One morning many years ago, I awoke knowing that the earth is a loving mother to us all, and that the earth itself is completely surrounded by an infinitely loving universe—and that there is no way we cannot always be enveloped by this Love!
Love is our true nature. When we have completely let go of fear, Love is what is present. It’s what is inside of us at the deepest level. In truth, Love is always present—within and without. But we are not always present to Love!
Our heart is the channel through which we experience Love, and our heart is not always open. Human beings are constructed in a way that makes us seek pleasure and avoid pain. When we experience pain in our lives, our natural tendency is to move away from it or fight it—to in some way push it out of our consciousness and close our heart. In so doing, fear is created—the fear of that which we have separated ourselves from. In fact, fear is the separation from our experience.
Anger removes us one step further from our true nature by pushing away our fear or pain—often “gifting” it to a loved one. (It is a gift if one is willing to receive what is inside the wrapping.) Because pain, fear, and anger are culturally unacceptable emotions, we tend to suppress all of our feelings and become emotionally numb—about as far removed from our true nature of Love as is humanly possible.
When I first began the deep feeling part of my journey, I started writing a book entitled Cheap Insights. I made all of one entry into the book: “I used to think that when I got through my fear that I would come to life. Then I realized that my life was in my fear!” By allowing myself to feel my fear completely, I lost my fear of being afraid and I began (after a few decades of emotional anesthesia) to allow myself to re-experience the full range of human emotions—fear, sadness, anger, and joy! I began to come back to life in my feelings.
We live on a continuum between love and fear. The way I define the difference between an adult and a child is that when a child experiences fear, he or she pulls back from it, whereas when an adult experiences fear, he or she moves into and through it. When we know through repeated experience that we are able to move through fear, we then are able to live in our true nature and accomplish whatever we are destined to accomplish.
Our true nature is who we really are, beyond all of our ideas, images, and beliefs about who we are. It is us, just as we are—absolutely naked and pure. And, paradoxically, our true self is no self! When we experience who and what we really are, we realize that the whole idea of a self was simply that—an idea. In reality, there is no self. This means that there is no self separate from anything else in the universe—that our true nature is self-and-other.
When we come to know this truth, we may experience Unconditional Love. Only Unconditional Love is true Love. All other forms of love have some expectation, need, desire, or fear in them and so are not true. Unconditional Love means love with no conditions attached to it. It is the natural expression of an open heart. When I first experienced Unconditional Love, my wife (who was struggling to come to terms with the transformation I was in the process of undergoing) said to me, “You love Zonk’s (our cat’s) shit as much as you love me!” And she was right! I absolutely loved everything unconditionally and completely. In my purist understanding, if Love isn’t unconditional, it isn’t really Love.
In 1981, out of a desire to help others find a way to re-member their true nature that included both the psychological and spiritual aspects of their being, I created a way of working through the psychological to access the spiritual. (I had seen and experienced far too many personal/spiritual growth processes that excluded one or the other of these aspects and had therefore created a lopsided development.) I call this method Heartwork, a process of letting go, with awareness, into the truth of one’s being-in-the-moment. It is essentially a very simple process—kind of like falling asleep, except that in Heartwork, you fall awake—but it is not easy. It is simple because all you have to do is find the yearning in your being (to be free, whole, connected, fully alive; to know who and what you are; to realize what reality is—whatever form it takes for you) and let go or surrender into it and let it take you back home to your authentic, true self. It is difficult because letting go into unfamiliar places inside ourselves is scary. We are used to controlling our emotions, our lives, other people, our environment, and anything else we think we need to control.
Why is it so scary? For a good reason. Most people think they’re afraid of the unknown. Actually, that’s not true because it’s not possible to be afraid of the unknown. The unknown is unknown; it is not a thing that one can fear. What we are really afraid of is what we think we might encounter on our journey inward: our fear, anger, pain—everything that was too much for us to feel when it happened, so that we had to wall it off from our consciousness. That could include negative self-images and beliefs, aloneness, emptiness, nothingness, existential angst, or even the much-talked-about dark night of the soul. And the truth is that we usually have to go through all of these to come home to ourselves.
Many people are afraid to make this journey because they believe that what is at the deepest level inside themselves is bad, some “original sin,” and they don’t want their belief to be confirmed. (I distinguish between “belief” and “faith” in that faith is based on direct, personal experience, whereas belief is merely a thought.) How could we live with ourselves if we knew that our true nature was really awful? So many of us don’t ever look deeply enough to uncover the truth of who or what we really are, which is absolutely the antithesis of awful (but it is awe full!).
When we split our consciousness off from our feelings, we feel disconnected from ourselves, others, the universe, and God. We cannot let Love in or out; we cannot appreciate the exquisite beauty and awe of life. We feel, as A. E. Housman once suggested, alone and afraid in a world we never made.
So how then can we do the impossible—let go into the very places that so terrify us, the places we have separated ourselves from for decades? Actually, the way it usually happens is that the opportunity catches up with us—we don’t have to go looking for it! For most people who do this challenging work, life has become unbearably painful, difficult, and/or unsatisfying. And at that point, they have two options: either take the journey inward or medicate with prescription drugs or other addictions to deaden themselves. (This is not to say that psychopharmacologic medications are never appropriate and necessary for one’s journey; but the reality is that we frequently use them as crutches to avoid our issues rather than as tools to support us in working with those issues.)
Here’s how it works. Picture a funnel. Our true nature is a single point at the bottom of the funnel, whole and undivided. We first split from this wholeness when we get the idea that we are a self that is separate from others and from the universe/God. We call this split the formation of the ego. I’ve been asked why we make this split in the first place. The only answer I’ve ever heard that’s worth repeating came from my Zen teacher, who said we split from wholeness so that we can experience the joy of coming back home to ourselves! With the formation of the ego, we have moved one layer up the funnel away from our true nature.
With the ego come the notions of space and time. We perceive space because now we see an inside (the ego, or the “I”) and an outside (the universe), whereas before it was all one thing. We perceive time because while the universe will seemingly go on forever, the self will not. And because it is untenable to live in the awareness of our ultimate demise, we split from ourselves once again and tell ourselves that while our bodies will die, our mind/consciousness, our soul, or our spirit (or who we convince ourselves we really are) will not—it will go on forever. And so we make another split as we separate our physical selves from our soul or our spirit and move up the funnel away from our true nature.
Now to make matters worse, certain parts of our mind or soul or spirit are unacceptable to our parents and our culture. I’ve come to understand that we have four fundamental emotions—joy/love, sorrow/pain, fear (the movement away from sorrow/pain), and anger (fear or pain projected outward because we are unwilling to feel those more vulnerable emotions). Of these, only joy/love is truly acceptable in society. (And actually, we only say it is; look at how we react to people exuberantly enjoying themselves!) But guess what happens to our joy when we cut off the other three feelings? It gets cut off, too, because you can’t have real joy unless you accept pain. Is it any wonder that we see so few truly joyous human beings in our culture beyond the age of 2 or 3? We also judge as unacceptable certain desires (such as greed, lust, and envy) and even certain out-of-the-ordinary states of awareness (such as ESP, intuition, channeling, and psychosis).
And so we split again into what Carl Jung called the persona (those parts of ourselves that we believe are acceptable to our culture and that we are willing to express publicly) and the shadow (those parts we believe are unacceptable to others and that we consequently try to hide from the world as well as from ourselves). Now, the problem with the shadow is that it has to somehow find expression or life. After all, it is called the shadow because it sticks to us wherever we go, yet it remains hidden and dark. Because we won’t let it breathe fresh air, so to speak, it sneaks out in some other way, unconsciously, hurting others and ourselves.
To make matters even worse, certain things happen to us as we are growing up (and “growing up” continues even when we’re 80 and beyond) that are just too painful or too frightening to fully experience at the time. So we wall these experiences off in our unconscious mind, where we store those events and aspects of our being that we protect ourselves from experiencing. Thus we move one step further up the funnel to the point where we are living our lives—on the upper rim.
So that’s the bad news. Here’s the good news. For some of us, it becomes apparent at some point that we are suffering and cannot find a way out of it—not through drugs and alcohol, sex, money, power, success, religion, or any of the other addictions or distractions with which we try to fill this nagging emptiness inside ourselves. The reason we get to this point is that our deepest yearning is to regain our lost wholeness and connectedness, and in its great wisdom, our unconscious mind repeatedly creates situations that remind us of the places where we originally split from ourselves. It does this not to punish us but to get our attention, so that we can stop running away from those parts of ourselves that we have split off from. If we are willing to face ourselves, we can then “take the hit” (feel those feelings we’ve repressed) and feel all the way back to where the original pain and fear occurred so we can heal the wound at its source. As my dear friend Cis Dickson has embroidered on the back of her Crooked Back Ranch caps, “Go Within or Go Without.” When we get to this point in our lives, it is actually easier to let go into the yearning than to keep running away from the fear of facing what lies within ourselves. And so the journey homeward begins!
The primary tool that opened for me in the development of Heartwork is one I call Guided Heartwork. I am including the process here so that those readers who wish to take the journey down the funnel back home to their true nature, opening their hearts to Love in the process, may have the opportunity to do so. The process is described in detail below. May your path be blessed with Grace!