Opening to Ecstasy
by Paul Ferriniexclusive to The New TimesHow We Contribute to Our Own Suffering
Many of us spend a good deal of our time trying to change things that we don't like about ourselves or others. There is usually some major problem in our life that we're trying to fix. Yet, every time we perceive a problem, we create the basis for suffering in our life.
Problems are more subjective then they are objective. If we don't hold onto our limited perception, most "problems" tend to work themselves out. When we struggle with our "problems" they get worse, and then we spend too much of our time upset, angry and ungrateful.
The next time we experience disappointment, we would do well to realize how much we are contributing to our pain. Is it not the meaning that we give to our situation that makes it so difficult for us to bear? A different interpretation might help us to shift how we feel.
When we are in pain, we are being given an opportunity to look at ourselves. If we are willing to look, we will see that there is something rigid and unyielding in ourselves that finds fault with our experience, opposes life, and/or pushes love away.
The more we oppose life, the more difficult our experience will seem. Swimming upstream doesn't lead to results we can be proud of, and every failure aggravates our deep-seated sense of unworthiness and inadequacy. Shifting Our Consciousness
The key to our spiritual growth, then, is not to "change" anything external in our lives, but to change our rejecting attitude. We stop complaining and finding fault with our experience, and learn to accept and work with what happens.
We stop looking for "what's missing" and find what is present. We stop criticizing each other and learn to appreciate each other as we are.
By shifting our attitude from one of finding fault to one of accepting, we step away from struggle and toward the flow of our experience. Difficulties are more easily overcome. Opportunities arise. Doors open to us. Where we used to experience fear and guilt, now we experience grace.
Jesus said, "Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, and all else will be added to you." He also told us that the Kingdom of Heaven lies within. If we bring to our experience the consciousness that it is enough, life will not disappoint us. Heaven will indeed be found on earth.
This does not mean that we will never experience pain, or that life will not occasionally test us. Like Job, none of us can control the outer circumstances of our life. Each of us will experience hardship and grief, not because we are bad and need to be punished, but because our hearts need to be touched that deeply. All these experiences are part of our learning curve. Our hearts will hurt from the pain of loss, and our tears will fall. That is the human experience. Joy and pain come together. We don't stop loving just because we hurt. We just learn to love less selfishly and more profoundly. The Transformation of Lack into Abundance
Poverty can be dealt with as an external condition and it is important that we do so. It is important that those of us who have more share our resources with those who have less.
But poverty is also in inner condition. To be poor in an inward sense means that we do not have confidence in ourselves and trust in our life. When things don't go our way, we think that someone is being unfair to us. We feel like a victim, and we resent others who seem to have more than we do. This is the inward condition that most of us are called to transform.
To transform our attitude of lack into one of abundance, we stop finding fault with others. We cease to envy those who are successful and instead pray for their happiness. We learn to have compassion for ourselves and to stop viewing ourselves as a failure. We learn to see that we are worthy of love, in spite of our mistakes.
When we bring this gentle acceptance to ourselves and others, we are ready for abundance to manifest in our lives. Like a good gardener, we have prepared the soil and planted the seed. If we tend the young plant, if we keep our attitude positive and helpful, good results will come. They may not match our expectations, but we can accept and affirm them anyway.
We can't manifest abundance unless we are able and willing to see what is as acceptable. Acceptance is the watering can, gratitude the water we pour on the parched plant.
Negative interpretations are the language of lack. Faultfinding, criticism, and complaining are like a torrid sun, draining the soil of its moisture. We can't have abundance if we don't meet our experience with hope, faith, and a positive attitude. The Practice of Acceptance
If we aren't ready to celebrate life, let's at least practice accepting it the way it is -- and if we have trouble accepting it, let's practice acceptance of not feeling accepting.
We do this by letting the past go and bringing our consciousness of gratitude to the present moment. Five minutes ago, I might have had the thought that you are a very selfish, egotistical person. But that was five minutes ago. Now, I realize that you are talking and I am not listening to you. So right now I begin to listen. I let the past go and reclaim the present moment.
What are my other choices? I can remember what I thought five minutes ago and keep thinking it. I can remember it, and feel guilty for having that thought. I can beat you up, or beat myself up, or I can just realize that I have the opportunity to be loving and accepting of both of us, right now.
Every moment offers me the possibility of being completely present, but I can do this only if I stop recycling what happened yesterday or five minutes ago and if I stop planning or worrying about what will happen in the future. This is a very simple spiritual practice, is it not? Yet I don't think most of us would consider it an easy one.
So you ask, "Does this mean that all I have to do to become enlightened is to stay in the present all the time?" Of course not! All you have to do to be enlightened is to be in the present right now! It's never about yesterday or tomorrow. Now is only moment when love is possible.
Suppose I invited you to play the 18th hole on a very difficult golf course, and you didn't even know how to swing a golf club. That might feel a bit intimidating. But suppose I said, "You can have as long as you want to make par; take a day, a year, twenty years, whatever you need." Well, that might not be so bad. You'd have plenty of time to practice and improve your skills. Well, that's exactly what you and I have been given in this lifetime: plenty of time to practice. Practice, Practice, Practice
Most of us know what to do; we just don't want to do it. We have heard all the talks, gone to all the workshops, and read all the books. We know that spirituality means staying in the present moment, but we don't practice what we know; practice, after all, is serious business, and it's more fun being entertained than it is practicing. That's fine, I suppose; whatever we choose is fine. We can learn to play in a couple or years or in a couple of lifetimes. It doesn't really matter how long we take.
We're all going to learn sooner or later. There's no rush, so take your time if you want to. If the pain in your life is manageable, if you are not terribly unhappy, then there's no great motivation to learn new skills. But if your pain, unhappiness, or boredom is unbearable, then start your practice now. Practice is the path from "knowing" the light to "being" the light.
Practice accepting yourself exactly as you are. Practice accepting others exactly as they are. Practice accepting each event or circumstance in your life exactly as it is. Stop resisting, defending, trying to fix, alter, or change what happens. Surrender your compulsion to control or manipulate. Just meet life directly as it unfolds. When your thoughts stray to the past or future, just bring them back to this moment.
Tell the truth in this moment. Encourage others to be honest with you right now. Don't try to be responsible for how someone else thinks or feels. Don't try to make their experience fit yours. Just give others the space to be who they are. Don't try to please others at your own expense. Just be who you are.
When others do not accept you or approve of you, just accept that this is what they need to do right now. It might change in five minutes, five months, or five years. It might not. Give them the space they need, but don't close your heart. To be present, your heart needs to be open. Don't judge them or hold them to the past. Be open to them in each moment they share with you. You do not know what the next moment will bring. Don't pretend to know when you don't.
Practice being in this moment without expectations or preconceptions. Practice being with your partner in this moment as if it were the first moment you had shared together. That is the door to ecstasy.
Practice making mistakes without berating yourself. Practice allowing others to make mistakes without correcting them or making them feel guilty. Practice being the presence of love right now. Practice being the essence of compassion right now.
Do you need a special time to practice? Of course not! Just start right now. For the next five minutes, practice being totally present in this moment. And, if you find that you can't do it, just be aware of all of the judgments you make about yourself and others. Be aware of your judgments without judging yourself.
When you are aware of your own process, you can sink down below it to a more essential level of being. Being aware of your judgments, you touch the place in you that is free of judgments. You cannot touch this place if you are running judgments without knowing it.
Your awareness of your judgments is the door to your experience of ecstasy. As you become aware of the ways in which you resist life and push love away, defensive patterns dissolve and the pain drops away. When that happens, there is nothing that stands between you and the experience of bliss.
Paul Ferrini is the author of 14 books on love, healing and forgiveness. His latest book, Miracle of Love, is hot off the press; an earlier book, Love without Conditions, continues to be the number one-selling title in many bookstores. For information on books, call 1-888-HARTWAY.
Paul will be giving talks and workshops in Portland on September 6, 7 and 13 [for information call New Renaissance Bookshop at (503) 224-4929 or Unity at (503) 234-7441] and in Seattle September 19-21 [for information call East West Bookshop at (206) 523-3726].