A long time ago now, in 2004, I experienced a kind of “spiritual” awakening that lasted for about nine months before it seemed to abruptly stop. Then, a momentum of desire with some internal struggle began, as I tried to find what I’d lost. This is the story of my efforts and failure.
Living out of a suitcase
Over the following years, I attended retreat after retreat, with four or five well-known “spiritual” teachers and a few lesser-known, less reputable ones. I made this my priority and wanted to be free of my mainstream life, so eventually, I gave up my regular job. I became self-employed and significantly lessened my work commitments.
Later, I sold my home and then had money in the bank. I put my possessions into storage, and for about 18 months, I lived out of my car with my suitcase in the back. I stayed with various friends, family and people I met along the way for about three days at a time, before moving on to the next place.
Looking back, I’ve asked myself, was I taking advantage of the generosity of others when I should have been more self-supporting? At the time, it didn’t feel like that, and I never asked anyone if I could stay with them; I always stayed only by their invitation. I felt that those whom I stayed with genuinely wanted me to visit, and were happy to help me along my way. I don’t think I ever outstayed my welcome.
I didn’t have a reason to be anywhere in particular, and I felt both free and somewhat displaced. I’d chosen to be without a home, which made me very different from those unfortunate people who accidentally find themselves homeless and jobless. Without working at all, I had enough money to live on for a couple of years, and I was well-supported and cared for by family and friends.
I remember thinking, “If I have nowhere to sleep, I’ll get a cheap hotel for the night or sleep in the car.” I never had to do either of those things, because I experienced people as being so generous and welcoming. Those I stayed with seemed to enjoy my short stays as much as I did. At one point, I had four or five sets of house keys in the glove compartment of my car, all of which had been given to me.
Life, and the kindness of others, really did look after me. With some money in the bank, there was a certain freedom to be found in not having a home, a regular job or financial obligations. Yet, I also felt some guilt due to opting out of the more difficult mainstream life that, coming from a hard-working family, I’d been conditioned to live.
Was I obsessed with or addicted to the search?
I was looking for a spiritual-psychological transformation within myself, so I felt compelled to keep going and find a way—and I did, for seven years. Nowadays, when I occasionally talk with new friends about the time I spent frequently attending retreats, some say it sounds as if it was an obsessive or addictive practice.
There was an element of that, but I think that, with an ease, I was following what I’ve recently heard termed as the “awakening instinct.” In any case, I was doing something I was interested in and passionate about, and it positively affected how I thought and felt, thereby supporting my well-being.
I made some poor decisions that turned out to be big mistakes, all done under the guise of “living in the moment” and “following the flow.”
I had many wonderful experiences, but I have to say that on the downside, as I tried to live my truth and follow my impulses and desires, I made some poor decisions that turned out to be big mistakes, all done under the guise of “living in the moment” and “following the flow.”
Despite my much-changed way of life and my commitment to spirituality, I never did get my “awakened” way of being back, but by God, I did try. Things didn’t always go as I expected or wanted them to, and I recall thinking that I wasn’t committed enough, or I was trying too hard. Somehow, I was doing it wrong, and therefore, I was somehow failing.
Sometimes, I was disappointed with my inability to accept myself and others—and everything else in life—every day and in every moment. I remember thinking that in some way, I wasn’t doing whatever it was I was supposed to do well enough. I told myself I “should” be in the moment, in alignment, in the flow. I “should” be fully present and accepting, and then it would all be alright.
But I can’t say I was particularly frustrated or unhappy with my way of life, or that I suffered from a huge internal struggle. No, it wasn’t like that, because I enjoyed my adventure and freedom. My new life was mainly easy and fun (but not always), and there was an excited anticipation about what I might discover and what would happen next. It was different living day by day without a regular routine, without knowing what was coming next, but it was nowhere near as hard as my old day-to-day life.
However, the time came when I was no longer enjoying what I was doing, and I started to lose interest. For a time, I felt like it was time to stop, so that’s what I did. I think my passion, desire and motivation had burnt itself out, and I became tired of it.
I remember one occasion, when life was particularly stressful, I wanted no more of spirituality. I tried to reject it, but in the same way, I couldn’t achieve another “awakening.” I couldn’t change myself back to how I was before this started. Of course, I couldn’t change myself back to how I was before all this started. I acknowledged to myself that I wasn’t going to make it, and although I couldn’t go back to a life of spiritual ignorance, I quietly and somewhat grudgingly accepted that my spiritual journey, my search, was over.
A pivotal moment in my spiritual story
The beginning of the end came when, while on a retreat, I had a one-on-one meeting with the spiritual teacher who was running it. He pointed out that over the years, I’d collected a series of spiritual concepts and beliefs that I was trying to live my life by, and that wasn’t really working for me.
I could see that these newfound beliefs were weighing me down, and although they were once most helpful, they’d become my critical inner guru. I’d lost my freedom and was living in a prison of mind-made “spiritual” rules to follow, and this was somehow restricting and limiting me—taking away my ability to think for myself and to self-govern.
Then it dawned on me: The old belief system constructed during my childhood had been superseded by another one based on newly learned “spiritual” concepts. At that moment, I insightfully realized that there’s nothing to believe in and that even thinking, “There’s nothing to believe in,” becomes a new belief.
The teacher also suggested that I seek “freedom in, not freedom from.” Wow. I took that to mean that it’s possible to experience freedom in pain and suffering, as I’d learned the hard way that trying to find a way out of it by aiming to be “fully present” doesn’t work. In some ways, it only makes things worse, by producing self-blame and self-criticism. So if we can’t escape from ourselves, perhaps we can find freedom within.
“There is no edge”
Another retreat with another well-known teacher, and I’m on the stage will her. She says, “You seem as if you’re about to break through, you’re very close to the edge.”
“Yes,” I said, for it was true.
Then she laughed a little to herself, and said, “There is no edge.”
In that moment, I realized that the “edge” was just another illusion, the “almost-there” illusion. I could see that there was no journey, no endgame, and that it really is all about the here and now, with no past and no future. The past only exists in memory, and the future can only be imagined—which, depending on my mindset, was imagined either with hope and excited anticipation or with the expectation of more failure and disappointment.
Much to my great surprise, I found acceptance in my inability to be the accepting soul I wanted to be. But it wasn’t at all how I’d imagined it would be.
There really was nowhere else for me to go.
So eventually I accepted my failure, and then, much to my great surprise, I found acceptance in my inability to be the accepting soul I wanted to be. But it wasn’t at all how I’d imagined it would be.
I returned to an ordinary mainstream life. Thoughts, some negative, and emotions, some unwanted, remained. Life’s stresses continued, and really, the more aware or “awake” I was, the more I had to deal with and the tougher life became.
There was no escape, so I thought I might as well be with what is, and be with how I am about that. But I realized that this didn’t mean I needed to give up on trying to make things better for myself and others, because in my acceptance, I could still do something about my situation and try to help others, too. And it has always been the case that whenever I look—and sometimes, without looking—I notice that a particular awareness is still there.
Nowadays, I attend the occasional retreat once a year or so, because I enjoy the peace and positivity this usually brings me, but I’m no longer searching for something or trying to get somewhere. But perhaps there’s a little part of me that still hopes that something really big will happen, and I’ll either explode or gently drift into a new awakening—you never know!
The realization of the accepted moment
I believe that for all of us, life is a series of challenges within the world and within ourselves (yes, I know, that’s yet another belief to not be believed!), and that’s how it is. Life doesn’t mind, either way, if we’re in the moment and accepting or not.
I’ve realized that life, the universe, God or whatever doesn’t want anything from me. There’s no plan, and no one is guiding me from behind an unseen curtain—or if there is someone doing so, I’ll never know. The realization of the accepted moment doesn’t depend on whether we believe in whatever we believe or not, so perhaps it really doesn’t matter what we believe.
Just as there’s no edge, there’s no curtain and no God, unless there is. We can’t know, and therefore, our learned, mind-made concepts and beliefs are nothing more than our faith in our views and opinions. So we’re just left with what’s happening now and our experience of that.
You’re all alone in the world. Yet, the whole world is within you, and that’s how you are: both everything and nothing at all. I don’t know if I exist for a reason or not, nor what life is, nor if I’m being taken care of and guided or not. If I am, I have no idea who or what is doing that.
We all live in not knowing.
The Accepted Moment—this moment and acceptance—occur simultaneously. So, given the choice, I’d rather be with my unwanted life stresses and internal struggles while recognizing that this moment is all there is, with an acceptance of what is (just as it is), than not do that.
When we can live in the accepted moment; when we’re able to deeply feel the reality of that; when we can align with our felt experience and the truth of what lies within us, then we really are well and truly blessed.
Read the first part of this article by visiting BLESSED: The discovery of the accepted moment [Part 1]»