All of the ingredients of both awakening and bondage exist in the present moment and nowhere else. In this moment, no matter how disconnected we feel from the whole, this “small I” can be met, welcomed and offered deep compassion. The fear can be held too. Awareness, when we let it, can embrace us just as we are with no conflict, no effort, nothing left out. We can relax for a while and rest in presence.
Why do most of us find it so difficult to access this sweet relief that is readily available? A primary reason is our ingrained identification with ego or self, the one who feels inadequate. If we’re honest, this is a life long struggle most of us are intimately familiar with. But if we simply switch to self-affirmation and positivity, we’re still identifying with and living out of this small and limited idea of self. Inevitably once the positivity wears off we revert to feelings of inadequacy because at the core, we are still identifying with an idea of fixed self, which is never enough.
As a child I was sexually abused by my father, as a teenager gang raped. To cope I entered my adult life with a story that I was strong and that being a women in no way marginalized me. This positive narrative did help me climb the ladder of business success. Simultaneously, at a deeper level I was in denial about the profound sense of inadequacy I felt – the surface positivity was my survival mechanism. I remember visiting various tech companies in Silicon Valley to meet with the top executives. I was in a leadership position in the tech world, a woman executive around mostly men. I held a mental narrative that being a woman didn’t limit me. But underneath I felt like an impostor who didn’t belong there. I couldn’t acknowledge or access how strongly this underlying feeling affected me. I desperately wanted to leave that life behind and a buyout opportunity gave me the chance at a young age.
Several years passed before I felt strong enough to acknowledge and touch my deep vulnerability, work with the trauma directly and finally, restore my energy and confidence. As I felt stronger at my core, beyond self-identity, I could welcome the vulnerability and fear. During daily meditation, the great embrace of awareness allowed me to let down my guard and release the armoring of false identity I had lived with for so long. Off the cushion I no longer had to pretend to be strong to cover over feelings inadequacy. I could finally relax and live a more joyful and equanimous life.
Many of us have powerful experiences of no self during meditation. But getting off the cushion, its easy to revert, again and again, to a life that feels incomplete. We may be aware of a subtle discomfort just under the surface and spend most of our time seeking strategies to eliminate it. Even efforts that seem in accordance with the dharma can easily turn into a trap of self improvement. We’re actually seeking to fill what is already full.
But if we can let go for a while, put down our (often unconscious) attempts to build a better self and touch with compassion what’s really here, no matter how broken and small we may feel, we gain access to true strength. Resting in the embrace of awareness, we relate our experience and our imperfections in a kinder, more inclusive way.