In the last post, we examined the usefulness of unchaining ourselves from old emotional baggage. Readers offered some beautiful comments that speak to the power of letting go. There are certainly those welcome moments when, without our doing anything, the stuck energy of emotions moves through us in one big torrent.
More commonly, though, the emotional and mental habits that weigh us down play a kind of hide-and-seek game with us. We know we engage in patterns that don’t serve us, but somehow the full display stays just enough out of awareness that the patterns sustain themselves. We truly want to stop doing whatever it is that keeps us from being happy, but we just can’t seem to get to the bottom of it.
Rather than waiting for those moments of huge release, it is intelligent to cultivate the intention to investigate these patterns. As we all know, the force of a pattern can be intense. It’s exactly like an addiction that has us by the throat.
If we want to be free of the pattern, our intention to fully embrace it needs to be stronger than the energy of the pattern itself.
Fully embracing a pattern means being willing to take off all the blinders and directly experience our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. It means putting down our defenses, distractions, and urges to avoid and simply allowing ourselves to be aware of our own inner experience. And it is not always easy because the force of our habits can be so intense.
In my own journey, I have found the unlikely twins of ruthlessness and compassion to be essential.
One Twin: Ruthlessness
Ruthlessness is a very strong word. I use it because a strong intention, a fire is sometimes needed to burn through our conditioning, especially when it is well-embedded in us. When we want freedom more than anything, we become open to investigating everything we take for granted, including all our treasured beliefs and emotional dramas. We become intimate with all of it, bringing every bit of our experiences out of the shadows.
To realize complete freedom, nothing is immune to conscious examination – no assumption, no expectation, no identity. Nothing gets to hide; everything is seen. This exploration can be unrelenting, merciless, and unyielding, and leaves everything up for grabs. It’s kind of like dying, where what dies are the unconscious, often deeply-held, tendencies that lead us down a road of suffering.
The desire to know ourselves may smolder in a single ember or blaze through our lives igniting everything in its path. Buddhist meditation master Ajaan Chah says,
“Do everything with a mind that lets go. If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you will know complete peace and freedom. Your struggles with the world will have come to an end.”
The process isn’t meant to be cruel. It is designed to expose all our misunderstandings and confusions. It can turn our lives upside-down for a while, but eventually leaves us clear, open, grateful, and supremely happy.
The Other Twin: Compassion
Ruthlessness alone is devoid of heart. Although the path to freedom is sometimes quite fiery, it is incomplete without compassion. As we open our awareness to our deepest fears, we may notice the tendency to avoid or judge – anything but actually feel the terror at the core of our being.
Compassion reminds us to relax, to receive, to welcome. What is is. If fear is present, or any other difficult feeling, it just is. We commit to unearthing everything, with ruthlessness, then we receive what is discovered in openness and love.
We find within us the most loving, accepting place that becomes a haven for our challenging emotions and distorted beliefs systems. Compassion is the welcoming invitation for all the disowned and fragmented parts of ourselves. Every experience can come out of the shadows and return home. Habits weaken, and we realize that who we are is whole, undefended, and free.
Ruthlessness without love is one-dimensional, and compassion without fierce determination leaves room for us to slide. Discover your compassionate inner warrior. Commit to openness always. Live in the receiving of things as they are. Know yourself fully, and you are free.
“Wisdom without love is like having lungs but no air to breathe. Do not seek wisdom in order to acquire knowledge but in order to live and love more fully.”
What challenges do you notice in living a self-aware life? What qualities are important? I’d love to hear…