The personality games that people play are all rooted in fear and mistrust of being real. Take, for example, the child who learns, “If I’m not a good boy, people don’t like me. When I am a good boy, I get what I want.” The stage is set for Mr. Nice Guy to run the show when he grows up. Behind the scenes is his fear – of rejection, of not being good enough – with all its threatening consequences that can often be summed up in one word: loneliness.
This isn’t so surprising. When we are cut off from ourselves we are lonely, and acting out the role of our personality – for example being the nice guy – we have no chance to say hello to the one hidden inside our costume. In the depths of our soul we long for the one we cannot be. We may not even know anyone is there, living in the belief that our personality is who we really are. It’s like acting in a constantly running movie called Who I Try to Be. There are people who live their whole lives in the movie. Their real being never gets to experience and celebrate the light of day. Their real life passes by unlived.
Trying to be occupies centre-stage when in our growing years there was nobody inviting us to trust and live our real feelings and experiences: we were not supposed to be sad or angry or too boisterous or explorative, or even to enjoy ourselves too much. The message we received was, “It’s not OK to be me!”
There are so many ways to tell children that they are not supposed to be themselves! If they are punished for being so, they may grow up vengeful too. In any case, what to do? How to be happy, or at least feel safe? Ah, design an acceptable personality costume! Even better, design one that is admired and rewarded. Or, if life has just been too nasty to you, build yourself a suit of armour and go to war against the world. Or an insulation kit so that you just don’t feel anything. Nice, nasty or anaesthetised, our personality costumes can ensure that we never discover our inner being. This is the magical one, the one who can be creative, light, warm-hearted, intelligent (rather than just clever); the one who can love and laugh and care; the one who can sense the mysteries of soul and spirit; the one who can be here, fully alive and awake to all that is here now. Of course, you can design a costume to act all of these qualities. How to tell the difference? It’s easy; your real being has no ulterior motive – no trying to get anything, no need to make people like you, no money-making agenda, no lust for power or stardom – no politics! By the same token, having a good personality wardrobe is a valuable asset; after all, politics can be useful, even creative! What matters is whether you are present inside the costume you are wearing. To put it another way, is your personality serving you, or running you?
“So if my childhood drove me into my personality and that’s all I know, what can I do about it?”
If I am asking myself the question at all, I’ve already started doing something about it. Personality is not interested in the question. It believes in itself. If the nice guy is convinced that he is for real, there is no question! If the nasty guy is satisfied with hurting other people, there is no question. The question only arises because something deeper – yes, hidden inside the costume – is stirring, listening, sensing that perhaps all is not as it seems. Self-discovery begins with doubt; when the doubt leads to wondering, then the question becomes the quest and our journey from personality into being begins. That’s when people get interested in experiential adventures; it is certainly what has brought a lot of people to Art of Being workshops over the past three decades. But there is something anyone can try without going anywhere special – just bringing it into one’s ordinary daily life – and it can be magically transforming. It’s very simple, and needs only your trust and courage. All you have to do is catch yourself in the act! Become aware of your personality costume – your habit – while you are in it: playing Mr. Nice, being nasty, complaining, blaming others, doing poor me, having to win every argument, being the know-all, talking the hind legs off the donkey, being holy, acting the fool, laughing at everything … the list goes on and on.
At first you may only catch yourself after the act, or when you’re well into it. What matters – and this is why you need trust and courage – is that the moment you become aware of it, you let it go. You take a deep breath and as you breathe out, you simply release yourself from your habit. You drop the charm, you stop talk-talk-talking, you quietly lose the argument, you leave the joke unfinished, and so on. And you don’t do anything instead! This is the critical factor. You don’t cover up by shifting to a different personality game. You simply let yourself be there in a state of not knowing how to be. You are likely to feel all kinds of uncomfortable things at first –helpless, embarrassed, perhaps a bit foolish – but that is only part of what is happening. If you keep paying attention to the gap you have allowed yourself to experience, it begins to come alive. Nobody else needs to know what is happening. You don’t explain yourself – that is just another hiding place. You simply keep breathing into all that is happening within you.
If you dare to keep catching yourself for the coming 6 months – yes, I mean months! – this gives you time to regularly catch yourself before you go into your personality game. By this time you are becoming aware of the much more mysterious being who is waking up; you are beginning to say hello to the one you have been ignoring all your life, the one you are now becoming! Your friends, work-mates, your sweetheart, your spouse, your kids and your parents will wonder at how you’ve changed; and everyone will enjoy you more, except people who are afraid of being themselves. They may find you scary, though you may also be their inspiration to discover their own magic!
There is one more thing: finding the trust and courage to catch yourself in the act and then to gradually and continuously make friends with all you encounter in yourself can be very challenging. It can be so daunting that you simply dare not. That’s when it could be really valuable to participate in one of those self-realisation experiences that is essentially calling you into your being. This is the metapurpose, the something else that is at play in all Art of Being workshops. It really doesn’t matter what the theme is: Tantra if you want to explore your sexuality; death if that is your abiding fear or you always have trouble letting go; soul if you feel like you’ve lost yours; childhood regression if you have wounds to heal; a couples workshop if your relationship is in a rut or on the rocks. The theme is whatever attracts you; it is your chosen path of learning. What matters is the mysterious opening and awakening that is happening in you during the workshop because there is something else going on all the time. This something else is the real treasure, invisibly radiating in all that happens. It is what guides you out of your personality hideouts into the vibrant, life-changing magic of being.
April 28, 2014
I had three spiritual experiences during my childhood and adolescence – significant enough that I could remember each of themin full technicolour five and six decades later. But the one that changed my life was the fourth that happened at the end of my twenties. On a beach in California I experienced, for half a minute, the eternal present with all the veils between time and eternity removed. I wasn’t on drugs. I was two weeks into an encounter group programme that had ten days earlier so totally connected me with myself that I could only wonder where on earth I had been all my life. After what happened on that beach I never needed to believe in God. Experience makes belief redundant.
In the next two or three years I did have several profound pyschedelic experiences of life’s spiritual dimension. I knew now what was constantly and most of the time invisibly expressing its presence in here-now existence, and that was accessible if I could open what Aldous Huxley called “the doors of perception”. For me, LSD and psilocybin mushrooms became a way to open these mystic doors, as well as giving me all kinds of personal psychophysical adventures ranging from the ecstatic-erotic to the demonically scary. Then, in my early thirties, I found Osho (Bhagwan he was in those years). Or did he find me? When the disciple is ready, the Master appears – so the saying goes! In any case I went to India, morphed into Swami Anand Rajen for the next ten years, and lived the first three of them in my Master’s Poona ashram. Before long I found myself bouncing between self-doubt and cynicism as I listened in on sannyasins earnestly regaling each other with accounts of their latest spiritual experiences and using a smorgasbord of metaphysical terms that meant nothing to me. Was I more ignorant than I thought? I asked Osho and he answered my question in a morning discourse, telling me to take no notice of all this spiritual ego-tripping and simply to trust my own way. He was echoing what I felt in my soul and I happily lost interest in all the spiritual gossip. Some time later, in another discourse, he said something that has stayed with me ever since. In so many words he said, “As long as you remain busy with experiences, you are trapped. Even spiritual experiences are just beautiful golden cages. You have to go beyond all experiences.”
There are only two ways to go beyond all experiences. One is to die, the other is to awaken into the eternal present. If your awakening is as irreversible as death, it means you have become enlightened. It is of course the latter into which Osho, like all enlightened Masters, was inviting and harassing us, his disciples. So every day he sat with us, giving us his PRESENCE, not just as an example, but as that mysterious path that such beings can make of themselves for seekers. The path is the Master-disciple relationship itself. To do this paradoxical adventure justice is far beyond the scope of this little article. Suffice to say that it is a path strewn with as many pitfalls as any other spiritual path – and the greatest, the highest, the holiest pitfalls were for us too our spiritual experiences – no matter how much he was exhorting us to go beyond them. Those beautiful golden cages are every bit as addictive as sex and drug trips! And for several years, while he was still around to inspire us and pull the holy rug out from under us, sex and spiritual exploration were so interwoven that the sannyasin trip far surpassed anything drugs had to offer.
Being a spiritual junkie is at least a somewhat creative addiction, because every spiritual experience we ever have is inviting us to bring more soul-awareness into our daily life (I regard the soul as the personal bridge we each have between our mortal self and the eternal spirit). But the junkie aspect inclines us to ignore the invitation. We can get so hooked on the experience itself that we may not even recognise, let alone accept the invitation to BRIDGE our being with the eternal spirit. We may just become spiritual pleasure-trippers, living from one fabulous experience to the next and surviving the ordinary everyday life spaces in between as best we can. Or we may invest so much of our ego in being spiritual that we become convinced of our own illuminated state and fashion for ourselves an enlightened life-style, basking in the ultimate illusion – the dream of being awake!
Enlightened egos are easy to spot – they always need disciples to sit at their feet and massage their illusion by lapping up their words of wisdom. Alan Cohen once told me a hilarious story of a Fed-Ex driver who was tricked into bringing a package to a pretend-Hare Krishna temple where the devotees, when he rang the doorbell to deliver the package, fell at his feet and begged him to come in and speak to them. They lovingly smothered him with their adoring recognition that finally, The One for whom they had been waiting had arrived, and so sweetly persuasive were they that they managed to get him to come in and sit on the throne-like chair that they set up on a little dais for him and around which they sat, imploring him to please say something, anything, to guide them on their spiritual way. Perhaps because it seemed the easiest way out, he finally accepted their request and to his own amazement delivered an exquisite spiritual homily. It’s not so hard to be a guru! And this is the point. It is much more challenging to become a whole man or woman. Chasing enlightenment, which is just one of many ways to get hooked on spiritual experiences, is a convenient way to avoid the challenge! Some people do it for ego-gratification. Others – probably most – because becoming spiritual saves them from having to befriend what they fear to embrace in themselves.
What matters is the deeper truth hidden in this story. Enlightenment – the transcendent state of living fully awake in one’s whole being – requires no audience and has no interest in collecting adoring disciples. As in the much-loved Sufi story of Mojud, the Man with the Inexplicable Life, the spiritual journey is a personal odyssey that requires you to be deeply engaged in the life you are living and the ways that your life itself is speaking to your soul. Spiritual experiences may happen along the way, and surely they educate, heal and awaken you, but they are not what your life is about. If people come to learn from you it is not because you are advertising your enlightenment. A whisper goes out on the grapevine and jungle telegraph does the rest. So it was with Mojud, and so it began with Osho. Sadly, the Rajneesh community that snowballed around him did become in time a rather tasteless Osho-promoting machine, a fact that inevitably raises questions. All I can personally say to the controversy is that the Master I lived with in Poona in the 70’s I only ever experienced as a man of astonishing presence.
The writings of George Gurdjieff, wonderful Russian mystic of the early to mid 20th century, are mostly impossible to read. But he managed to encapsulate his entire enlightened message in a single book title: LIFE IS REAL ONLY THEN, WHEN I AM. He devoted his life to creating situations that might impel his disciples to get real! A few decades later, Osho did the same, but by now a new resource was available. The Human Potential Movement, pioneered by Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Fritz Perls and a few others, was spawning all kinds of potent self-realisation courses and workshops that could within a few intensive days awaken people and transform their lives. Osho’s genius was to collect human potential group leaders and bring the full spectrum of personal growth and spiritual awakening workshops into the ashram. Through getting very real and open with themselves and each other, and at the same time sitting in meditation with him, his disciples could gradually establish the connection between being real and being spiritually aware. In a nutshell, when we open to our whole being, we find ourselves totally awaken in the here-and-now – the timeless present. Connected with ourselves, we experience the spiritual dimension: “One with all that I am, I am one with all that is.” What Gurdjieff pioneered, Osho was able to realise: a way to bring together the spiritual quest and our very personal human odyssey.
Today the Human Potential Movement is a global market-place offering a prolific and colourful array of awakening and transforming experiences. In such a vast and unsupervised market you can find everything from the sublime to the absurd, from the precious gem to the plastic imitation. The sheer abundance makes it easy to get lost in blind alleys that are themselves lost in the maze of spiritual experiences. Finding your way in and out of them is all part of the adventure of finding yourself, and within your being discovering the eternal spirit. When you really find your way, it dawns on you that your life is your spiritual path. If your spiritual path becomes your life, it is simply because you are awake enough to recognise that from the very beginning you, like everybody, have always been heading in this direction. YOU are a spiritual experience happening – with no interest at all in broadcasting the fact).
May 9, 2013