Zen sickness

From January till March 2014, I hit a very marked stage of apathy. Somehow this whole process of the journey with the anger and the subsequent painful letting go, the Awareness Watching Awareness meditation of looking back at awareness, the shift of perception that I am consciousness, all of that made me feel flat. I had very little energy or interest to do anything. Nothing seemed to matter.

If I was consciousness and this body and personality was just something like a character in a virtual reality game, then why invest in the screen avatar? What goals were worthy of achieving? Before the awakening, I used to have goals in life. But now, nothing was important anymore.

If awakening to what we are was the goal of the game, and if I had seen myself as consciousness, then I assumed that I could consider myself ‘done’. But then what was important now, after being ‘done’?

I was almost constantly in the witness position, not only to the stuff happening around me but also to my body.

That witness stage felt a little strange. It was as if I didn’t inhabit my body anymore in a natural way.

Once, I saw a short documentation on tv about a device that would allow a man to steer his wheelchair with his thoughts. That was pretty amazing. The wheelchair reacted to the thoughts. Think left, and it turns left. Wow!

In the same way, I kept wondering about how reliably the wish to raise my arm actually resulted in raising my arm. That is something which we usually take for granted and do not think about. But during this phase of my journey, I felt that I as awareness was different from my body. And that my body was like a cool meat-suit I had been given for that virtual reality game. How amazing that it did react to my thoughts! And how awesome that it came complete with input channels called sense organs that let me see, feel, and taste everything around me as if these things outside were separate things.

It was amazing. But even though I had a new appreciation for my body from that new perspective, life suddenly seemed unreal.

I wondered whether there was a difference to a depersonalization-derealization disorder (DP/DR). There was plenty of discussion on the internet about whether DP/DR was a clinical disorder (and should be treated by medication) or was a part of the journey to enlightenment.

Not only did everything feel unreal, but I also felt flat, low energy, purposeless, everything was sort of gray. I had no motivation whatsoever.

I searched the internet whether others on this journey had gone through similar phases and found stories about zen-sickness and falling into the ‘pit of the void’.

It was comforting to know that it was probably a normal phenomenon and nothing I needed to worry about. I hoped that it would pass eventually.

As it turned out later, life wouldn’t let me rest in this phase for more than three months, but my guides devised some clever methods to pull me out of the pit of the void, which I will discuss in my next post.

***

This post is part of a series about my spiritual journey. If you want to read the story from the beginning, you can go to the table of contents and then page forward through the chapters like in a book.

Prev
Next

Postcards from cave time

I have been nudged and pushed by the inner voice to do a workshop on divine guidance. But I resisted this task a lot. So, I thought it would be a good idea to look at the resistance. Where does it come from?

With this intention, I entered into cave time.  I felt that I first needed to make peace with life and all the loss and pain that is part of the spiritual journey (- think of a caterpillar in the chrysalis stage grieving the loss of the former self), before I could move on with the task of creating a workshop.

Here, are  some postcards from the phase of cave time about the patterns I have experienced.

  1. Feeling confused while in the midst of it
    I find it hard to make sense of a phase when I am in the midst of it. It is much easier to look at a difficult time in retrospect and then see what it was good for and what I have learned from it.
  2. Connecting the dots in retrospect
    As I read through old journals, I was able to see common topics that came up over and over again. For example, one of them was “Learn to express your view and set boundaries even if that might upset others!” Maybe this is why I am guided to continue blogging?
  3. Working through old stuff goes roughly backwards in time.
    First, the most recent ‘forgiveness opportunities’ came up, like anger at work. After that, the older stuff came up for processing (like the painful and crippling rheumatoid arthritis I got after the birth of my first child). Last, some unpleasant childhood memories came up about being treated unkindly in a hospital at the age of 3 years.
    So, that goes roughly backwards in time. However, the whole review process was triggered by a disturbing past-life memory that was revealed to me.
  4. Reframing, witnessing, faith
    In order to make peace with emotionally upsetting stuff from the past, for me, it usually comes down to reframing in order to find peace of mind. There is probably some gold nugget in the experience that I must be determined to find.
    For current surges of emotional pain, the witness position was often the only peaceful place to be found.
    When nothing else helped, like with physical pain, I got signs by the universe to just have faith that things would improve over time.
  5. The universe uses WordPress
    Whenever I had an urgent question during this time, there would soon be several posts in my WordPress feed which contained an answer to my question. God listens. How comforting!
  6. Lists
    Besides journaling, I have found it helpful to make lists of all kinds. The list of recurring issues in my life. The list of things to be grateful for. The list of things my higher self would enjoy doing (sharing my experiences fearlessly) versus the list of things my personality self would enjoy (sitting safely on my couch and reading yet another book).
  7. Sharing
    Though I did not blog during the last 10 months, I journaled a lot. But somehow, this was not enough. Whenever I had moved through a topic, someone appeared with whom I was prompted to share. It was as if I was encouraged to spell out for someone else what I had experienced and learned or where I was stuck.Thank you to everyone with whom I could connect during that time!
  8. Honoring my inner knowing
    When sharing my process with others, they often felt compelled to suggest solutions to my issues. Often, that was helpful. However, in some cases I had to politely decline their advice and rather honor my own inner knowing about what would be the appropriate next step for me – even if I was sorry to see that the other person felt rejected and disappointed.
  9. Advice to others is advice for myself
    I often found that when I gave others suggestions about what I guessed would be helpful in their situation, that was the very thing I needed to tell myself in the next difficult situation.
  10. Circling at the fork of surrender
    For me, there is a fork in the road. Surrender and do the workshop on divine guidance and all that is connected with it –  or avoid it.
    On the path of surrender, I need to face much fear.
    On the other hand, the path of avoidance does not face the fear and I could stay in my comfort zone and feel safe, but this only leads to circling and coming back to the decision fork in the road over and over again.
    Unfortunately, the path suggested by the higher self is not always what my personality-self prefers.
  11. Twisted memory or jump to another timeline?
    Twice during the last ten months, I had the experience that current facts do not conform to how I had remembered things. Very odd! Is this my lack of memory or is it something like the Mandela effect and the jump to another timeline? Interestingly, both experiences seem to be connected to decisions which made me come into better alignment with my higher self.

What happened to my resistance after all of that cave time? It is still there and I still don’t know exactly where it comes from or what it consists of.

Now, I am back to the former mode of pushing through this workshop task with obedience and self-discipline.

At least, I have set a deadline now. A  pilot version of the workshop on divine guidance with a very small number of participants will take place end of March, 2017.

Phases of the journey

The spiritual journey consists of several phases.

Phase 1) Searching happiness ‘out there’.
Peace, joy, and fulfillment seem to be out there in the future, if we could just get that new job/car/partner/house/child. But the happiness found in the achievement of a new goal is fleeting at best.

Welcome to the human condition.

Phase 2) Searching and finding happiness ‘in here’.
This is an inward movement. Downsizing outer distractions like TV or social activities and withdrawing into the metaphorical cave for meditating.

This phase involves a painful stripping away of the attachment to the former personality (see my post about the Dark Night of the Soul).

Eventually, we find the unconditional Source of peace and joy inside of us. Job/car/partner/house/child may still be there, but they are no longer a requirement for happiness.

Phase 3) Returning to the marketplace
During this phase, the inner peace is tested while being active in the marketplace of life.

Walking through the rings of fear
For me, this phase is about sharing the insights of the spiritual journey. Getting out there and becoming visible, open, and vulnerable. It requires me to leave my comfort zone.

As of summer 2012, the usual chain of events in my experience goes like this:

At first, there is a call by the universe that I need to share in a particular format (anonymous in a forum, for starters, but with full name in a blog later). That call is delivered via the inner voice and is usually enforced by outer signs.

If I resist because of fear (which I usually do), I experience a strong sense of guilt and then there is a talk by my spirit guide. At first a gentle coaxing which turns into a stern lecture later.

If I still resist (which I usually do), there are dreams which tell me that I am procrastinating and which soon turn into warnings (“Share, or else…”).

And if I still resist (which I sometimes do), there are consequences like clogged drains mirroring my resistance, or even health problems.

Relief from the guilt and fear is found, once I yield and do what Source wants me to do.

Recently, I was told by my spirit guide to speak and share in a video format. After the usual battle of resistance (including health issues in the throat chakra region), I finally gave in and recorded this short video about the phases of the spiritual journey (1:30)
https://youtu.be/9z3O8flnm9s

Beware, you’re gonna melt!

In the Disney movie Frozen, snowman Olaf desperately yearns for summer. And he dreams about all the lovely things he would do in summer. Like lazing on the beach with a drink in his hand, getting a suntan. Oh, and he can’t wait to see what his buddies will think of him. He is sure he will be so much cooler in summer.

He is not aware that he will melt.

That is a funny metaphor for the spiritual seeker who dreams about what enlightenment will do for him, but is not aware that the former familiar sense of self will be lost on the journey.
(Watch the really cute song In Summer here, 2 min https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFatVn1hP3o)

I have described the emotional effects of this melting process in my post about the Dark Night of the Soul.

Dark Night of the Soul

“Geez, I thought I signed up for peace. And now this!” I cried as I observed waves of uncomfortable emotions running through me. Layer after layer of anger, sadness, and guilt showed up. Some feelings I didn’t even know a name for. In an intensity I didn’t know I could endure.

Welcome to the Dark Night of the Soul.

In order to understand what is happening here, we have to zoom out a bit and look at some important milestones of the spiritual path.

  1. Start
    We usually start out by assuming that we are a body-mind. We end at our skin. Our life ends with the death of the body. And consciousness is just a by-product of the activity in the brain.
  2. On the way
    We turn within to open-space awareness and encounter the ‘void’, which is our Source.
  3. Goal
    Those who have travelled the path quite far, reach a permanent stage where they report that they are one with their surroundings. Adyashanti felt himself merging with the dresser drawer. Suzanne Segal drove in a car and said that she felt she was driving through herself as she was the surroundings. Bernadette Roberts wrote that seer, seeing, and seen are one. In short, eventually the separate self falls away and with it the subject-object relationship. We realize that we are consciousness which is beyond the 3D world and at the same time is the substratum of the visible world.

The spiritual path may start out as a path of self-improvement. Becoming a happier, more loving and caring, more peaceful version of ‘me’. But it is not about that.

Rather, the identity shift is what it’s all about.The rest is a by-product.

And that identity shift necessarily involves a letting go of the former self-image we have been so used to.

If we look at the path, there are (at least) three stages where it can become uncomfortable:
A) Pain of letting go of the former self-image
B) Fear of the void
C) Welling up of formerly unconscious emotions when we rest in awareness.
I’ll cover each one below with examples and possible remedies.

A)  The pain of letting go of the former self-image
Inherent in that identity shift of the spiritual path is a letting go of the former self-image. Letting go of the screen character of the computer game. Finding out that we have been sitting on the chair in front of the screen all the time.

How is that letting go accomplished?

We can either sit down with pen and paper and do a Spiritual Autolysis as described by Jed McKenna. Write down something that we think is true and then question it from every angle. Try again, until we find something that is absolutely true. This eventually boils down to answering the question ‘Who am I?’

For folks like me who prefer a less brainy approach, the universe has some wonderful methods of helping us to find those unconscious areas of the former self-image that we have to let go of. That is really the point: bringing the formerly unconscious attachments into consciousness. (And then letting them go.)

The universe’s ingenious approach:
tailor-made disturbances to the former self-image

We will be disturbed. Intentionally. Purposefully. For a good cause.

But the ego doesn’t like it. And then we experience the Dark Night (of the ego).

So, all these uncomfortable emotions like anger and grief are a by-product of the letting go of the former self-image. They are the ego’s temper tantrums when its toys are taken away.

Adyashanti was a competitive biker and was proud of being a super athlete. That was part of his self-definition.

How did the universe wean him from this self-image? By putting him to bed twice for several months with various illnesses.

After that, he finally got the message and said that it is hard to define yourself as a super athlete if you are as weak as a puppy.

Margot Ridler was a self-employed professional doing constellation work. After a spiritual flash insight about the emptiness of the self, she quit her constellation work practice and experienced a breakdown where she was about to be homeless and penniless. What followed was a surrender into the guiding arms of Source. Then, she experienced a period of traveling for several years where – one by one – all her former beliefs were stripped away and she learned to be guided by Source only. The experience was frightening but liberating.

(Here is a (20min) video of Margot Ridler where she compares her breakdown process with Adyashanti’s.)

My experience: A large part of my self-image was being a high achiever. I was studious and bookish. Good grades and prestigious scholarships all over my résumé, and with it much striving, perfectionism, and pride.

And what did the universe do to deconstruct this?

Well, today I find myself working in the corporate world with not a single promotion after more than 17 years. I’m being weaned from the need for appreciation and from the need to define myself as an achiever.

And that was not the only part of my self-image which I had to let go of. There was more. Each part got its own tailor-made demolition squad. For each part, I went through the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) according to the model by Kübler-Ross.

That’s how it works. Whenever we have an attachment with the attitude “I bet that I must have this in order to be happy”, God says,
Wanna bet? I’ll take it away from you, and then you are invited to turn within and seek true happiness there.”

What helps during this phase is  knowing that this is part of the path. And then allowing it to happen. The more we resist the ripping away of the former self-image, the more painful it is going to be.

B) The fear of the void
Falling into the pit of the void can also become uncomfortable. By psychologists, this is pathologized as depersonalization/derealization disorder (DP/DR).

Suzanne Segal lost her former sense of self and spent ten years trying to understand the nature of her confusion and fear about this. None of the psychologists had any clue. Eventually, an Advaita teacher pointed out to her that she was just waking up to her true nature. That was a turning point.

Hans Burgschmidt lost his sense of self suddenly and was terrified by it.  Pilates, weight training, and yoga helped him feel grounded in his body again.
(http://www.psychologytomorrowmagazine.com/enlightenments-evil-twin/)

My experience: I was hanging out in ‘transcendence land’ for three months early in 2014. This felt peaceful, but unreal, lethargic, listless, and emotionally flat. What helped me was that the universe forced me back unto the stage of this play called ‘life’. I had to take care of a sick pet. And my inner voice urged me to invite a bunch of friends over.

What helps during this phase is very different for each seeker. Therefore, it would be best if everyone relies on his/her own inner guidance.

C) Welling up of formerly unconscious emotions
If we abide as the peaceful witness, as open-space awareness, then that is an invitation for formerly suppressed emotions (of this life or even of past-lives) to rise to the surface and enter our consciousness. As fellow blogger and spiritual seeker Susan once so aptly put it,

“Everything comes by to say ‘Hello’.”

Dr.Willoughby Britton, a clinical psychologist and neuroscience researcher, went on a meditation retreat. She reports,

“I thought that I had gone crazy. I thought I was having a nervous breakdown. I mean I really had no idea why I was suddenly having all these, like terror was big symptom of mine. And I found out much later that these were actually classic stages of meditation and I was woefully uninformed.”

After this experience, she became the most prominent researcher of the Dark Night phenomenon. She has found an amazing range of disturbing experiences due to meditation practices. These include headaches, nausea, muscle twitching, seeing light, concentration difficulties, anxiety, depression, an inability to socialize or to have a job or to take care of children, in severe cases lasting for years.

Dr. Britton is courageously speaking up about the Dark Night  even though critics have attempted to silence her (after all, mindfulness practices are popular in business nowadays; but the focus is on how to be a better version of one’s former self , and not about how to lose one’s self and find the truth of one’s real being.) Her website with more helpful resources is http://cheetahhouse.org/. (In case this site is down, you can also go to her facebook page for more information, https://www.facebook.com/Cheetah-House-108383069235890/  .)

What about help in this phase?

Many people feel already comfortable if they are reassured by a teacher that these experiences are normal and will subside over time.

For me, the most valuable advice was to let the emotions come up and to witness them. That is, don’t judge them, don’t suppress them, feel them fully,  but don’t get engaged too much in them. Afterwards, direct attention 180 degrees backwards to awareness itself – to our real being.

The fine line between feeling emotions fully and drowning in them too much was tricky for me (I had to rely on inner guidance, like dreams, that would tell me when I was off track). When this process was done, often layers of emotion were revealed, like in an onion. They came up, were felt fully, and then released.

It is important not to pathologize these experiences. I like to think of them as the healing of an infected wound with a splinter in it. Concealing it with a band-aid won’t heal it. Rather, there will be an immune reaction with inflammation and pus in order to remove the splinter and the dirt. This phase doesn’t look pretty. But that’s the nature of the healing process.

***

So, that’s the paradox of this journey. In order to find peace beyond understanding we must give up our illusions, our belief in separation, our attachment to our mistaken identity. And usually, this process entails some emotional turmoil.

Let me end with an ACIM quote:

Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists.
Herein lies the peace of God.