(Continued from a previous post: Responsibility: if there is no doer and no-self, and if there no nobody here doing anything, then what about responsibility?)
Question: You mentioned earlier that the heart opens? That sounds rather fluffy and vague to me – what does it mean?
Tom: Yes, I know, it’s a bit of a vague term, but I like it! What I call heart opening is not the same as Freedom – it’s important to realise that – but there is a relationship between the two. The heart can open to a large extent without Freedom being realised, and conversely Freedom can be realised and the heart not be open. However the heart can only really fully open when Freedom has been realised, and by that I mean when the notion and sense of doership has been seen through and seen to be false.
So what is heart opening? Well it happens differently with different people, depending on their conditioning, but essentially it is an openness of the emotional centre and a tendency towards feeling open, loving, peaceful and joyous.
Question: What do you mean by ‘openness of the emotional centre’?
Tom: I mean a willingness to feel one’s feelings, really feel what you’re feeling. When this happens, when we allow feelings to come and go, over time our emotions start to balance out and a feeling of wellbeing and love can start to naturally emerge.
We start to feel happier, more grateful, more loving, kinder, and more considerate. A sense of wellbeing becomes our norm. These are the characteristics of an open heart, a loving heart, and as I said, it can occur before of after enlightenment (realising Freedom), or not at all.
Q: Does that mean that you become unconditionally loving all the time?
Good question. Of course, like all subtle objects (such as emotions, feelings and mental states), emotional love and compassion also come and go. This is quite natural. You are not necessarily loving 100% of the time, far from it! You remain thoroughly human: you can get irritated by relatively superficial things, you may feel grumpy if you haven’t had enough sleep, but the tendency is more towards those loving emotions.
You see in Freedom it doesn’t matter: you are not trying to be loving or kind, you are not trying to open the heart. It’s something that can’t be forced, and the heart is naturally more open at some times compared to at other times. That is fine, and that’s just how it goes. Sometimes it’s good for the heart to be closed. But, when it’s safe to do so, we can allow ourselves to feel whatever we are feeling, not pushing ourselves, not forcing our heart open or becoming overly sentimental, but by just being real with who we are at this moment in time.
This willingness to feel is a form of fearlessness. We are unafraid to feel, we are unafraid to feel unhappy, we are unafraid to feel even fear. When we are essentially unafraid of our feelings, we start to become extraordinarily sensitive. Lots of emotions and feelings can flood in, feelings we may have held back and suppressed for many years. Energetically and emotionally this can be a time of great ups and downs in our ‘spiritual-emotional’ journey.
Our emotional apparatus, over time, becomes more sensitive and we learn who we are on an emotional level. Over time our emotions start to balance our and come into alignment with the body and the world. At this point we can learn to better trust our emotions as a source of intelligence and allow them to guide us in our actions and relationships.
Q: Did you say that heart opening can come before or after Enlightenment? (To be continued in a future post)
Q: I’ve noticed that I often feel less than I did before, for example I care less about some things now (To be continued in a future post)
Could you please help me to deal with the agony I feel in connection with the suffering of animals in the world? I am so utterly moved by every sign of an animal’s suffering, that I don’t feel even glimpses of peace anymore. The latest news was how in some Asian country they use dogs’ fur, and to get it without having the cavaderic rigidity ruining the fur’s quality, the furs are pulled across the ears of the dog with alive body and unimaginable torments. And this is, of course, just one example of many. But I suffer even when I witness how an animal in my neighborhood is not treated with love and kindness.
Could you please share with me how you explain the suffering in the world and what you would recommend to someone like me?
Thank you so much for reading this!
There are indeed many terrible things happening in this world, and animal suffering, especially at the hands of humans, is certainly one of them.
So firstly, who says you shouldn’t feel upset when you see animals suffer? Who says you shouldn’t feel pain, sorrow and anger? What’s wrong with feeling so-called negative emotions? Perhaps these thoughts are natural and appropriate, perhaps it is natural for the human organism to feel angry or upset when it perceives injustice and cruelty, perhaps emotions are there to guide us and inform the quality and energy of our response to situations life throws at us – perhaps – who am I or anyone else to tell you otherwise? And more importantly, how will you find out for yourself what is true?
If you accept my or someone else’s answer, that’s second hand knowledge, that’s a belief, a theory to be stored away in your mind along with other theories it has collected. And beliefs and theories can always be doubted. If you are like me, there’s always a corner of your mind that can (and will) doubt the belief. What’s important is that you find out for yourself. So how will you do this?
I recommend you watch yourself, look at yourself, your reactions, how you respond. Write down and/or talk about how it makes you feel when you see animals suffer. Writing things down can be particularly powerful. Notice the thoughts that appear. Notice the words that appear in your head, the narrative. Are there angry thoughts? How do you feel about those who perpetrate these horrific acts? Be honest now, be honest with yourself. Do you judge them? Do you hate them? Do you understand them? Do you forgive them? Find out your genuine thoughts and feelings, allow your mind to speak its truth, find out for yourself. Feel how it feels in your body too. Discover the truth of your reactions on the mental, emotional, and feeling levels. Now you are learning about yourself, your psychology, who you are, discovering, uncovering. This is firsthand factual information, not based on beliefs.
Now, you say that you no longer even feel ‘glimpses of peace’ anymore. A level of emotion that regularly overwhelms you or prevents you functioning in daily life indicates to me that perhaps there are some unresolved issues in you (I say ‘perhaps’ because I do not know for sure – only you can know for sure, only you can find out if my words are true for you – maybe they are not true, maybe they do not apply to you).
Sometimes when we have unresolved issues with ourselves, for examples perhaps we have been mistreated in the past, we project our sadness and pain onto other beings, such as animals. When we see animals suffer, we not only respond to their suffering but we also project our past hurts and suffering onto them, thus adding to the pain felt. This distorts and clouds our emotional response. Again, see if this is true for you. Have you been mistreated in the past? Does the way you feel when you see animals suffering remind you of how you felt when you were younger? Is there still unresolved pain at play? If there is, then gently and lovingly healing this pain will go a long way to re-balancing your emotional response to animal suffering, or any other suffering for that matter, and allow your emotions to more effectively and accurately guide you through life.
In my own experience, when emotions are explored, felt, understood and allowed to flow, the unresolved hurts and pains often underlie them can be brought to the surface and lovingly healed. Distorted concepts and thinking can also be exposed and seen through. Our thoughts and feelings become aligned to reality. Then thoughts, feelings and emotions can become our friends, our guides. They can tell us when someone has crossed the line, when our boundaries have been trespassed, or when we perhaps have gone too far. They can also tell us when something is right, when something is good, when something is working well. This is all part of our intuitive sense, our natural intelligence.
For me personally, every now and then emotions pour through. For example when I see humans, animals or children suffer. Or when I watch a film or hear lyrics that touch something in me. The emotion pours in, and at the same time that’s ok. And because it’s ok on a deeply felt level, not just conceptually, there’s no suffering. Emotion, yes, but no suffering. Sometimes I chose to turn away from watching something cruel on TV to avoid that emotional response, and that’s ok too. I can see why I do it. It’s ok. I accept myself. Sometimes I can see how a past hurt or current attachment may be playing its role in distorting my emotions. And that’s ok. That’s naturally lovingly allowed. And sometimes healing, a deep healing comes from all of this loving acceptance, this Presence that naturally and effortlessly is. Or perhaps it doesn’t. Either way is fine.
It’s a wonderful mystery to me how this all works. Even though I could probably make sense of it psychologically and scientifically, at the heart of it, it’s all a wonderful mystery.
And why all this terrible suffering? I don’t know. I won’t give you some philosophical platitude or logical statement – because the truth is I don’t know. And it can be terrible. But we find ourselves on this world nonetheless, and we find ourselves living this life, having these feelings, dealing with what comes our way…
There is more I could say, but I’ll leave you with the above for now. Let me know how it all goes and please feel free to ask further questions.
With love and gratitude
Ask a thousand questions,
Receive a thousand answers,
The real answer is not in words:
It’s the Presence that always is.
Thoughts want to know what real,
Want to have it all figured out,
One day it’s all seen through,
What’s left is the Presence that always is.
When you can, stop. Allow silence to gently fill you up,
Feel it bloom and grow within your heart,
That warm glow, that inner light, infiltrating everything,
The Presence that always is.
Feelings come and go,
Sometimes flowing, sometimes sticky,
‘Embrace them with’, ‘allow them to merge into’,
The Presence that always is.
Deep within your heart,
Presence emanates and embraces,
The sacred heart within and without, embracing all,
The Presence that always is.
The totality of experience,
‘Body’, ‘mind’ and ‘world’,
Everything that is happening or has ever happened,
Is just this Presence that always is.
Who am I…? Presence is here
Silence…Presence is here
Preoccupied with thought and deed…Presence is here
Hurt and afraid…The Presence that always is.
Life and laughter…Presence is here
Tears and pain…Presence is here
Not sure what going on? Presence is here
Now what do I do? ……………………
See also I AM
In my life I’ve encountered lots of different spiritual practices and philosophies, from New Age and Self-Help to Theravada Buddhism and Kashmir Shaivism. I’ve gained from almost every teaching I’ve read, some more so than others of course. But spiritual teachings have not been the things that I have found most healing in my life – it was my relationships that really helped me grow and feel whole. Specifically it was a long-term, loving and supportive relationship that helped me grow the most.
Sure, the spiritual teachings gave me insights, transcendental experiences and made me feel happier in many ways, but it was through a caring and trusting relationship that I allowed myself to open up, love and forgive myself. I was accepted in the eyes of another, and that allowed me to accept myself, to love and be kind to myself.
I was accepted in the eyes of another, and that allowed me to accept myself, to love and be kind to myself.
Much of our self-image is created through our relationships. Children learn about what is good and bad behaviour from what other people say to them and how other people react to them. They learn if they are beautiful or ugly, too fat or too skinny, clever or stupid, naughty or polite, ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – all these are learnt through what other people have fed back to them. Relationships create self-esteem – both high and low.
It seems fitting therefore, that if relationships and interactions with people can destroy a sense of self-worth, that relationship can also be beneficial in repairing a negative self-image which in turn can repair all sorts of resultant negative self-isolating coping strategies.
…if relationships and interactions with people can destroy a sense of self-worth…relationship can also be beneficial in repairing a negative self-image
In a spiritual context, I think this is where the Guru-disciple relationship traditionally has been so powerful. For those who don’t know, a Guru is simply the Sanskrit word for a spiritual teacher. Literally the word means ‘heavy’ (heavy with spiritual teaching), but a more creative etymology states that guru means ‘dispeller of darkness’ or ‘bringer of light’.
Whilst I have never had a guru (I consider life to be my guru – how new-age!), I can see how the dissemination of a spiritual teaching tradition in the context of a caring supportive relationship with a Guru could work wonders. I was always reading books in order to understand the spiritual stuff and never had that opportunity to learn at the feet of a guru – and when I did I never really trusted them anyway. In fact being near a guru, especially their feet, was the last thing on my mind in my journey. And the ones who demanded unconditional faith – that set my alarm bells ringing straight away. There have been so many gurus, both East and West, that have used, abused, manipulated and extorted their followers that it’s difficult to keep count of them.
There have been so many gurus, both East and West, that have used, abused, manipulated and extorted their followers that it’s difficult to keep count of them.
But there have been countless examples through the ages of how spiritual seekers, through simply trusting their guru, went on to attain liberation. The example of Nisargadatta Maharaj springs to mind – he trusted his guru’s advice to remain in the ‘I AM’ and after 2 years or so he was apparently self-realised or enlightened.
Traditionally in the Indian subcontinent, a guru may be someone who the family knows quite well. They would usually be male, but not always. In more ancient times the spiritual seeker would often live with the guru, perhaps even for several years before the actual spiritual teaching was taught. Up until that point they would be simply living in the forest with each other: talking, cooking, eating, working the land. They would know each other as brothers would, and in that context there was time for respect, trust and mutual affection to develop. The spiritual aspirant would be able to scrutinise the Guru and see if he truly lived his teaching, or if he only spoke of the Holy but did not embody it.
I feel nostalgic for that kind of ancient exotic guru, someone versed in the highest spiritual and meditative teachings, someone who deeply cared for me and I also cared for, someone I could give myself to and in whose love and spiritual presence I could heal myself.
But that was not, and is not my life. Instead I am thankful for my soulmate and wife, and the healing she has brought me through both the ups and downs of our relationship. Yes, I said earlier that life is my guru, but so is my wife.
Do you have a ‘guru’? Or have you had many ‘gurus’ in your life? Remember, a guru doesn’t have to be a person.