When somebody says those words to us, it’s typically intended as a kind of rebuke. But when we pose the question (with great tenderness) to ourselves, it can take on a new feel. It may even turn out to be a blessing in the exploration of what it is to wake up. The query has the potential to shine a light on what could be in the way of our growing consciousness.
My newest book (Love Incarnate: Twenty Years After Awakening) looks at the various “parts” of a human being. In one of my teachings (Heart, Mind, and Body, posted October 2022), I explore what seems to have happened in my own case, including having to do with awakening.
I would like now to offer a bit more on that topic. I hope it will be of help to you in your explorations.
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For most of us, one of the three innate human faculties — mind, heart, body — is likely to be primary in how we orient to life experience. This applies equally to this moment, something in the past, or a development that appears to be upcoming. To the extent that a person is conscious of whatever faculty is operating in a given moment, the potential for ongoing experience to be illumining is enhanced.
How might you be described by someone who knows you well?
So (for instance) if you are primarily in your head, then you’re likely to do this looking through the mental lens. If you’re more heartfelt, the feeling mechanism is probably first to kick in. For many of us — this was true of me — as soon as emotional pain starts its churning in the belly, the mind will swiftly engage in the interest of self-protection. Humans are averse to pain, whether it’s physical or emotional.
But guess what? In the case of bodily discomfort, pain can be a blessing for its ability to call attention to potential illness or some other material threat that might be addressed. That’s one thing. But when a person attempts to alleviate emotional pain (which very likely occurs courtesy of driving it underground), that’s another matter altogether. Pushing down painful feelings can turn out to be every bit as ravaging as a physical illness. But if we’re willing to turn our consciousness toward the truth that this is what we’re doing — rather than averting our wincing eyes from what’s happening on the interior — oh, what a light can turn on.
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Almost every person has all three faculties operating, but one tends to be dominant. The faculty leading the way for one person differs from what it is for another. For me, prior to awakening, it was my heart, with my mind taking a close second.
What is your nature? That is, which of your human faculties seems primary in your processing of ongoing life? Don’t jump to a quick answer on this. You likely make assumptions about it, but grant yourself a little space to do some observing today. Remember: there is no “correct” or wise way to go about orienting to reality. The question is, how do you tick? How might you be described by someone who knows you well?
Our own tendencies are shaped by conditioning, our personal history, and the environment we’re in, and likely to some extent by our genes. If you look at your identity, how you believe you present to others (or perhaps how you would like to), you may get a clue. Do keep in mind that the way we tend to see ourselves, and likely to imagine the way others see us, is not always in harmony with the way they actually experience us. In fact, the two are — more often than not — actually at odds with one another. All you need to do in order to see the truth of this is look at your own sense of another person, and observe how they seem to think themselves very different from how others experience them. Whatever tendency runs the show also inevitably carries with it certain areas of illusion and distortion, an interior sort of blindness.
It may be that in various passages of your life — and do allow yourself to revisit how you were in childhood — your primary “faculty” will change. For instance, you might have been wounded by your oh-so-heartfelt innocence in childhood or perhaps adolescence, and your backward-gazing eyes can observe how you hardened in the aftermath.
As we mature into adulthood and experience one thing after another, some of which devastates, some of which makes us feel good about ourselves, a persona of sorts begins to dominate.
Being able to look directly (without wincing) at the part of yourself you most strongly identify with can open a window onto what gets in the way of your growing wakefulness. The mind in particular can have the unfortunate capacity to become a protective wall we take refuge behind, lest we feel more deeply than the mind supposes we can bear. This dynamic is frequently tucked below much conscious awareness; that is part of why it “works.”
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Curiously, sometimes the very thing we’ve hidden behind can become a door to more authentic engagement with life — and with ourselves. Especially if that part of us has taken a significant hit.
Let’s say I’ve identified with my physical prowess or my beauty or my bodily health, and then something happens to undermine one of those qualities I’ve taken pride in. Maybe it’s something others have admired about me, or even envied. That kind of shock to my sense of self may turn out to be the first time I’ve seen how much I identified with my looks or my physicality. And that has the potential to open a door.
Anyone who’s turned gray or wrinkly but is accustomed to being seen as lovely may cringe at the image in the mirror, as aging carries on. Indeed, sometimes people will report that they are shocked to see what they look like. Who is that person? More often they actually do not see what others see. There is this unconscious avoidance of one’s own looks. And maybe they didn’t even realize until then — that delicious moment of recognition that I have been in denial for years — that there was a discrepancy between how they continued to imagine how they looked and the actual visual reflected back to their eyes.
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What is truly wonderful is that the part of us we have most deeply identified with can turn out to be — if we’re conscious of that identification — the very door through which freedom enters. Give it a shot. You never know. The braver, the more conscious you allow yourself to be, the better the chance that the thing you’ve prided yourself on or taken refuge behind will open the pathway you’ve been aching for all these years of searching.
Matters can change post-awakening, regarding which faculty dominates; one capacity may be felt to blossom as life carries on. This can be the case even for whatever was once the source of the most torment — in my case, my mind. A balance among the three may gradually evolve.
Be a lifelong learner — before, during, and after awakening. What a blessing that continuing tendency that can be. It surely has been for me. Be curious about your dear self, and the learning will never cease.