WELCOMING EVERYTHING HOME
St. John of the Cross said, “Take my lofty spiritual concepts and plunge them into darkness and then burn them. Let me love only you Beloved. Let me, quietly and with unutterable simplicity, only love you.” These potent words point to the futility of holding onto the idea that understanding the “absolute truth” will enable us to rise above our human experience and achieve a higher state of consciousness that’s more desirable or worthy. They point to the revelation that transcendence is a denial of the Beloved that is ever-present in the naked fact of our humanity.
The belief that enlightenment will obliterate the pain of physical injury or sickness, or the heartache of loss of a loved one, or the unpredictability of world events, is a seductive one that keeps us on the treadmill of “seeking enlightenment” and often leads to “spiritual bypassing”. And yet enlightenment is the end of suffering. How can we embrace these two seemingly opposing perspectives? How can we stay open as true nature in the midst of the messiness of the human experience? How can we be in the world but not of it?
The simplest and most direct way of reconciling the paradox of being fully awake and being fully human is to welcome everything. Welcoming everything means tenderness, kindness, acceptance. In other words, non-resistance to whatever you’re experiencing. But it’s not about putting up with harmful circumstances — such as when somebody smacks you in the mouth and you move to defend yourself, or you’re in an abusive relationship and you leave to protect yourself, and so on. It’s about your being tender towards your energetic experience — the internal landscape of feelings and sensations, the “felt-sense” of this very moment.
What is this felt-sense? It’s every flutter of your heartbeat, every tingle in your skin, and every whisper of warmth in your breath. It’s every ripple of energy coursing through your veins, every crack in the wall around your heart, and every dull ache in the pit of your belly. It’s what is here — before you label it as a positive emotion or a negative emotion, before you label it as a good thing or a bad thing.
Simply allowing yourself to feel what is here — especially if this feeling has been previously denied — is the resolution to the suffering created by a mind at war with reality. But how to do this, when there has been a lifetime of running away from feeling, a lifetime of performing mental acrobatics to avoid the truth of what is here in your direct experience?
First of all, be very honest with yourself. Do you run away from your pain, your shame, your secret rage and private grief? Do you stuff those unwanted feelings into the dark recesses of your belly, cover them over with things to do, things to get, things to eat? Do you turn away from disappointment, rejection, failure, and regret, pretending they don’t visit you in the dark of night? Do you try to fix your fractured heart, shut down your restless mind, stick a band-aid over your emotional wounds, to prevent the dirt and mess of being human from oozing out? Do you turn to spirituality as a salve for all that you think is wrong with you, holding tight to the belief that transcendence will prove your perfection once and for all?
Secondly, recognize that your tenderness, your kindness, your acceptance — your welcoming-ness — is the doorway through which everything that has been previously unloved can “come home” and return to source. Just feeling the energy, allowing it, letting it be ... and what was a tight contraction is able to relax. Perhaps not all at once — more likely this relaxation happens in small increments. It’s like a small child or a scared animal — as the energy of contraction starts to feel held more and more, it starts to feel safe more and more, and starts to relax more and more. Eventually the contraction dissolves into the freedom of being. The simplicity and purity of this being-ness — unadulterated by narratives of what is wrong and what shouldn’t be here — is your true nature.
The purpose of everything in your experience that seems so unwelcome is to reveal to you — not conceptually as a belief, but experientially as a visceral recognition — that your essential nature is prior to all experience. Who you really are is prior to all content — whether the content is ecstatic or terrifying, or anything in between. Who you really are is the open awareness — the space or consciousness — that is always here. But you only get closer to this realization when you stop avoiding the content of your experience. The attempt to avoid meeting what scares you, prevents you from this deeper knowing of your true nature.
So, when terror arises, when an intense unbearability arises, know that it is God knocking at the door from the inside — it’s not the devil trying to torment you. It’s not that there’s something terribly wrong, but that something immensely good is unfolding ... it is God’s invitation from your innermost. The question is not “How can I get rid of dark emotions?” but “Am I willing to embrace the grit and grace of being human? Am I willing to reject nothing, welcome everything, and surrender into the deepest falling of the open heart?”
Welcoming everything is the doorway to freedom from suffering. It doesn’t erase the felt-sense of pain, but it does bring an end to the prison of ego. The ego is always “running away” or “running towards”, it’s never at rest. This state of agitation — or resistance to this moment — is the root cause of all psychological suffering, whether it be anxiety or panic or depression or dissatisfaction or any other diversion from the peace of being. True peace can only be found in the deep relaxation into this moment, because in the openness of this moment the ego dies — in other words, the automated mechanism of seeking satisfaction or fulfillment in a future moment comes to an end.
The death of ego is a ultimately a love affair with life, with God … and with this moment. Rabindrath Tagore said, “In order to find God, you must welcome everything.” In other words, the deepest acceptance of what is here — the utter simplicity of loving what is — puts an end to the suffering of ego-self and reveals the luminosity and wholeness of your true self and of existence itself.
For me, it was the willingness to open my heart to everything — including the darkness of suffering — that allowed the radiant luminosity of being to reveal itself in my life. Many years ago, on one ordinary day, an existential void — an unfathomable aloneness — arose from deep within and filled me with an overwhelming terror. But unlike other times in my life, I didn’t clamber for a way out — I simply stayed exactly where I was and surrendered to the void.
The surrender was absolute. I surrendered all fear and all hope, I surrendered all imagination of how things should be and even the idea that my life as I had known it would continue in any way at all. I was 100 percent willing to be extinguished and absorbed into an eternity of unknown emptiness. And so, I fell into the dark abyss of being without a safety net. But to my surprise, this was not the end of it! Not only did “I” dissolve into emptiness but, simultaneously, “I” merged with the totality of existence. And this was experienced as the fullness of love. It was a psychological death, a liberation of self from the knot of ego. All resistance had fallen away — I had fallen into the infinite openness of this moment.
I invite you, too, to welcome everything … and to fall open into this unending freedom.
(this was originally published in Dutch, in this month's issue of Inzicht Magazine)