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
(edited from a talk to participants in the Love, Sex and Shadows workshop for couples in Czech Republic last month)
Most of our schooling – what we call education – can be summed up as “think about it”. Never mind learning to be present in your whole being, never mind really experiencing what is going on; just think about it and be able to talk about it, and have apparently intelligent things to say about it. Then you are considered educated. If other people are doing the same – and so many are – they don’t notice that you are thinking life instead of experiencing it. A lot of the chatter is just so much comfortable noise to cover everyone’s absence!
It’s the great disservice foisted on us by our schooling. Learning to think life saves us from feeling too much – especially from feeling vulnerable, which is still such a taboo for many people. But the fact is that if we want to fully experience life, we have to be able to feel how it touches us, and that can only happen if we are in friendship with all our feelings. Otherwise we reject our inner life, and likewise reject it in others. Scorn, sarcasm, bullying, intimidation, even joking, or just talk-talk-talk – anything to shut out the inner life we’ve learned to shun. That is where our educational systems have failed, and it is a massive failure.
If you just pay attention to yourself, you can become aware of how your personality functions to make sure that you don’t feel anything you have learned to avoid in yourself, and the games you play to keep your highly developed personality in control of the show. It’s hardly surprising that it is so. Our image-obsessed culture is a product of its own schooling. It doesn’t know any better than to believe that our personality is who we really are. Just look at how personality is idolized by the media! The crazy truth is that it is our personality that conceals our real being.
So this evening I am inviting you and your partner into a ceremony in which you are guided into removing the costumes of your personalities so that you can meet each other in an experience that may actually be quite magical. You see, if your personalities are running your relationship, they have to constantly sabotage the possibility of deep intimacy, because personality is only interested in its own survival. It is nothing more than a costume that thinks it is who you really are. As long as it is running the show, its deepest intention is to keep running the show, which prevents you from ever discovering the truth of your real being. Only you in your whole, open, sensing and feeling being can ever experience the magic and mystery of meeting another in his or her whole being. Or indeed of being on your own, fully in touch with yourself and so in an intimate relationship with life itself. It all happens because you are in friendship with your feeling life.
Way back in the 1920’s, D. H. Lawrence said it beautifully in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, his great novel celebrating sexual love: “While you live your life, you are in some way an organic whole with all life. But once you start the mental life, you pluck the apple. You’ve severed the connection between the apple and the tree: the organic connection. And if you’ve got nothing in your life but the mental life, then you yourself are a plucked apple, you’ve fallen off the tree.”
December 5, 2013
ALAN: You’re allowed. Okay? And the reason you’re allowed is because you don’t MEAN to hurt him, you’re not trying to hurt him. This is really, really important for all of you to hear. When you hold things back or you’re untrue to yourself because you’re afraid of hurting someone, there’s an incredible step you can take. In your heart, without saying anything – not making yourself a guru, just quietly in your own heart and consciousness – you give this person permission to feel whatever they feel when you are true to yourself. You TRUST that it is good for them to feel whatever they’re feeling!
I’m like this with you all the time. I give you my truth, and there are times when my truth may make you cry, or make you angry. I accept because I am not out to hurt you; on the contrary, when I give my truth, the harder it may be to hear, the more important that I give it lovingly. If I give you my truth it is because my soul tells me that I need to say this. I give myself permission to say it, and you have my permission to feel whatever you feel. I’m inviting you to open and be friendly with whatever I am touching in you. If you get angry, by the way, it is usually because you are NOT in friendship with what is being touched in you. So you want to fight and argue – your anger is a defence against what you don’t like in yourself. This is why, whenever you get angry, it is good to breathe into and tune in with where the anger is coming from, instead of just acting out your anger. There is lots more to say about being angry, but I’ll keep it for later.
So if I say something to you and you feel like you want to cry, my sincere hope is that you will allow yourself your tears. Or laughter, or anger! But not walk away! I want you to learn how to keep being here anyway. This is one of the greatest gifts you can give each other here: be real and allow everybody else here to experience whatever they experience in encountering your realness. This is what makes The Art of Being different from what’s happening out there in the world. People are afraid to affect each other. It is as though everybody is wearing a ‘Do not disturb!’ sign. Then we are all isolated from each other, afraid to touch each other’s feelings. Our feelings are how we find each other!
T.S. Eliot in one of his poems has a very timid man ask: Do I dare disturb the universe? Yes, and each other. It’s all about your intention. If you have bad intentions, it just means that you need to make friends with the fears and wounds that drive them. If your intention is to open your heart, awaken into being and learn how to BE IN LOVE, that’s all the intention you really need. Then if your man is upset by your truth, let him be upset. And you can say to him, I’m sorry you’re upset, I love you anyway. You can even say goodbye with love if you have to.
April 21, 2013
I’m posting below what I said to a participant in one of my workshops last year, because it has something important to say about what is happening in the USA this past couple of weeks – the horrific shooting of the children in Newtown, and the bizarre responses of some members of Congress who – blatantly or discreetly – still oppose the banning of weapons and ammunition whose only purpose is to kill people. Something is rotten in the United States when half of its political leaders have any reservations at all about a complete ban on assault weapons. I find it hard to imagine how they can live with themselves. Then the obvious jumps out at me: THEY DON’T LIVE WITH THEMSELVES. They can keep up their opposition precisely because they are disconnected from their hearts and souls. They are not in touch with themselves. They have lost the connection with their own humanity that sees that it matters – and matters more than all the ifs and buts – to eradicate without delay these weapons from all of civilian society in the USA. It is a no-brainer that this process begins with a total legal ban on the possession and sale of such weapons and the ammunition that goes with them. No compromise, no procrastinating, no watering down, no loop-holes, and never mind the difficulties, because the difficulties of eradication are nothing compared to the tragedies inflicted on innocent people by this crass and callous gun-cult. What matters is having the INTENTION. If you are heart-and-soul-connected with yourself, you care about other people’s hearts and souls. This is where the intention comes from and it cannot be subverted. It is not subject to manipulation by corporate lobbies, by money or political conniving and power-mongering. It is the rational and heartfelt position of anybody who is fully in touch with their whole being. And if, by the way, they are not, then what right could they possibly have to be governing other people?
So here is what I said to one of my workshop participants about caring:
“I realized many years ago when I was going through my own healing and therapy, that by the time I came out of the orphanage where I spent five years of my childhood, what I had learned to do in order to survive was to not care. My general attitude was, ‘So what, I don’t care! I don’t care what I do. I don’t care what they do. I don’t care what happens.’
“What it meant was that my heart was totally closed. That was how I learned to survive the unkind and sometimes cruel ways I was treated as a child. Of course, like everybody, my healing happened as I reconciled with all the feelings that I was afraid to feel and from which “I don’t care” saved me. As I learned how to be friendly again with my feelings – especially the tender and vulnerable ones that were the scariest to allow – my heart gradually opened again. With that opening came eventually the realization, Oh my God, I do care! That was almost four decades ago, and through all these years I have only come to care more. That is what I see happening for you. You found the courage to feel again and it is opening you to your real being. The more of your inner being that you befriend – and what you are afraid to feel is always the key – the more you care!
“And let me add, for all of you here, that, learning to care you become not only happier, but sadder too! Almost every time I read or listen to the news I am saddened, because most of the news is about people not caring. The crimes, the wars, the abuse – it’s like an endless procession of stories that can only be as dark as they are because of people who don’t care. And saddest of all is that so many people in positions of power don’t care, not with their hearts and souls. It seems as though in the corporate and political worlds most of those who climb high sell their souls to do so. When you sell your soul, how can you care? The most transforming thing that could happen to our human world and to this suffering planet is that people who aspire to positions of power and leadership have no chance if they are not fully connected with themselves – with their hearts and souls. That is a far cry from the way it is. What a pity!”
December 21, 2012
I posted this on my old blog about 18 months ago. Something moves me to re-post it here today. Perhaps it has relevance for someone out there who reads my blogs?
“This is a really important time for you. The door that I talked about is open – that is why you feel that there is no protection in front of your heart. The protection was the wall that kept you safe, but it kept you safe from your heart. Now the wall is falling down, leaving your heart and all your feelings open. This of course makes you also afraid. It is so unfamiliar to you to be so open, and you cannot be open on one side – the sweet, light and beautiful – without also being open on the other side – the dark and scary wounds that you carry, mostly from your childhood, in your psyche. It sounds so simplistic to say it, but it is true nevertheless that all you need to do now is stay open – keep feeling everything, including the fear, WITH FRIENDLINESS. Loneliness, despair, emptiness – allow yourself to experience all of these, until they are no longer frightening to you. They are demons guarding the treasure! If you allow yourself to embrace them, you will find your way to a happiness that is no longer haunted by fear. But you have to be willing to go through the fear to find the light. It is what mystics call, “the dark night of the soul”. And everyone who really means to awaken to their whole being has to come to, and dare to pass through, this night. Embrace your inner experiences whatever they are. And know that here is a friend who has travelled this path and so can be in spirit with you as you walk yours.”
October 29, 2012
Everything! I create an environment in which participants can truly and authentically explore being sensual, being sexual, reconciling with their bodies and their male or female nature. And above all – the most significant element – where they can connect their sexual feelings with all their other emotions, like sadness, joy, excitement, even anger - yes, all those feelings that tend to be disowned or shut off because we have judgements about them.
There are many people – I tend to think it is the majority of people in our culture – who are wounded in their sexuality in some way. It is almost inevitable because the culture is sexually abusive and insulting in countless different ways. On the one hand there are all the religion-based “Thou shalt not’s” that indoctrinate believers into denying the ironically God-given gift of their sexual nature. And on the other hand our culture drives people into being completely preoccupied with their image, trying to be good performers and learning to pretend in all kinds of ways. It actually takes away their trust in their own natural sexuality. They may not even know what that is because they have been so indoctrinated into who and how they think they should be.
The result is that we tend to grow up with strange feelings tangled up in our sexuality. A simple and common example of what can then happen: a person has grown up in a climate of judgement, ridicule or perhaps just crudity about sex. When they begin to experience their own libido all those judgements come home and get subconsciously applied to their own sexuality. That doesn’t feel so sweet! The result is that feelings like sadness and anger can get mixed up with their erotic feelings. In their adult sexual intimacy they find, to their dismay, that there regularly comes a moment when suddenly their erotic excitement fades away. They turn off. In this example, if they could label it, which they often can’t in the heat of the moment, they would say they are feeling sad and angry and sexual all at the same time! The mind is saying, “Hey, this is wrong! You are not supposed to be sad and angry when you are feeling sexual. Stop it!” So they try to suppress the sadness and anger. But these are tangled up with their sexual feelings, so when they shut down the sadness and anger, they shut down their erotic feelings too. All that’s left is the disappointment, “Why do I shut down when I’m feeling turned on? I want to be intimate and suddenly it’s all gone!”
So a lot of the really basic work in my Tantra workshops is to enable people to befriend the feelings that accompany their sexual feelings so that they can be sexual AND…! Sexual AND angry, sexual AND sad, sexual AND excited. Yes, some people are not even allowed to be excited! They were brought up to behave themselves and getting excited was regarded as bad behaviour. Some people are not allowed to be joyously happy because that too means being out of control. Then ecstasy is not possible at all! And what is orgasm without ecstasy?
My work is to create the situation in which people can experience and befriend ALL their feelings. Then their sexuality becomes integrated with their full emotional life, and being sexual with anyone becomes a truly INTIMATE experience. Sexual AND…! Until our feelings are fully present and celebrated, sex is only sex. And our feelings are our opening into the great mysteries. They lead us to our heart, awaken us into our being, and then bring us into the mystical and spiritual. Sex into soul. Tantra!
September 7, 2012