation in life spoke deeply to me; I never thought there would come a time that I would want to move on from her or her teaching work.

However, in the early summer of 2009 everything changed. My awareness brought to light an unhealthy dependency that I had with my teacher and I was naturally led to move on from her work and the community. It became clear that even though I had experienced a deep shift in my consciousness, I was still looking to my teacher as the ultimate authority figure in my life and I needed to explore spiritual life and awakening on my own terms. I consider this time period as being fundamental to the realization of my own true nature.

In the years that followed, this honesty with myself just continued. There were some excruciating dark moments, but my journey had already shown me that discomfort and uncertainty were the portals into greater freedom, so it was natural to keep trusting in the unknown territory.  There were a few spiritual teachers (Saniel Bonder and Linda Groves-Bonder of Waking Down in Mutuality) that I encountered after leaving my teacher that were very helpful. I was encouraged to trust my heart and embrace the parts of myself that I had been denying so that I could feel “whole”.  The more I relaxed into my present experience and just let myself be, I didn't need to push anything away or look to find anything. I sat with open eyes, as the mess, chaos and darkness itself and was left with a simple knowing - that I was completely whole within and as the brokenness. I immediately felt a relaxation occur deep within my being - the seeking to be something other than what I simply am subsided and has never returned. Even while I experience resistance, anger, self-consciousness and all the distasteful waves of being, I no longer feel like they shouldn't be happening on a fundamental level. I no longer experience myself separate from them, nor am I trying to get rid of them as a means to define myself in any way. This has given me a deep trust in the blood and guts of life and naturally allows for the deepening to occur with more grace and ease.

This realization changed everything for me. From that point on, there was an underlying yes to life, no matter what was occurring for me. I felt a fundamental trust in life and the full allowance of being. This affected all of my relationships, as it gave me the ability to stay present and open beyond where I would want to close down. My communication with my husband became more vulnerable and real. I could no longer hide behind any spiritual realization or stay committed to pride or righteousness in the same way. The more honest I got with myself around seeing my strategies to protect and defend, the easier it was to just confess it in the moment and allow a more vulnerable conversation to emerge. One that was based in trust and not from fear. This has allowed my husband and me to meet in ways that I never imagined were possible. And this continues to be our dance together to this day.

Today, I support others who are called to awaken into their true nature.  I view my relationship, being a parent, my work in the world and all aspects of daily life as the ultimate invitation and catalyst to see the Divine in every moment and thus deepen into Love.  My greatest joy is helping others to use their life challenges and difficulties as a portal into remembering the deepest part of who they are. 

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