However, most people have been trained by society to seek relief and not release. This post is part of my ongoing re-definition of different terms, and in this post, I encourage you to think of relief as:
The removal of external pressure on a hot button issue.
You can think of release as:
Removal of the hot button issue.
With that said, let's talk about where most of us are coming from and how to embrace the process of release.
The Spiritual Awakening JoltWhen someone rings the bell and turns on the light suddenly in the dead of night, it can be very disorienting. That's how many people come to this blog: completely disoriented. My job isn't so much to tell the person what to do, but to help them calm down and observe what they already know they need to do. If when you awakened you notice that your life is a mess, then start by relaxing into acceptance of this fact. This is one of the first big moments where we are re-training our mind and ego to better serve our spirits. The social conditioning is typically a form of denial, avoidance, or running away. Social conditioning would prefer to blame something, and people often blame the awakening for this mess. But this inner mess was already here. The light in the room did not cause it; it is only illuminating it.
And sometimes that light packs quite a jolt when it flips on.
The Futile Attempt to Avoid YourselfYet, for most of our lives we've been avoiding ourselves. We've been avoiding doing what we need to do to live the life that we are called to live. We do it because we are taught that our heart and soul's ideas about how to live are wrong or impractical. We do it because most of the people around us are doing the same thing and our families do not have the mental, emotional, spiritual, and sexual tools to teach us how to embrace all of ourselves and to deal with issues. So we live ourselves running from ourselves. We run by constantly doing things. We run by trying to achieve goals. We run by trying to hide in romantic relationships. We run by listening to media, music, TV, and Internet all the time. We run, and we run until we are fortunate enough to hit a wall. Then, there is an opportunity for some small amount of self-realization.
If an awakening is that wall and you've truly never faced yourself, the terror can be immense. This is simply the terror of seeing what you've been running from.
The Element of ReliefPart of that running is finding ways to achieve temporary relief. Temporary pain relief is the hallmark of Western Society.
So our love life is a mess, and we go out partying, drugging, screwing, and drinking. Of course, the next morning feels terrible, so we find something else to make us feel better (often more drugs or pain relievers). The amount of pain and suffering we are storing inside of us, however, is growing because of these unhealthy pain relief mechanisms. This only adds to the required inner clean-up we need to do.
So we are out of a job. We work like crazy to find a new one. When we find a new job, the fear/pain is gone. The issue that was being activated is no longer being pressurized until you lose/leave this next job. And of course, in many ways, the fear is metamorphosized even in the job. So at this new job, you may also be acting out of fear, and it's why you suck-up to the boss, try to make everyone do things your way, and other forms of acting out. These are all founded in the fear of losing your job and in the feeling you felt when you were out of work. Thus, even here, the pain relief isn't complete.
I can go on and on with examples. Instead, I invite you to begin to see how you use different situations, relationships, things, and actions to avoid elements of yourself. See what is simply a part of your life so you can avoid feeling or dealing with difficult issues.
The Element of ReleaseWhere relief can only be supplied when life goes according to what you want, release arises from within. So life can still be difficult and uncomfortable, but it doesn't matter. The deeper the release of a core issue, the more you naturally are unperturbed by whatever the external world is doing (and trust me, the external world will not cease to be perturbing, annoying, or painful any time soon).
This is part of why building a crucible to intensify the flames of an awakening is important. Many spiritual retreats are essentially facilitating this type of crucible. It is not meant to be comfortable because usually you have to get the heat up to a certain temperature before you start to release issues. We are so committed to being in pain that it takes all this energy just to get us to let go. It doesn't have to be that way, mind you, but this is how we approach it.
Consider being in an abusive relationship with your spouse or partner. Many people are so committed to being in the relationship that they are in total denial of how horrible it is. When life finally forces someone out of this situation, they may immediately feel better. The same goes for what is happening on the inner landscape with releases. You begin to see all these issues you are carrying and how deeply interwoven they are in your life. Then the fire begins to build.
Fanning the Flames of Your LiberationYou cannot know the intensity of this process until you have felt it, and each issue is different and requires its own intensity. It's always changing. It doesn't matter if you've met an element of fear a hundreds of times. Each time it arises anew, it seems to require a different quality of love and presence, and it often brings with it different qualities of discomfort. I can't tell you how uncomfortable I have been. I have truly been humbled to see the many levels and depth of fear and self-loathing that have been caked instead of me, but the release and liberation from much of it is equally extraordinary. I can only give you ideas of what it feels like, and as I've released more and more, I am getting quite comfortable feeling truly good and healthy on the inside instead of the discontent, restlessness, and stuckness that were with me for most of my life.
You too can do this. Some of you already are. Some of you know how wonderful it is to release issues, and this often makes spiritual healing even a little addicting. It can turn into a self improvement trap, but for the sake of this post, let's stay focused on what intentions and love are required to fan the flames and build an appropriate intensity to help you free yourself.
Identification of the Activated IssueKnowing yourself requires an active engagement with the process of knowing yourself. If you just want to know how to feel good all the time, then you are not engaged. Life doesn't feel good all the time; I wish it did. To truly know ourselves means that we delve into the pain and the joy within us. It means we go into why we do the things we do and why we think the way we think. This is a very helpful psychological introspection, and of course, psychologist, therapists, and psychiatrists are particularly helpful practitioners who can offer valuable insight in addition to you own. This is also where I encourage people to journal. It isn't so much about writing down what things have happened or what you have done. It is more important to begin to understand the how and the why. How you co-created a difficult relationship or a difficult job is more important than complaining that your love doesn't do what you want or that your job sucks. Leave the whiner/complainer at the door. They're not helping.
The more you understand yourself, the more you can identify what is activating (or upsetting) you. This is where we have a sacred pause. Because we are so trained to jump to conclusions, take actions to runaway or drive-away discomfort, and otherwise react without thinking, pausing is crucial. Take a few deep breaths and ask yourself, "Why are you uncomfortable?"
This is the start. You may never have thought this way, so you probably won't have very good answers to this initial question. As you drill down, I've found that the next question is something like, "And why is this a problem?"
"Why am I uncomfortable?"
My girlfriend just left me.
"And why is this a problem?"
Because now I'm alone.
"And why is this a problem."
Because I don't want to be alone.
"Why is that?"
It can get really interesting really fast, and you may be surprised at how much you are addicted to the praise, validation, and acknowledgement of the external world.
Continuing to Go WithinThe practice in learning to release issues is a continual encouragement to go within. Go inside to find your love. Go within to find God. God is not some external distant deity (and you can learn more about my definition of God on this link. You never have to accept my definitions, by the way, but you should be developing your own). God is right here with you and within you. God is in everything, and God wants you to let go of these illusions that keep you locked in pain. So much suffering has gone on in God's name, but that is not the truest expression of the divine. To find your truest expression of divinity requires you to continue going within.
Because if you don't--even if you've had an awakening--what happens is that you re-build an ego identity. This often results in the do-gooder identity, and the noble spiritual lightworker runs around and tries to help EVERYONE. This person tries to help people s/he is not equipped to help or should not help (because only our connection to source and our inner knowing can tell us what is appropriate and how best to serve and help others). This person can get drained from helping too many people, and in the subtle ego desire to help and make people be okay, this person serves no one and exhausts themselves. This, too, is another set of karmic life lessons, and I'm sure a few of you are being taught this or have been taught this lesson. But the lesson is very simple and can be embraced at any time.
Find all your love within you. Then when you are fully connected here, whatever you choose to do will arise from love. That arising brings with it the truest flowering of the soul beit as a lightworker, accountant, businessperson, president, non-profit data-entry specialist, or whatever. It is not what you are doing, but how you are doing it.
Standing in the FireAs you may guess, life is never quite so clear cut. When is it time to stay in the intensity, and when is it time to leave? When is this a seeking of relief, and when is it time for rest? This is why the cultivation of your intuition/inner knowing is essential. With that said and especially for those who have awakened, most people need to stay in the discomfort. If you are unhappy that you are unemployed, breathe into that space. See what it takes for you to feel comfortable here. See what it takes for you to trust the flow of where life is taking you. Life will take care of you if you don't resist it. See if you can find what you are resisting. Are you resisting asking for help, taking a different lower-paying job, taking a higher-paying job that requires more responsibilities, choosing a new career, leaving an area, or something else? There are so many ways that we resist. It is important to let the fire show you this resistance and begin to dissolve it.
If you don't, this life lesson will remain. The difficulty that has ignited this issue will pass, and another external situation will arise again to reignite it in the days, weeks, and years ahead. This is the cycle of karma and learning, and this is how most people live their lives enslaved to their own ignorance and self-sabotage.
Refraining from JudgmentOf course, it is also important to not judge yourself. You will fail at this from time to time, and that is also part of being human. This doesn't mean that you've truly failed. You may simply have not been ready to release an issue for whatever reason. So if you feel like you keep dealing with the same issue again and again, be kind to yourself. Have compassion, and if necessary, ask for help. There are many of us who can help you as you build your crucible and see new ways to understand yourself.
Because the point isn't to become some kind of super pure, superhuman. The point is simply to embrace your life. The awakening and the path of spiritual healing will naturally take you there, so at times, you will find that you are simply feeling relief. That is okay. When it is time for a deep release, that situation will arise as well, and then I simply encourage you to embrace the fullness of your unfolding and whatever comfort of discomfort is there with the process of release. The release may be easier than you might have once thought, and the opening that follows may be sheer delight.
The flower picture on this page comes from photographer, Becky Stiller. You can see her work on her Flickr account.