That which is not used becomes obsolete, whereas what is resisted is kept in the forefront of attention. Thus, the creative principle of change initially entails a thorough recognition and consequent discarding of old “tapes”, or storyline scripts, that we have used to assemble, reinforce, and perpetuate our sense of self, the one we have taken to be the central character — “me”. In other words, it involves identifying and then eliminating what doesn’t work, including our neurotic personal self-images that keep us fixated in dysfunctional relationships to life.
To illustrate with one example, I spent a part of my professional career conflicted about living and working in the world, rather than isolated in some “spiritual” community, where I imagined I would be able to make more “progress” towards liberation. It was this very story I kept telling myself that robbed the life I was actually involved in of any power to awaken me, since I was always projecting the real work to be “elsewhere”.
Of course, the more I reinforced my fixed idea, the more self-confirming it became. It was only when I was eventually able to recognize how I was seriously limiting myself by clinging to a narrow “either/or” position that I was finally able to discard the old presumptions and allow my present circumstance, whatever it might be, to serve as the fuel for real liberation.
Rather than waging a prolonged battle with this fictional entity we have created over the course of our lives, we can simply cease granting it any enduring and concrete reality by shifting our attention to awareness itself — in other words, shifting our attention to being aware of being aware, prior to the whole narrative and architecture of personhood, as well as the ensuing complication that artificial edifice implies.
This “house-cleaning” can be initiated by first developing the capacity for calm abidance in silence, where we can better inspect the subterranean elements of our psyche that have been driving behavior and affecting our relations without our conscious knowledge or consent. As we become more accustomed to calm, silent abidance, there is more possibility of open space between perception and reaction, and it is in that spaciousness that we are able to detach enough to begin to “see the forest through the trees”.
From the detached vantage point provided by such stillness, we can then delve into our original motives that led to the creation of our current circumstances. Without clarity here, any effort to make substantial life changes that we might undertake will be tainted by old uninspected and chaotic influences, which will in turn hamper our necessary clarity and integration, compounding our sense of frustration and inner division. The entire structure of our desires and their ramifications needs to be confronted, seen through, and released, to avoid the classic trap of “spiritual by-pass”.
We need to honestly and thoroughly inspect what it is that we have we been doing which is chronically sabotaging our core heart yearning. Once any conflicted programming is recognized and the “bugs” eliminated, we cease to fuel dysfunctional patterns. For that reason, all unconscious mental and emotional habits and their causal negative conditioning need to be brought into the light of day and revealed for the obstructions that they are. In this conscious process, “old tapes” naturally become obsolete when we cease investing in them. This is why the wise suggest that we “empty the teacup” before filling it again with the fresh tea of projected changes.
Once re-aligned with our heart’s true desire, we are ready to combine sincere intent with undivided attention. Solidifying this combination through persistent positive reinforcement is the key to success in terms of making skillful changes in our life and relations. It is an uncompromising yoga in that respect, which requires steady devotion in order to reap results. With the noisy onslaught of conflicting messages and the relentless bombardment of media-driven distractions that characterize today’s social environment, honing one-pointed concentration is more of a challenge now than ever, but what is the option?
Certainly, establishing relationships with those who will support our goals is a great help, and hence the Buddhist ideal of “sangha”, or community of truth lovers. Shared spiritual intimacy with good friends has real power to carry us through the ups and downs which we are bound to encounter. A qualified guide who has already traveled the path we wish to tread can also be helpful in terms of pointing out blind spots and potential dead ends.
Furthermore, wedding our refreshed and awake intent to the “Cosmic Will” can help to insure that our motives remain pure and on-track. Such “union” is no obscure mystery, but really a matter of aligning thought-energy with the order of the universe. This can be done by us “stepping out of the way”, so to speak, and letting ourselves be lived by Love. After all, what other force in the universe would have our best interests at heart more than Love?
Letting oneself be lived does not mean that we must rely on some higher power outside of ourselves, however. On the contrary, to let go and embrace the unknown is most intimate, since it involves relaxing into full acceptance of the Love that we already are, and always have been. It is an act of genuine humility, without which, no real transformation is possible. Such humility is the red carpet to “getting back into our right mind”, in other words, but is only genuine when it is based on the recognition that all methods, schemes, and escape plans one has employed are destined to fail, as long as one is basing them on the presumed reality of a permanent and substantial person, a “me”.
This genuine humility is not a matter of neurotic self-humiliation, nor does it consist of humbling oneself before some external divinity, as many of the man-made religions would have it. Rather, it entails the recognition that I do not really know what anything is. In fact, I exist in a total state of not knowing, this is my fundamental condition, and so ego-mind has no place to plant a flag and turn my efforts at change into just another vanity project. It’s what real freedom is all about, in that respect, since there is nothing there to manipulate or corrupt.
From that “place” of not knowing, we can see things as they are, without the superimposition of provisional knowledge, beliefs, or conditioned programs, and it is only when we are able to see clearly that we are capable of making the changes in our attitudes and behavior that truly serve us and our relations. Paradoxically, it is only by virtue of this clarified vision that we may ultimately come to the direct recognition that there is nothing and nobody to change. As Sri Nisargadatta points out:
“Nothing you do will change you, for you need no change. You may change your mind or your body, but it is always something external to you that has changed, not yourself. Why bother at all to change? Realize once for all that neither your body nor your mind, nor even your consciousness is yourself and stand alone in your true nature beyond consciousness and unconsciousness. No effort can take you there, only the clarity of understanding. Trace your misunderstandings and abandon them, that is all. There is nothing to seek and find, for there is nothing lost.”
Indeed, at this stage we can recognize that all of our fuss and bother, all of our self-concern and busy efforts to modify, please, and perfect ourselves, has been based on a case of mistaken identity. The direct recognition of the emptiness of the personal self is a great relief, liberating us from the endless “me-project” that has so occupied our life and infected our relations with its insistent demands for confirmation and feeding.
Freed from the heavy weight of the self-fixation, we need not worry about changing a person who, after all, is merely a bundle of thoughts and memories. Whatever is in need of change will happen spontaneously, without the superimposition of a make-believe doer to complicate life’s flowing functioning.
Indeed, it is only by seeing through and surrendering all of our previous identifications with the body-mind-self (as well as its need for validation, preservation, and enhancement) that we are finally available to be changed by the universal intelligence which is always manifesting as that very life and love from which we have never truly been divided.
“You need not do anything,
remain sitting at your table and listen.
You need not even listen, just wait.
You need not even wait,
just learn to be quiet, still and solitary
and the world will freely offer itself to you unmasked.
It has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”