One of the most common and persistent questions that I have been asked by people is “How can we integrate our spiritual revelations and insights into daily life?” This is, of course, a lifelong question to which the answer is an ever-unfolding process of maturation. However, it does seem to me that a great leap in this process could occur if we only questioned more courageously what spirituality actually means, or in other words, what a complete spiritual transformation would look like.
To succeed in integrating spirituality into one’s daily life, you need to fully and unreservedly agree to be here, with your both feet on the shaky ground of earth. You need to love life to the core of your being, which means to stop fearing its constant changes and uncertainties. You cannot integrate anything into a life that you unconsciously reject. So the question is: can spirituality as we know it help us remove all resistance? Do our spiritual practices and revelations encourage us to agree to the challenge of life?
The great common mistake in the understanding of spirituality
It is my belief that there’s a great common mistake in the understanding of spirituality that keeps us forever unable to fully respond to the challenge. This great error, which at first may seem to you purely semantic, is to be found in pretty much all of the known teachings of spiritual awakening. It is the instruction: “Go inside – and there you shall find the truth”. It is the promise that the truth is waiting, hidden, within us.
In my mind, in this traditional view there exists a twofold danger. The first one is a psychological danger. We may not realize it, but such an instruction actually strengthens those parts of ourselves that anyway maintain a failed connection with life. Telling us to go within, even more within than we already are, means to hide in a bunker, in a place where our subjective world becomes more and more the only reality we communicate with.
A major part of our inner world is a place we first created during our childhood. It is a mental and emotional sanctuary that we developed since we needed a place to take refuge in whenever life became too difficult or hostile. That was like our last resort, the place that no one could touch, harm, or invade. To this place exactly we escape also today, whenever things become harsh and uncontainable. It’s like the part of us that would always understand us, so even if we were left completely alone, it would be there, to comfort and to compensate and to soothe our pain.
When we’re guided to go within and to abide in our ‘true self’, we don’t realize that psychologically speaking, as long as we need the safety of our inner world, we’re only replacing that inner sanctuary with a new one. Though more sophisticated and refined, it again reaffirms our need for a haven, a hiding place built by our thoughts and emotions and now – by our spiritual experiences and feelings.
The second danger is, of course, spiritual. Going more and more within strengthens the very erroneous conviction that the ‘world is an illusion’ while our self alone is real. How could that conviction ever support us in our efforts to fully be here and to finally build the bridge? Obviously, this pushes us more towards aloofness and alienation from life.
Waking up from the dream of one’s inner world
When I went through my own initial awakening, fifteen years ago at the age of 23, I didn’t experience it at all as a ‘going within’. On the contrary: for the first time in my life I was completely ‘outside’, outside myself and out there, in what finally revealed itself as the real world. I could finally witness the breathtaking wholeness of life, in which I, the seer, was an inseparable part of. Indeed, it was such a relief to merge into life and to leave behind my false inner world! Just like Byron Katie beautifully described about her own awakening: for the first time she could be in the real world, with real people that were no longer clouded by the projections of her inner world.
We can definitely go as far as saying that awakening is waking up from the dream of one’s inner world. It is not needing anymore the inner sanctuary and being able to step in, with eyes wide open. This is when you no longer need to close your eyes, since there’s nothing left to find inside. Your inside is the outside now. Truth is when you have completely abandoned yourself.
Many say ‘the world is unreal while the self is real’. My own revelation has led me to embrace the very opposite: I’m not real, while this cosmos is real. I don’t see why we should liberate ourselves from the world. It is the other way around: we should free the world from ourselves.
Accepting the doctrine that guides us to leave the world behind will lead us, I believe, to a severe disconnection. Realizing, on the other hand, that life is real can lead to the much sought-after mergence of our heart with life’s heart. Such a realization turns us into true lovers of life who celebrate the dissolution of the barrier that falsely separated the two. It’s the beginning of a new commitment that completely upends the ancient myth of spiritual liberation, like in Buddha’s Nirvana: you agree to reincarnate forever on this earth; your suffering ends when you stop resisting life and abandon the dream to be freed from it.
The four stages of awakening
We can more easily understand the psycho-spiritual process that culminates in awakening through a four-stage model. In the first stage, at the beginning of our life, we are totally ‘out there’ with no defensive inner world (that’s why we are more exposed to strong psychological imprints). Then, in the second, we learn that we must build our inner world, like a protective fortress behind which we can remain more or less unaffected. From it we observe the world through mental and emotional projections.
In the third stage we get to know the spiritual teachings, and begin to close our eyes to seek stronger inner foundations which can serve us better than the psychological refuge. Through this haven we develop true non-attachment and stability, but sometimes tend to over-develop our innermost and so, reach a state of excess and imbalance. This is only a transitory stage, in which many, even spiritual teachers, get stuck. The fourth stage begins a new era in our life: just like in our early childhood, we are again completely out there, but now this is a transcendent and fully conscious stage.
Leaving the inner world behind
My suggestion: add to your spiritual practice this experiment of leaving the inner world behind in favor of full presence here, and having nowhere to return to. It’s like leaving your house and walking on the street, while behind your back your house suddenly vanishes into thin air. There are no more imaginations and self-reflections in such a state: the flower, the people, the sky are real, but you’re not. It’s like totally emptying yourself and disappearing in order to be filled by the real life. This is not an impossible practice: we have actually experienced this state, in which we were gone and only the situation remained, in situations of emergency, when our dear ones urgently needed our attention or someone around was in danger. We also know it from situations in which our entire attention was focused and concentrated, like when we studied or created something that we really loved. So try it, while entering a forest or walking on a crowded street: let the outside grow in realness while ‘you’ disappear from sight.
Another practice is relevant when we’re confused or distressed. In such conditions we tend to become immersed in ourselves. Try the opposite: remind yourself that life is real, since it exists outside your projections and imaginations. In actuality, it is you who aren’t real, since you are deeply engrossed in a dream-like state, while everything around is tangibly real in the most liberating sense.
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