|One could reasonably say that our egos are totally structured around the need to defend ourselves from what we believe at our core we could not tolerate experiencing. From this standpoint, our spiritual path is to let ourselves make contact with what we are terrified to experience. This may sound too dark, too negative and too dramatic but if we examine many of the saints and revered spiritual people in our spiritual traditions, this is what they were willing to surrender to: the Buddha in his meditations, Christ on the Cross, Saint John of the Cross in his Dark Night of the Soul, St Anthony of the Desert, Milarepa facing the three demons in the cave.
To make this movement of surrender there must be great love, love and compassion for ourselves and love of the Truth that goes beyond the confines of our tight narrow confined egoic self. We cannot do this work from a place of self rejection for that is just more of the egoic self, wishing we were different than we were. The paradoxical thing is that when we allow ourselves to fall into the direct experience of our sadness, our fear, our sense of deficiency, our loneliness, our anger and even our resistance to feeling what we feel, a softening occurs. We are no longer fighting with ourselves. We are not engaged in a pity party, we are just attending to what is present right now, in our field of awareness. And that is what brings the healing, the making whole. What we feared would be the end of us is the entrance to the beginning of a new life, freed from egos demands and limitations.
In spiritual work there is a very real potential for our Super Ego to stealthily insert itself into our practice. The Super Ego often shows up as an Inner Critic, a Bully, a Pusher, a Perfectionist who remonstrates with us for failing to live up to our spiritual truths and ideals and pushes us to do better. Because we have spiritual aspirations, it is very tempting for us to listen to our Super Egos, conflating their toxic attacks on our well being with spiritual truths. Our Super Egos can be very creative at turning every new insight and teaching against us as they use them as grounds for new criticisms against us. Our Super Ego are incredibly skilled at cloaking their demands and attacks under what seem to be incontrovertible spiritual truths. They often rely on the general theme that our Egos are inherently bad and so we have to beat them out of ourselves. But the real impact of our Inner Critics is to keep us enslaved in internalized self judgment and self abuse and cut off from the true power of Love and Joy. This is very common in spiritual circles where psychological insight is not honored and the toxic effects of childhood abuse are not taken seriously.
In my therapy practice it is quite common for me to see a client initially suffering under a heavy weight of guilt, shame, anxiety and depression created by an Inner Critic that hides in the guise of “spiritual truth”. When this Inner Bully is exposed for the false prophet that it is, they begin to come out from under the weighty blanket of shame, a sense of deficiency and badness and to come alive, perhaps for the first time in their lives. The sad irony is that they have suffered under a false spirituality that taught them to doubt and hate their natural inclinations. So often the body takes a hard rap in spiritual traditions when in fact it is the mind that leads us astray with its belief in inherent sinfulness and depravity!
I recently had a client that realized that his so called “Maximizer” who promised to make his life meaningful was in fact a toxic impostor that kept him running on an endless treadmill of self improvement and self castigation when he did not “live up to his potential”. He had bought into the belief that, without this Inner Critic, he would never amount to much. In our culture that worships success this is a very real temptation, even for people with spiritual orientations. The success culture insidiously undermines spiritual aspiration and turns it into a toxic parody of itself where it becomes spiritual ambition. As he saw the Maximer for what it was and released it, his anxiety and depression lifted and he found a quiet joy and he began to trust that his life would unfold and flow organically forward to where he was intended to go without constant anxious self monitoring and self criticism.
QUESTION FOR SELF REFLECTION:
Where in your spiritual ideals and attitudes might an Inner Critic be hiding out?
Often this Inner Critic is so hidden from us that, initially, we cannot see it for what it is. One good indication that we are operating under its toxic influence is if there is any anxiety or depression present in our spiritual practice. If there is, most likely an Inner Critic is operating
ATTENDING TO THE HEART In my Soul Repair and Soul Work childhood trauma recovery groups I have participants put their hands over their hearts and attend to what is present there. Also, sometimes I have them put one hand over their hearts and one hand over their guts. One thing that this can do is to bring our awareness more deeply into connection with our heart and gut “brains”. There is clinical evidence that this is one way to synchronize the electrical patterns of the brain and the heart, which is important to good emotional self regulation. Try the following experiment the next time you are really upset about something. Rather than reaching for food or distraction or support outside of yourself, resolve to be present with yourself in the moment, especially with your heart region where much upset is experienced. Place one hand over your heart and feel into your heart space. Let go of any thoughts or memories or mental images if they arise and go back to your heart space. Breathe and gently stay present there. You may find that this helps you to calm down and think more clearly.
Many of us have got a strong Inner Control Freak (ICF). Its job, as it sees it, is to monitor our emotions and to make sure they stay in acceptable bounds – not too high not too low. And there are some emotions that they find unacceptable, such as sadness, fear, anger, etc. Vulnerability of course is a complete no no! That is just to too delicate, too uncontrollable…and too alive!! Then their job is to manage our emotions in whatever way they can, be it addictive processes or compulsive processes. These could be drugs, alcohol, food, workaholism, co-dependency, people pleasing – anything that will lower its anxiety about keeping our emotions in check.
The way that we work with our Inner Control Freaks is very straightforward; it’s just not always easy for us to tolerate. We let ourselves feel what we are feeling. Of course, the ICF is going to freak out about this, hence its name, Inner Control Freak. And we have to let it have its freak out and remember that this is not the truth of who we really are. The ICF will try to compel us to do whatever it takes to run away from our inner experience, to addictive or compulsive activities of one kind or another. And we refrain. Again and again we refrain. We let ourselves just be. And let God or our Higher Self handle our feelings.
Very simple. Not always so easy!
Blessings, Robert Cornell
And Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:3 NIV
Our ego defenses are incredibly strong. After all, they have been with us our whole lives to protect us from further hurt and harm. So they do not relent easily or quickly in allowing us to make contact with the tender vulnerability hiding below them. When we do make contact with this tenderness, it is not unusual for our defenses to freak out and try to shut the contact down as they have our whole life.
How our individual defenses react may look very different. Some of us will get aggressive and attack back. Or we may go to our friends and complain about how we have been done wrong. Or we may try to placate or manipulate. Or we may shut down or attack ourselves as being unworthy. In any event, what our defenses are trying to do is to keep us from feeling what they believe we can’t possible survive feeling.
Our work as spiritual beings is to learn to return again and again to the genuine tenderness that lies under our defenses. We do this with great self compassion and patience and persistence. Gradually over time we become more real, without artifice. We regain the openness and spontaneity we had as children, which is what Jesus is inviting us in this sermon to live into. It is not easy work but it is well worth it!
Blessings, Robert Cornell
One style of meditation could be described as resting in the seat of the Heart. This often starts as a devotional prayer that focuses on God, Jesus. Mother Mary, or other religious figures. It may start with words or images but eventually it empties of words and images and becomes a living presence, a dwelling in silence in the heart. In this practice, when our attention leaves the heart and gets involved with other things we gently brings it back down into the heart space again and again.
One challenge for this practice, in addition to the wandering mind, is when the heart space feels tight or cramped. This can be painful to experience, and yet we gently persist, perhaps putting our hand over our heart space to bring attention and comfort to the heart. Often what we are experiencing in these moments is one of our old wounds and so it take compassion and persistence to stay with the hurt. Gradually as we stay present, the Beloved will enter in and heal the wound. We don’t need to psychoanalyze it or try to fix it ourselves.
And sometimes as we bear with it, the gift of tears will manifest and we feel the Beloved’s presence in the heart of hearts. This can be a time of poignant sweetness where our sense of unworthiness, alienation and loneliness melt away and we stand in the presence of the Beloved. This happens in God’s time, not ours. It is ultimately a surrender into the arms of the Beloved.
In all the great spiritual traditions, community is valued highly. Why is this? Probably because the process of transformation from ego consciousness into Christ consciousness is so very, very challenging. So we need others for support and accountability on this long, rich and difficult journey to the Beloved. In the Buddhist tradition there are three treasures: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Buddha is enlightened mind. Dharma are the teachings that lead us to enlightened mind. And Sangha is the community of practitioners who support each other and practice together. Jesus said in one of this teachings, “wherever two or more of you are gathered in my name, I am with you.” Christianity is all about community – communion.
My wife will be with you tonight to lead the group. I will be on a Diamond Approach retreat and will be thinking of you tonight. We will be in our new home at the top of the stairs in what is called the Junior High Room. The sofas there are very comfy so come and sink into the Presence of the Beloved with us. Please come and be with community!
Just like a cloud floating in the air
When we bring our egoic consciousness to meditation we have a set up for a basic frustration. Egoic consciousness wants to have a goal so it can “do” something so that it can achieve something. It says essentially, “Give me something to do (meditation) so that I can then reach this great goal of enlightenment. Then when I reach this goal, I will be free of suffering and I can be happy.”
Already there lies the problem, for egoic consciousness has set up a goal that it is striving to attain. It is then alienated from BEING. BEING just IS. It does not do. It just is. Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:….sound familiar???
So we just sit and breathe and think and plan and struggle until we get tired of all of the trying and doing and we just gradually settle into being. Just breathing. Just …being. No goal to reach. No place to get to ….just right…here. No place else to go. No past no future. No goal to attain. So simple. So obvious that it isn’t obvious, at least to our poor goal oriented ego!
Blessings, Robert Cornell
Sometimes, because of a very difficult thing happening in our lives, our hearts seem to turn to stone: adamantine, cold, unfeeling. The emotions that are coming up for us feel too intense, too painful for us to let them surface. Our ego defenses, in their desperate attempts to protect us, harden our hearts. Then we feel like a rock: unbreakable but frozen and numb. The way forward to healing is to soften our hearts with deep compassion for ourselves. You might gently and lovingly put a hand over your heart space and talk to your heart thus: Yes I know what you are feeling is unbearable. It’s so painful. I’m here for you.
Playing soft tender music can open the floodgates of your heart to what is present for you. I heartily recommend the works of Arvo Part, Salve Regina, Spiegel im Spiegel, and Stabat Mater as particularly healing for the soft tender spot in your hurt heart. Perhaps journaling while you listen might open a conversation with your scared, shut down heart. Patience and consistent kindness are important when you are dealing with your heart that has clamped closed like an alarmed clam.