THE UNIVERSE INSIDE
Episode 11: "Don't be lonely, the entire universe is inside you." These words, written by the poet and Sufi mystic Rumi, point to an overlooked truth about the nature of who we are. It's a truth that can bring great joy and freedom into our lives. Join me as we explore.
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“Do not feel lonely, the entire universe is inside of you.”
Welcome to Real Yoga, a podcast dedicated to helping you use yoga's ancient wisdom to unlock your life of radical happiness, connection and meaning right here, right now. I'm your host Eric Walrabenstein, and I'm glad you're here.
Most of us think we see the world with our mind, but it's more accurate, really, to say that we see the world through our minds.
We look through thoughts, we look through beliefs, we look through preferences and prejudices, and as a result, we see things not as they are, but as they appear after they have been refracted and distorted by these beliefs in the mind.
When I look at the world through my belief that the world is an unsafe place, my belief, not the world, shows me danger around every corner. And when I look at the world through my belief that I'm a confident and worthy person, it is my belief that causes me to feel safe and self-assured.
The fact is that every one of us has thousands upon thousands of beliefs that bend and shift and change the appearance of our world and our experience of it. Each one affecting everything from what we look at, to what we make what we look at mean, to how we feel, and even what we do, in every corner of our lives.
But today I wanted to look specifically at how our beliefs- both seen and unseen, effect one very important thing, perhaps the most important thing. And that is our perception of who or what we really are.
Here's the truth. What most of us take ourselves to be is a far cry from what we truly are. This small and separate person who came into this world alone and as they say, is destined to leave this world alone. A person with limitations and vulnerabilities, with aches and pains, and fears and aspirations and so much more.
This is not you.
This is not me.
It is a manufactured identity. One that is, well, we could say it in two ways. We could say it is but the tiniest sliver of who we really are. Or we could argue it is in no way related to what we are.
Every great religion and wisdom tradition teaches us that we are not limited to body and mind, that we are something else, something more. In some traditions the word soul is used, sometimes spirit and other traditions would use the term True-self or even no-self.
And in this vein most people will tell you that they truly do believe themselves to be more than just this walking, talking heap of compost that the human organism ultimately is. But even so, with so many traditions teaching us that we are more than the body-mind and with so many people believing that they are more than the body-mind, very, very few of us are actually experiencing ourselves as more than the body-mind.
Instead of the spacious and ever free sense of love and joy we are said to be, most of us live lives filled with struggle and judgment and anxiety. Properties of the body-mind, not of who truly are, and we really should be asking ourselves: why?
Susan was a student of mine, a 58-year-old mother of three who came to me with a cripplingly low opinion of herself. Susan believed she wasn't smart enough. She believed she wasn't attractive enough and most devastating of all, she believed that she wasn't worthy of being loved.
Now these beliefs came from a long and heartbreaking pattern of abuse. First as a young girl, then later as a newlywed wife, and because of the prolonged nature of the trauma, these beliefs were deep and powerful.
Now to be clear, it wasn't as if Susan was actively going about her days thinking to herself, I'm not smart enough and I'm not attractive enough and I'm not deserving enough. But those beliefs were there-embedded in her neurology, silently and invisibly working in the background of her mind. And everything that she perceived was seen through these beliefs.
The coworker who didn't say good morning to her was experienced as evidence of her unworthiness, even though the coworker didn't say good morning because she was consumed by worry about her sick daughter.
And when Susan's boyfriend forgot their anniversary, this was experienced as evidence of her being unlovable, even though he forgot because layoffs at work had him buried under three people's jobs. Plus, he's a man. (Duh!).
And even Susan's habit of putting everybody else's needs before her own, which was killing her, was driven by this invisible, always operating background thought that they matter and I don't.
Now when Susan first came to me she had been working for years on overcoming this pattern of debilitating thoughts. She was aware that they were illogical and she was aware that they were destroying her life.
And so, she had been using affirmations to create beliefs that said she was more than good enough and she had gotten therapy that helped her to understand that everyone was worthy of love. And she even used her faith to help her break the cycle.
But none of it worked. Not really.
Because her deep belief in her unworthiness caused her to see evidence of nothing else.
Remember, the idea here is that we are actually looking through our beliefs at reality and as our gaze moves through the belief, it's refracted, changed, distorted. And for Susan, her efforts to believe that she was good enough were completely negated by her perpetual focus on her weaknesses, which was caused by the distortion of her belief. And her understanding that everyone was worthy of love did nothing because of her fixation on the evidence of her worthlessness. And even when her friend's wife gushed about what a thoughtful person Susan was, her belief caused her to dismiss the compliment. "She's just being polite," she said.
This always-operating and largely invisible belief in her inadequacy completely foiled Susan's attempt to see the truth of her intelligence, of her beauty, and of her worthiness. And as long as this belief was operating, Susan literally only had eyes to see the illusion of her defectiveness. The truth remained invisible.
So, what does Susan have to do with you?
Well, it's this really: we are Susan. That is to say, we are also subject to our own distorting beliefs and all of the same challenges that come right along with them.
In the same way that Susan had a well-established and powerful belief in her unworthiness, which distorted her every experience even when she wasn't conscious of the belief, we too have well established and powerful beliefs about our body-mind-ness, about our identities as human personages. And these beliefs distort our experience of our self and by extension, every other experience in our lives.
So, what to do?
If everything Susan sees is distorted by this belief, and if for us, everything we see about our true identity is distorted by our beliefs, what can be done?
Well, fortunately the answer is simpler than you might think. Though, unfortunately it's far from easy. At least at first.
But here it is. Susan's salvation requires her to see the world free from the distortion of her belief, and for us too, our salvation requires us to see ourselves free from the distortion of our beliefs.
And how do we do that?
Well, we still the mind. We endeavor to see the truth not through the tangled web of active beliefs and preferences and prejudices that literally make up our mind, but rather we seek to see directly with a calm, no, a perfectly still mind. One that sees the truth without distortion.
This is actually a practice, or I should say probably the goal of many, many practices that are central to all religions and spiritual traditions.
In yoga, the goal is stated as stilling the fluctuations of the mind, but we see the same notions in other traditions as well, including be still and know that I am God. But no matter the terms we use, this stillness, this suspension of thought or the temporary removal of the distorting lens of belief, is what allows us to see the truth directly and accurately. Whether that truth is of our worthiness or whether it's the truth of who we are.
For a taste of how dramatically our beliefs can distort our experience, here's a little experiment. Now if you're driving or otherwise engaged in a potentially dangerous activity, don't do this now. Return to the exercise later when you're safely perched in your lazy boy at home. So, here we go.
Take a seat and get comfortable. Close your eyes and just take a couple of nice, easy, full breaths through the nose. Breathing in, feel the lungs fill and breathing out, relax.
Now we're going to imagine drawing two pictures. In the first picture. You'll be drawing a complete self portrait of your experience in this moment. Now keep your eyes closed and take a moment to think about what you would draw in your self portrait of you in this moment. Think about the shapes and textures you would want to depict, how much detail you would include and how many colors you would need. Visualize every detail of the scene you would draw. Got it?
Okay, so now let go of that image and we'll start over and draw the second picture.
Again, keeping the eyes closed. And we'll start by temporarily forgetting. Forgetting everything and anything you've come to know or believe about yourself. Forget your age, forget your gender, forget your hair, color your weight, even forget your name. Now based upon present evidence alone-I'll say that again, based upon present evidence alone (this means without thought, without memory, just what you're experiencing right now) what would you draw? Look at your experience just as it is, again, without the thoughts, the memories, the beliefs. Look and you'll see that right now there's no evidence of gender. There is no evidence of age. There's no evidence of size. There's not even the evidence of a distinct shape.
For me, as I do this now, my experience is of a dark space with a loose collection of tingling sensations. It's kind of like a cloud--pulsing, changing, with only the vaguest suggestion of any kind of defined shape. My experience right now bears really no resemblance to how I usually picture myself, to what I would have likely drawn in the first picture.
And this dramatic difference between picture number one and picture number two is really true for most people and the difference is what's created by the invisible power of our beliefs.
In the first picture, our beliefs took an experience of blackness containing only a tingly cloud of sensations and somehow turned it into a human personage with a name, a gender, a size, a shape, a history, and maybe even some furniture and other things around this person. The belief created that, even though none of it was evident from the experience.
But when we're able to look independent of the beliefs, even for just a moment, something completely different is revealed.
Look down at your right leg. And now imagine if you lost that leg, would you still be you? And of course, the answer is yes you would be. But what about your left hand? Look down at that. What if that went too? Would you still be you? And again, the answer is yes—without a leg and without a hand, but still you. But what about what you're thinking right now? If we replaced those thoughts with new thoughts, would you still be you? And again, for me, the answer would still be yes-me with different thoughts, but certainly still me.
I remember visiting with my father in the intensive care unit the evening before he died. He was in pretty bad shape having had a stroke and being dehydrated and malnourished because well, it took days before we found him unconscious on the bathroom floor of his trailer. But as rough as he was physically-emaciated, partially paralyzed and the rest, he was mentally all there.
And it was one of the greatest gifts of my life to be able to sit and talk with him for hours on that final evening of his life.
And of all the things that we talked about from what his experience was lying on that floor for days, he told me by the way that he wasn't afraid or uncomfortable and that he went places and met people. To his frustration with his current situation and what was going to happen out of all of this, there was one thing in particular that stood out in of those hours of words.
It was something he told me just before I left that night and I would for the last time see his crooked smile and his quirky way of goodbye.
He looked down at his emaciated body, his paralyzed left arm, his matchstick legs covered over by a white hospital blanket, and at all the tubes and wires that ran to the various machines arrayed around him.
"Jesus," he said, "I don't know what happened here. All of this. This old person. This body."
He looked me in the eyes and said, "I'm not this. I'm still me."
And of course, it was true. It was true for my dad as it's true for you and it's true for me.
He was no more that emaciated body than you or I are that leg or hand or thought. We are, as all the traditions teach us, something more. Something that while it may have been temporarily obscured by the beliefs and busy-ness in the mind, when we can look free from those beliefs, we see something different. We see the truth.
We are not the body.
We're not the mind.
We're not the fears or the aspirations.
We are the watcher of such things.
We are the ever-present spaciousness that watches and contains all of the happenings of our lives.
I watch as the various things I've come to call me come and go in my awareness. And I watch as the various things I've come to call not me come and go in my awareness. All of it arising inside of my awareness, inside of me.
And it's why, for me, the words of Rumi ring so true: Do not feel lonely. The entire universe is inside of you.
And when we look free from belief, this we can see: the truth of who we are.
“My me is God.”
Yes, Catherine, I do believe you're right.
Well, that's all the time we have for today. I hope our exploration has been of some small help to you and as always, I'd love to hear from you. So, drop me a note from my website at ericwal.com. Also, please help me spread the word about the life changing power of these ancient teachings by sharing the podcast with friends and family. And don't forget to hit subscribe so you don't miss out on future episodes.
Thanks again! I'm grateful for you! And if there's anything I can do to be of service, please don't hesitate to get in touch.
I'm wishing you a spacious and joyous week. I'll see you next time!