I came into contact with the peace and stillness of Beingness long before I had any idea what it was. In my twenties, caught up in the world of work and relationships, focused almost entirely on ‘doing’ as opposed to ‘being,’ its presence in my life was still powerful enough to make a lasting impression – a footprint in my soul that marked a sacred space.
I have my friend and ‘Japanese mother’ Hitomi to thank for this. I’ve found it to be a funny thing that it’s when we’re at our lowest ebb that we become more open and receptive to the non-visible and indefinable presence of subtle energy in our lives.
I had met Hitomi soon after I first came to Japan, and would sometimes visit her on the weekends. We enjoyed a sense of heartfelt connection from the start, as, with little more than a dictionary and our strong desire to communicate, we somehow managed to make ourselves more or less understood.
As my Japanese language skills grew I came to appreciate Hitomi’s wisdom as well as her kindness and generosity of spirit. But it was only when I was physically, emotionally, mentally and, (though I didn’t know it at the time), spiritually tired; worn down by frequent storms in a turbulent relationship and not enough sleep, by trying to squeeze myself into the box that (I thought) would make my then-partner happy, that I really felt the healing nature of her presence.
It wasn’t that we talked about any of ‘my stuff.’ But it was as if her presence alone was a balm to my soul, and I would leave her house with a calm and peaceful spirit – feeling replenished, stronger and somehow returned to myself.
Being with her brought a sense of solace, but I didn’t really look into the whys and wherefores. If anything, I put it down to our mutual pleasure in each other’s company and the natural beauty that surrounded her house, tucked away in the mountains.
Soon after that I had the privilege of living with Hitomi for the best part of a year while I looked for the house I still live in. By that time I was out of the relationship and in a job that demanded long hours and working weekends. Again, Hitomi’s presence was like a restorative balm in my life.
Crazily busy as I was, there was a sense of time slowed-down time that seemed to imbue our hours together and enabled me to return to and feel like myself again. When we spent the odd morning or afternoon together, it was like I was going back to a simpler time; a time when work deadlines and modern day stresses didn’t exist. A time when the simple pleasures of the warmth of the sun on my skin, the beauty of a single flower and the taste of the chai that she would make for us to drink together prevailed.
It was as if I stepped Narnia-like through the wardrobe into a different world. One in which I was free to just ‘be.’
I wasn’t aware enough at the time to realise the sense of liberation inherent in this; or that it could become a state of being that was lived all the time, instead of just the odd afternoon.
What I could see and appreciate was the inherent dignity and beauty in the way Hitomi both presented herself to and interacted with the people and things in her world. Her movements as she went about her day were slow and deliberate, infused with a simplicity and beauty reminiscent of the Japanese tea ceremony or Ikebana.
She would give whatever she was doing her full attention, focusing only on that and the conversation that flowed back and forth between us without effort. And it was this concentration of her focus and energy on the task at hand that gave her movements their effortless beauty and grace.
Compared to my double and triple tasking filled work days, in which my energy was scattered tenfold, the time I spent with her was a time of quiet and stillness. And it was this quiet and stillness that was such a solace to my soul.
Though I didn’t know it at the time, I was in the presence of Beingness.
Several years later, (at the suggestion of Hitomi), I joined a tai chi class, which we both still attend to this day. Our teacher talks of how it is when we bring our mind, body and breath into unity that we find the deep-seated peace and calmness for which we all yearn.
To me this is what Beingness is – the acute present-moment awareness that illumines all that we are and all that we do when we still our minds and focus on the Now moment, bringing our awareness to both our internal and our external realities at the same time; simultaneously placing our attention on the inner world of our heart-space and breathing and the external reality of our interactions with the physical world.
This act takes us outside of all time and brings us profoundly into the Now. As we come into the Now our breathing seems to slow; our heart naturally expands its sense of peace and well-being; and the world around us is more keenly felt as our awareness of minute details is enhanced – it’s as if things come into sharper focus; and light, sound and colour intensify.
This is the state of Beingness. It’s a state in which we know and experience our humanity and our divinity in a single moment – the stillness in our heart and each life-giving breath reminding us that we are spawned of and connected to the Source of all that is; the intensified awareness of the things in our external world reminding us that this eternal part of us is housed in a temporary physical body, experiencing itself as part of an ever-changing physical world.
When we are in this state of Beingness, dualities cease to exist. The human self and the divine self are known and experienced as one. There is no separation, there is only life. All is life. And as life, all is divine.
A life lived in this state of Beingness is a life lived in meditation.
Not the sitting crossed-legged on the floor kind of meditation that may come to mind; but a meditative state in which we carry the peace and stillness of the Infinite in our hearts and minds throughout the day, reminding us of our connection to and oneness with it. A meditative state in which we observe our thoughts and emotions as they come and go, returning our attention to the present moment each time it drifts away; bringing the full force of our attention to whatever we happen to be encountering in our life in the Now moment. A meditative state in which we are aware of both our inner and our outer realities, integrating them successfully so that we are able to experience and express the wholeness of our Being.
This is the kind of Beingness that Hitomi was presenting for me. And I now see what a gift it was. It was thanks to the powerful strength and presence of Hitomi’s Beingness – the calmness and stillness of the Infinite at the core of her being which was reflected in the way she interacted with her world and me as a part of that world – that her energy field (read ’emotions’ ) was able to have such a profound and healing effect on mine.
This power to positively affect others through our state of being is one that belongs to us all. As energetic beings our emotional state sends out vibrations that affect the people around us and prompt them to respond to us in various ways, as we have all seen in our relationships with others.
Negative emotions send out a low vibration; usually attracting a low vibrational response in return. So if you shout at someone, they are likely to go on the defensive and respond to you in a negative way. As you move up the emotional vibrational scale you should find that people respond to you more favourably. So when you treat others with respect and compassion, you usually find that they respond in kind.
There are various different scales around, but the highest vibrating emotions are generally presented as being those of love, peace, joy, gratitude, appreciation, freedom…
What is of particular relevance here is that, as with electricity in which lower voltage currents are absorbed by higher currents, if the energetic field of the person holding the higher emotional vibration is strongly held the “higher frequencies or vibrations can absorb lower ones and turn them into higher vibrations.” (Hans Liszikam in The God Code in the Seven and Its Effect on Our Physical, Mental and Spiritual Lives).
Seen from this perspective, the power of Hitomi’s presence and its ability to affect me positively – in such a way that my stress and worries seemed to recede and my heart and Spirit felt more at ease – lay in her strongly held field of high-vibrational energy from which emanated the love, peace, serenity and joy of the Infinite that she embodied at the core of her being.
This is the power of Beingness.
The peace, calmness, joy and love that we are when we are connected to the Infinite part of ourselves and living in the Now moment ripple outwards, coming into contact with the energy fields of others and leaving healing footprints in the souls of everyone we meet.
People find themselves restored, rejuvenated, more at peace, more in touch with themselves and their inner wisdom; feel somehow more themselves without quite being able to put their finger on why, when they are in the presence of Beingness.
This restorative power is a gift in the life of anyone; but for those who are hurting, weary, worn down by life and disconnected from the very essence of who they are, it literally has the capacity to call back home the splintered parts of their soul and reconnect them to beauty, to love, to wonder, and to a magical sense of awe at this miracle that we call life.
At the same time as our Beingness is a gift to others, it is also the most precious gift we can give to ourselves. It is when we connect to our own Beingness that we really discover the peace of the Infinite that resides in our hearts and the profound joy that is available to us in the present moment. When we’re experiencing vibrationally low emotions, we can consciously choose to return to our own Beingness and drink deeply of its restorative power in a potent act of self-healing. Our Beingness is also the gateway to unexplored realms of self-discovery and a felt connection to Source, for we can only know that which we are able to be fully present with.
During the few months we lived together, Hitomi often spoke of cultivating a profound peace and stillness in your heart that is so complete it can’t be disturbed by the things that life throws at you. She likened this sense of peace and stillness to a tranquil lake upon which the reflection of the moon lies unbroken. This is the quality of Beingness that she was reflecting for me during those times we spent together, and this is the quality of Beingness I would like to embody and share as my gift to myself and to everyone and everything I encounter in the world.
This is a lofty aspiration that may take me some time to reach, but I can at least allow any ripples in my emotions and energy field to pass through me swiftly and easily; making a conscious choice, as I notice them, to return to the sacred space of my own Beingness. And as, in the core of my being, the peace and stillness of that tranquil lake with its unbroken moon is restored, I can hold the intention that it is these qualities – the reflection of the Infinite inscribed in my heart – that ripple out from me into the world.
A large part of my healing journey has been focused on the hall marks of the third chakara – self-love, self-worth, self-value, self-esteem, self-confidence and self-assurance. I seemed to have a deficit of them all. I have been lacking these qualities, in fact, as far back as I can remember. Even as a child I remember comparing myself with others and coming up lacking; always feeling that I was somehow ‘less than…’ and ‘not as good as…’ As so many of us do I pushed myself to excel in the one area I was good at – academic studies – to make up for my perceived deficit and prove to the world, but most of all to myself, that I was good enough, I did have value, I was worthy of love… And way into my thirties all I’d been doing was repeating that pattern over and over; locating my self-worth in my achievements rather than having a sense of my intrinsic worth as a human ‘being,’ not a human ‘doing.’
Then events in my personal life propelled me slap bam wallop into the world of healing and the notion that love for myself – far from being selfish – was, in fact, nourishing, self-honoring, self-respecting, and the only way I could hope to create both a rounded sense of self and a fulfilling life, as well as being an essential waypoint on the route to learning how to truly love another. I came to the awareness that I am not lacking in any way – just ‘in process’ as all of us are. That I don’t need to compare myself to anyone else, for each of us is here on our own journey. And that I am perfect just as I am even with all my imperfections – ‘perfectly imperfect’ as my friend Jeremiah would say. To realize that by sheer dint of being born I have as much right to be here as every one else and am equally worthy – neither more so or less so. That I have the right to take up space and to fill that space being uniquely and beautifully me, and to feel comfortable with and good about doing that even when that ‘me’ doesn’t conform to other people’s ideas of who or what I should be. In essence, I learned that I am free to be me.
Knowing something in your head and being able to apply it in your experience of the world are two very different things, but after an intense immersion in various seminars and healing processes I have definitely made progress. I no longer constrict my body and try to make myself as small as possible to avoid standing out when I walk into the supermarket, (standing out and feeling like you have to moderate yourself and your behaviour as a result is one of the few disadvantages of being a ‘foreigner’ in rural Japan); consciously releasing the tension from my shoulders and reminding myself that I have as much right to be there in the supermarket, to be here on this planet, as everyone else. I have stopped comparing myself to others as much, and learned instead to put the focus on self-growth and self-expansion. I have made lists of all the things I like about myself and realized that most of them are related to my qualities as a human being rather than my achievements, upping my self-worth and value in the process. In short, I’ve become much more comfortable in my skin and with who I am, my persona here on Earth, the whole beautiful and contradictory mishmash of humanness that that is.
There are, however, still some gaping holes in the foundations of my carefully constructed castle of self, as a recent experience with a guided meditation revealed…
“I love myself fully. I trust myself fully. I am uniquely self-expressed,” was the particular phrase that provoked a pantomime-like call of “Oh no you don’t” to echo through the caves of my mind.
To the credit of all the healing work, I didn’t actually have a problem with the first or last sentences. It was that little one about self-trust in the middle that set the doubts to reverberating around my head.
And to be honest it surprised me a little… Granted, I don’t think we are brought up to trust ourselves. If we have a question of any kind; be it medical, financial, spiritual or personal, we are more often than not directed to seek the advice of an expert exterior to ourselves. It is also true that during the course of fifteen and a half years of living in a culture so different to my own, and one that has so many social customs and conventions to follow at that, I have often located my decision-making power outside of myself, born of a desire to do the ‘right thing’ for the culture I’m living in but resulting in a serious depletion of my sense of having any self-power. I also can’t deny that my ‘go with the flow’ kind of personality hasn’t really helped – nine times out of ten I’m content to go where the other person wants and do what they want to do without offering a suggestion because, to be honest, I’m pretty much happy enough anywhere doing anything (within limits of course).
But during the last year and a half or so I thought I had made progress in this area as well as others. I’ve actively started to take responsibility for making more decisions about my life – starting with the little things to be sure, but in the process I have gradually built up a certain degree of confidence in my ability to make choices that support me and the type of person I want to be. I’ve also made a conscious effort to kick my habit of being over-dependent on others, and to try to build healthy interdependent relationships instead. I’ve slowly but surely been pulling back little pieces of my power, and, while I know I still have a long way to go and want to become more pro-active about making decisions and changes in my life, if you had of asked me I would have said that my self-trust was at a higher level than it had been for a long while.
And yet… that one little phrase opened up the floodgates for an almighty wave of resistance to come crashing through…
And what did I do? I rode on through the wave and thanked it.
For our resistance is like a spotlight showing us where we still need to work on ourselves to help us return to wholeness. And so, with grateful thanks to my latest wave of resistance, my next inquiry on my journey back to wholeness will be into the nature of self-trust and how I can cultivate more of it.
My intention is to lean to trust myself so fully that I know, were I to take a big leap into the unknown like a trapeze artist, I would be there on the other side to catch myself. This is the level of trust in self I would like to see in my life; and this is what I shall move towards one small step at a time, however long a process it may be.
At the same time, it doesn’t mean that I think I have to do everything by and for myself. It’s more a case of knowing that I will always be there for myself – that I will get better at making choices that honor and support myself as well as others; that I will do what I can but recognize my limits and know when to ask for help; that I will start to assert my right to be my own person and the creator of my own life; that I will start to believe in my ability to do the things I dream of; that I will start to listen to my own knowings and to do what feels right for me; that I will no longer allow people to trample all over me without a word of protest on my part; that I will let myself release from my life the people who bring or put me down without feeling unnecessary guilt about doing so; and that I will put myself and my happiness first, whilst at the same time always holding the intention of showing kindness, consideration and compassion to others.
And so, at the start of this new year, my new affirmation is: I am learning to trust myself more and more each day.
This rings true for me. And, in speaking it aloud daily, I will consolidate its truth and help to make it so.
‘Suffering? A gift? Has she gone crazy?’ (Or so I can imagine some of you thinking). And in many ways I’m inclined to agree.
I hate suffering. I would love to live in a world in which none of us have to suffer. A world of peace, joy and harmony. A world without pain, sickness, war, abusive relationships of any kind, separation or death.
But this is not the world we live in. And in the interests of the fierce honesty that I’m striving to embrace, I must admit that sometimes it can feel like there’s one heck of a lot of suffering. Sometimes it can seem too much for us to bear, both in our own lives and when we look at the world around us.
Suffering is one of our common denominators. No matter who we are, where we live in the world or what circumstances we are born into, we all encounter suffering at some point in our lives.
It strikes me now. at this late stage of the day, that this is a deeply sensitive subject to write or talk about, and that I am foolhardy to even attempt to do so. But I made a commitment to myself that I would write about the things that I feel well up inside of me asking for expression, and tonight that happens to be this notion of suffering. And, most importantly, the idea of turning our sufferings into our strengths.
I’m not going to attempt to speak to the whys and wherefores of suffering, beyond to say that I certainly don’t think our suffering is a punishment for our sins as some would have us believe. I see suffering as a natural and inevitable part of our human condition. The experience of heartbreak as natural and inevitable as the experience of love, the experience of sadness as natural and inevitable as the experience of joy. Life is all about balance, and whatever circumstances we are born into we are sure to have a mixture of both what we, with our human eyes, see as ‘the good’ and ‘the bad.’
But I have learned that ‘the bad’ can also be ‘the good,’ thinly veiled in a disguise of pain and heartache. And if it’s a bit too much of a stretch of the imagination to turn things around and see ‘the bad’ as ‘the good,’ I think a lot of us are able to resonate with the idea that it can certainly motivate us to get to the good a lot quicker, and so serves us in that way.
I want to mention, very briefly, some of the ways in which I have experienced suffering in my life, as a route into the far more important part of the story – the gifts that I have gradually come to see these instances of suffering have opened up for me. I am of the mind that it is in the telling of our stories that we help others to validate and negotiate their own. It is my sincere hope that my story will be a source of strength and hope to some amongst you.
The sufferings I choose to present here are the ones that stick in my mind because they have been directly responsible for me choosing a new way of living in, and interacting with, the world around me. In each case my experience of suffering propelled me to move forward into action and create a better life for myself, and it is in this sense that I can now call my sufferings, perhaps, my greatest gift. For it is when we’re living a life of comfortable mediocrity that it is easy to become blind to our heartfelt passions and what it is that we truly desire from life. In truth it is often our deepest and most heartfelt sufferings that push us into the self-examination necessary to dig deep and excavate this gold.
And so a job with excessive overtime in my twenties led me down the road of exhaustion, eventually forcing me to confront the fact that this was not in alignment with how I felt life should be experienced. Life was here to be lived and enjoyed; there was so much more to it than the world of work, so why was I in a situation in which I channeled all of my energies into my job and, very often, had none left to even enjoy myself on the weekend? This bit of self-reflection eventually led to a drastic change in my working circumstances; I was determined to create a life in which I could enjoy my hobbies as well as my work; and this I did. It is largely thanks to all that overtime that I was so determined to pursue my dream of taking up pottery. So the suffering I experienced in the world of work literally gave me the gift of motivating me to follow one of my dreams; and the joy and fulfillment that doing pottery has given me since then is immeasurable.
Similarly a verbally abusive relationship pushed me to confront the fact that this was not the kind of relationship I wanted to experience, and to really investigate and consciously decide, for the first time in my life, what kind of partner I did want to be with and what kind of experiences I did want to have in relationship. This led to the creation of a beautiful relationship of mutual respect and gratitude, in which I was very happy for a very long time.
And then the next gift of suffering came along, as I realized that my genuine and heartfelt desire for more time together as a couple was not being heard. This caused me great emotional suffering; for I couldn’t believe, couldn’t get myself to accept, that this relationship in which I had been so happy for so long was now the cause of my pain.
Buddhism teaches that it is our attachment to the things in the world that creates our suffering, and this certainly rings true for me. It was my resistance to the truth that the relationship was no longer serving me, my desire to cling onto it, that created the greatest suffering of all. For when talks with my partner didn’t create the kind of change I was looking for, my ego still stubbornly refused to let go to what had been my source of love, comfort, safety and security for so long. I tried everything I could think of to make it work, longing only for the relationship to return to what it was before; as I desperately fought to try and control reality and resist the natural flow of life. And finally, when I had run out of things to try; when every day seemed to be a tear-filled one; when anxiety started to eat me up inside and it felt like depression was looming on the horizon, I had to face up to what had been staring me in the face all along: something in my life wasn’t working. Despite having a fantastic job; a still loving and caring partner; a rich and fulfilling life in so many ways, I was no longer happy. In fact, I felt so broken I wondered if I’d ever be able to put myself back together again.
Appropriately my greatest suffering opened me up into my greatest gift; the gift of rediscovering myself. This past year I have walked the path of deep self-exploration. I have gotten honest with myself. Finally! I have examined what in my life makes me happy and what does not, and started to move away from those things that don’t contribute to my happiness and deeper into those things that do. Learning that our experiences in the world are a mirror, reflecting back at us our inner reality, I was forced to confront all the ways in which I wasn’t hearing myself; was denying myself the experience of my own feelings; to heal and nurture my inner child; and to commit to being there for myself come what may. At some point my journey of self healing became a spiritual one of self-discovery and I learned the beauty and the joy of living fully in the present moment; am learning now, bit by bit, to love and value myself exactly as I am; to be my own source of my happiness and self-worth instead of depending on other people for it. And I have also rediscovered my soul and its passion for life and all that is beautiful and good and loving; and this has maybe been the greatest gift of all.
It is in our suffering that we become vulnerable; cracked open; more in touch with the truth of who we are and the truth of our reality, as the harsh light of our pain forces us to look at everything with new, more open, more perceptive, eyes. What remains unconscious within us cannot be changed. And so it is only from the experience of this heightened perception, with which we can see what is as it really is, that we can begin to change our world.
It is in our very suffering that we are driven to experience something better in our lives. It is out of our suffering that the desire for more joy, more peace, more love, more abundance in our lives; a life truer to ourselves, emerges. It is the gift of our suffering that makes our present circumstances unacceptable to us, and this that jolts us out of our complacency and gives us the strength and courage required to break out of our comfort zone and reach out, with arms and heart stretched wide open, to embrace change in all its scary unknownness. For once the known has become unacceptable to us, what is there except for the unknown?
And as we begin to look into the truth of who we are and what we really desire for our life in the deepest, most essential part of us, we can at last start to consciously create a life with more joy in it than suffering. A life in which our sufferings themselves seem to be transmuted into joy, as we see how each and every one of them has made us stronger; led us forward on our path; and helped us to come into greater connection with ourselves and the truth of who we are.
At the end of this tumultuous and, in many ways, difficult year, I find myself stronger; more connected; more in alignment with the truth of who I am; more empowered; more at peace; more joyful more often. I am deeply grateful for all that has been given me, for all of it has awarded me the chance to know myself more fully and to expand into greater depths of my being; and it is this that has opened the door onto who I am now becoming and what I am now choosing to create in the world.