Openness. Could this be the key that unlocks the happiness door? And keeps it (no big surprise)... open!
So says Michael Singer in his intriguing book, "The Untethered Soul," which I've blogged about here and here.
I re-read the chapter on transcending the tendency to close this morning. Liked it the second time as much as the first.
Singer says that us humans used to mostly worry about physical danger. With saber-toothed tigers safely extinct, psychological threats are our biggest concern now.
As a result, the protective energies have adapted toward defending the individual psychologically. rather than physiologically. We now experience the daily need to defend our self-concepts rather than our bodies.
So what happens when someone criticizes us, yells at us, talks about an uncomfortable subject?
Since it's not socially acceptable to run into the woods and hide like a deer you hide inside. You withdraw, close down, and pull back behind your protective shield.
...The problem is that the part of you that gets disturbed is way out of balance. It's so sensitive that the slightest little thing causes it to overrreact. You are living on a planet spinning around the middle of outer space, and you're either worrying about your blemishes, the scratch on your new car, or the fact that you burped in public.
It's not healthy. If your physical body were that sensitive, you would say you were sick. But our society considers psychological sensitivities normal. Because most of us don't have to worry about food, clothing, or shelter, we have the luxury of worrying about a spot on our pants, or laughing too loud, or saying something wrong.
The more we try to protect ourselves from all of those scary monsters threatening our psychological well-being, the more we enclose ourselves in walls of our own making. We feel like we're in prison. Yet we're the jailer.
You will get to a point in your growth where you understand that if you protect yourself, you will never be free. It's that simple. Because you're scared, you have locked yourself within your house and pulled down all the shades. Now it's dark and you want to feel the sunlight, but you can't.
...Ultimately, if you protect yourself perfectly, you will never grow. All your habits and idiosyncrasies will stay the same.
...There are all these rules about things that are not supposed to happen outside because they could cause disturbance inside. Living like this allows for very little spontaneous joy, enthusiasm, and excitement for life. Most people just go from day to day protecting themselves and making sure nothing goes wrong.
Religions exacerbate this tendency to close ourselves off from life. They promulgate commandments, vows, rituals, "thou shalt's" and "thou shalt not's."
Religious believers are afraid, so afraid. God, karma, divine justice -- something is going to punish them if they transgress. God forbid, I should do what I feel like doing. It could be the Devil impelling me to enjoy myself!
Here in Oregon recently, some Republican state legislators spent a night in a topless bar. No taxpayer funds were involved. They partied on their own time.
My reaction was, what's the big deal?
I lean strongly Democratic, but I felt more positively about these guys after I read about their night out. I've been to topless bars, both in person and from watching every episode of The Sopranos, since much of the Mafia gang's business was conducted in the Bada-Bing club.
Yet the legislators apologized. For nothing, in my opinion. They should have said, "Hey, I love my wife, and I also love to watch young attractive women dance topless. What's the big deal?" Michael Singer writes:
The reward for not protecting your psyche is liberation. You are free to walk through this world without a problem on your mind. You are just having fun experiencing whatever happens next. Because you got rid of that scared part of you, you don't have to worry about getting hurt or disturbed.
You no longer listen to "What will they think of me?" or, "Oh God, I wish I hadn't said that. It sounded so stupid." You just go about your business and put your whole being into whatever's happening, instead of putting your whole being into your personal sensitivity.
Last night I read a New Yorker story about Mormonism. This reminded me of my super-strict eggless vegetarian days when I was a devoted member of Radha Soami Satsang Beas, an Indian spiritual group, whose guru taught that eating even a speck of forbidden fruit egg-meat-fish was wrong, wrong, wrong.
The Osmond family was the Mormon family: too many kids and too many teeth, maybe, but always solid, always smiling, always temperate -- no alcohol, no tobacco, not even caffeine. In an entertaining new autobiography, "The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith" (Free Press) Joanna Brooks recalls ecumencial birthday parties as a young Mormon in California, and the anxiety she felt about simply seeing a bottle of Coke; Mormon parties featured (non-caffeinated) root beer.
That sort of anxiety is crazy. But I used to be crazy in this way myself. So I understand how easy it is to fall under the spell of a rigid, closed, holier-than-thou, fundamentalist ideology.
If someone challenges the wisdom of remaining within the confines of a illogical, unworkable, repressive moral code, you immediately raise your defenses, holding aloft whatever is equivalent in your faith to the crucifix or holy water that keeps vampires at bay.
Except... vampires don't really exist.
Likewise, Singer says there is no need to protect ourselves from judgments, criticism, ridicule, controversy, argumentation, slights to our self-image.
Let it go. Rocks can't break your ego-window if it is fully open.
A wise person remains centered enough to let go every time the energy shifts into a defensive mode. The moment the energy moves and you feel your consciousness start to get drawn into it, you relax and release.
Letting go means falling behind the energy instead of going into it. It just takes a moment of conscious effort to decide that you're not going there. You just let go. It's simply a matter of taking the risk that you are better off letting go than going with the energy.
When you're free from the hold the energy has on you, you will be free to experience the joy and expansiveness that exists within you.
...Real spiritual growth happens when there is only one of you inside. There's not a part that's scared and another part that's protecting the part that's scared.
...What you'll find is that the only thing you really want from life is to feel enthusiasm, joy, and love. If you can feel that all the time, then who cares what happens outside? If you can always feel up, if you can always feel excited about the experience of the moment, then it doesn't make any difference what the experience is.
...If you really want to stay open, pay attention when you feel love and enthusiasm. Then ask yourself why you can't feel this all the time. Why does it have to go away? The answer is obvious: it only goes away if you choose to close.
By closing, you are actually making the choice not to feel openness and love. You throw love away all the time. You feel love until someone says something you don't like, and then you give up the love. You feel enthused about your job until someone criticizes something, and then you want to quit.
It's your choice.
...As long as you are defining what you like and what you don't like, you will open and close. You are actually defining your limits. You are allowing your mind to create triggers that open and close you.
Let go of that. Dare to be different. Enjoy all of life.
Vampires might not exist, but fundamentalists do.
I offer the following for consideration:
Robert Paul Howard
Posted by: Robert Paul Howard | August 20, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Kind of a tough assignment, enjoying all of life, don't you think? That's categorically impossible actually - there is a great deal about life that is unpleasant.
Quick recovery from unpleasant experience is a possibility, as well as developing techniques to minimize unpleasant experience.
But you are not getting out of your situation alive. Try and enjoy that absolute fact.
Posted by: Willie R | August 20, 2012 at 08:51 PM
"Rocks can't break your ego-window if it is fully open."
Posted by: | August 22, 2012 at 01:35 AM