As a writer, it’s my dharma or duty to go through my joy and agony publicly.
Having made a mistake yesterday (the details of which are not important since suffering is generic), I am at the crossroads where all of us find ourselves at a moment like this.
I could go down one road and blame others while excusing and justifying myself. That would add to my story and remove me further from the present. It would leave me with something whose details I’d have to remember through many rehearsals and make right forever. I’d be wedded to my story and end up being self-righteous.
Or I could go down a second road, which involves experiencing each emotion that arises, noticing the memories attached to it, and completing the experience until emotion and memory disappear.
Ancient and modern sages call this second road purifying oneself, cleansing oneself, repenting of sin, redeeming oneself, going through fire, and so on.
Jesus said of it, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (Jesus in John 8:32.) I grant that Jesus is referring to the Absolute Truth here, but his words are as relevant and applicable to the relative plane as they are to the Absolute.
The truth of what is transpiring within one’s mind and body, seen, experienced, and completed, will set you free from the attendant mental stress, physical holding, and emotional anguish.
Well, back to me here in anguish.
Making a really big mistake is wonderful because it allows a writer to communicate the whole practice of getting rid of one’s baggage. If I wasn’t in a huge upset, how could I describe what it was like?
The main thing I want to say here is that I cannot complete this upset if I relate to it as if it were somehow a singular matter. There are many feelings piled one on top of the other and I’m having to go down through one level after another.
Having gone down through one level only to encounter another, I could say, ah, to heck with it. It isn’t worth it. I’m gonna look for an excuse for myself and blame the other guy. I’ve spent long enough on this. Let’s go have a drink.
That’s the easy road out. But, knowing what I know about Ascension, I have to do this work – now or later.
So I persevere and say to myself, you know darn well that there may be several layers of feelings you have to go through, each most likely with a different memory attached. Start in.
I went first down through the obvious and most pressing feeling – shame. I had screwed up. I saw my mother writing me when I was a college student and making a pretty straight comment about a stupid article I had written in the university newspaper. Ugh.
Shame gradually lifted. The truth of my memory and a willingness to feel the shame and not run from it had set me free from it.
I now felt guilt. I saw myself after my mother died in a fire and heard myself berating myself for not being there to help her. These thoughts are not logical and their rise does not follow any particular order. This was just the next thought there was.
These were obvious feelings to connect with. They were right there at the top of the heap to be re-experienced. Still there were more.
I felt inadequate. I had failed and I saw myself in similar situations which, at the time, I regarded as failures. Stupid comments made in Ph.D. exams. Having two dissertations turned down because I insisted on writing on what I wanted to write about. Not being selected for jobs. Being fired from a job.
Lots of memories came up and I had to lie down to just be with them until they all cleared. They could not be rushed. This process has its own timetable.
Then loneliness arose and the memories of relationships that had broken up and the long periods of loneliness while I replaced those people in my life. At this point, I became surprised at how many feelings were triggered by the present incident.
By now I am feeling that it all must be over. I am feeling reasonably restored to Self. I am able now to listen to other people who are making very helpful suggestions or mirroring me back to myself.
Now is a dangerous time because I could think I’m all done and ready to leave the hospital. But I’m not.
Still I can feel some lurking emotions, subtle but just as much able to upset the apple cart as any, unless cleared.
It is these lurking emotions that are really what are meant by Hindus when they use the word “vasana.”
“Vasana” is a Vedantic term for a persistent reaction pattern triggered by a current upset which resembles a past upset.
These barely-experienced feelings are the seeds of later upsets. They are certainly unfinished business which I must attend to, especially since I have come this far.
I breathe deeply into these emotions, watching to see where I am holding or what the quality of the feeling is.
Ah, this is a wistful feeling that attaches to stepping out, doing something that I think is a good thing, thinking I just made a contribution, only to have things go horribly wrong.
This is an interesting feeling because it’s the first one where I experience myself having acted on choice. Up till now, all the baggage is about incidents where I have screwed up unconsciously or people have left me.
But here enters choicefulness and consciousness. Hence the feeling is wistful.
Now I see myself with my first girlfriend, whom I was mad about, but whom I knew I could not settle down with. My actions to end the relationship then were halfhearted but conscious. Looking back on that time, I feel wistful. It was wistfulness, a feeling of wanting to step out and take independent action, that had me act in the present in a way that so came back at me.
Wistfulness having been completed, I breathe deeply to see what, if anything, is left. At this moment I feel blissful again.
I have not changed any external circumstance. My mistake has not disappeared. I meet it head-on in the present moment. But I can now address it with presence, rather than leading a bunch of gremlins into a fray.
I check again, just in case. I take a deep breath in and see if there is any muscular holding in my throat or chest as I breathe. No holding but I do detect yet another feeling.
Now I am feeling sadness. It begins as a subtle emotion, another seed-feeling, but soon works its way to the surface and I am crying. I hear myself saying “I am not smart enough to avoid making mistakes.” I am now about ten years old.
It begins to change from sadness to a kind of ennui. I hear myself saying, “What am I to do?”
I am a child of six now who has made his first big mistake and someone older than I is mad at me. The tears come pouring out. My life is ruined. Moreover, my future life looks terrifying. How can I prevent myself from making a big mistake again? I continue to cry. I allow myself to sob.
“Life is scary.” I am left in an existential dilemma.
Shall I go forward, given that life is scarey?
I am left back at a fundamental choicepoint, the original crossroads, the first occasion on which I choose to go ahead in the direction I was going, with life being free as a breeze, or to deviate.
I make no choice.
I choose just to stand here, enjoying the freedom from the upset. I choose this moment.
And immediately, standing here at the crossroads, the choice becomes clear to me. I choose this free life, this breeze-like life. If ever I have a bigger brain, if ever I increase my know-how, it will not be at the expense of this freedom, this bliss I feel at this moment.
I am through my process and the situation is concluded. I have no ability at this time to relate what I have learned to whatever it was that brought the process on. I am not in my head. I am not able to think.
I have dropped a ton of baggage and I am not inclined to go back into the upset and make logical sense out of it.
I shall turn off this machine, walk out into the sunny day, and …