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Notes to Transformation - Chapter 8 - EXISTENTIAL GRIEF


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We are all made of energies. Some, such as auras, are so subtle few people can sense them. Others are so gross they have turned into muscle and bone. Humans seem to have a number of different energies. The most vital of these, the one that gave us our birth, so to speak, and the powerful quality of aliveness in every creature, is the lifeforce. Another, the kundalini, is the bridge connecting the lifeforce to the spirit, just as the soul connects the ego to spirit. Mind contains other forms of energy, as do our emotions - and there is essence.

Essence belongs to all living creatures. They are born with it. The experience of essence cannot be adequately described in words, but it is unmistakable. Essence can be sensed in qualities such as will, joy, strength and love. It has presence. We feel authentic and at home in our world. Hanging out, touching a leaf, making love - all the everyday things - take on a deeper significance. With essence life is calm and steady, without emotional drama. It is a felt experience, but not a feeling. It is pure pleasure. It is our nature.

A cat has essence, beingness, spaciousness and all those other qualities which characterise a natural organism. It is gifted with this in its birth, as we are. But a cat lacks self-awareness. It has not the capacity to transcend itself in order to raise its consciousness to a higher level. When we reconnect with essence we connect once again with our original level of being at birth. But essence cannot take us higher without a conscious connection to the soul, for only another spiritual energy can be the bridge to the Self, and essence is not a spiritual force. If we have retained some contact with our soul, reclaiming essence can bring the two together again; but, if we have lost our soul altogether, essence may not on its own bring it back.

Essence is enlivened by the lifeforce, which is the energy of our daily vitality. The lifeforce is a separate entity and we are the vessel through which it flows. An abundance of lifeforce is the foundation of spiritual work. Unrestricted, it brings pleasure and open curiosity and high energy - just those qualities least tolerated by our parents.

At birth, essence and lifeforce are flowing naturally within an unrestricted inner spaciousness where there are no blocks or closures to impede it. In this sense we are empty inside. It is not that there is nothing going on, but rather that the flow of energy is so free and unimpeded we seem to contain a natural emptiness through which life and essence moves. We feel hugely spacious. It is like the wind blowing through the trees: the air and the trees exist, yet there is space around and between that allows the breeze to pass this way and that.

The induction of energetic nodes and the pain of separation begin to block these breezes. Suppressing the normal ebullience of our lifeforce blocks the winds even more. Under constant pressure from our parents to conform to their roles and images we tie ourselves down in the hope of pleasing them. We become full of sadness that we have died to who we are. Easeful space turns into a black emptiness. Part of us may wish to die in body as we have died inside, often leading to sickness and physical weakness. How many truly mourned this loss at the time? It only takes the death of someone we love to trigger a deep pool of utter grief that feels as if it has been lying in wait for this moment. We had hidden it, for if we had let ourselves truly grieve for our own inner death we would have been alive in that moment - but that moment would have been too painful for us and our parents to allow without restricting in some way. This is called existential grief, the unbearable sorrow at our loss of what gave us our existence in the first place. Shutting it off also shuts down some part of our humanity.

By the age of four most of us will have accommodated to this loss, and be well on the way to replacing essence with ego. Our capacity to do this stems from those qualities which raised us above the rest of creation - our unique ability as a child for self-reflection and self-modification which could monitor our behaviour and change it. The blessing is it will be the same qualities that can lead us back again. Our cross is also our gift.

For example, true will - the natural inborn strength and cohesiveness that is expressed in every baby - was trodden on by parents who could not stand the noise, the importunity, or even the utter truthfulness this will brought to life. So the infant replaced it with a more acceptable if artificial will which kept the peace and the hope for some of mother’s love.

Similarly with the lifeforce. Adults generally fear that the lifeforce in their children will overpower them - mirroring that they were themselves overpowered by parents who could not abide their exuberance. Being constantly hushed, nearly all of us decided from a very early age that it would be safer to be compliant and pleasing than be ourselves. So we put great energy into suppressing the lifeforce and our bodies are tired out by the effort, giving us permission to be as dead as the adults.

From this comes shame that our deepest vitality is hated and our essential nature is unacceptable to those we love most. Blocking the lifeforce is painful. The ego transforms this pain into the denial of self-worth T S Elliot called "the cancer that eats away the soul". It is one root of the terrible fear that we are flawed - fundamentally and eternally. The resulting loss of confidence spreads emptiness over everything until we are lost in it. Emptiness becomes equated with uncertainty. Yet this emptiness is the home of just those qualities of unrestricted spaciousness that would most capably support us in dealing with the loss.

Pat recalled the very satisfactory feeling of emptiness he had as a baby which came with shitting and pissing, in the easy flowing out and the release of pressure. But at the same time his bowls reacted to his mother’s anxiety with a feeling of loss that was also an emptiness - the existential emptiness from loss of self. He began to link the two feelings. Voiding his bowls felt like his essence was flowing out leaving him both physically and emotionally empty, especially around the genitals. As sexual feelings were added to these nodes he came to long for this hole to be filled sexually.

As we lose essence and restrict our lifeforce we create false qualities to take their place. Paradoxically, we then feel pleasure in restricting ourselves. This strange situation arises because the lifeforce cannot be killed, but instead turns negative. As we are using the very energy of the lifeforce to block itself, the pleasure inherent in this force always remains hidden just beneath the surface. Because pleasure and life are one and the same, when pleasure is linked to destructiveness, destructiveness cannot be given up - it feels as if life itself were being given up. Thus the widespread guilt that accompanies most of our pleasures and numbs our feelings.

This is why we cannot use affirmations or meditations to replace negative feelings with positive ones. Negativities have to be converted back to their original free state by feeling the pleasure in the unpleasure. Trying to replace destructive feelings with positive ones merely pushes the negativity deeper into the shadow.

The state of our lifeforce and psychic nodes is reflected in our chakras. These are spots in the body where distorted or polluted energies collect. They may appear as shafts of light, spinning wheels or bursts of energy to those who can see them. Different cultures count them in different ways and assign different qualities to them. The West has, on the whole, accepted the Indian chakra system where there are seven centres from the groin to the crown of the head. The more primitive and instinctual components are at the bottom and the higher, that connect us to the Spirit, are at the top. As we clear and purify the emotional and physical bodies the chakras also become clear and, as the journey proceeds, they disappear altogether.

Aligned with the lifeforce, but separate from it, is the kundalini. This is the bridge between life’s vitality and the spiritual realm. It is a massive force, huge and ungovernable that, well handled, will scarify the energy systems of the body. The kundalini is the presence of God within our lifeforce, and in Indian lore it resides at the base of the spine, coiled like a serpent waiting to arise. But if we have the kundalini before we are prepared, we are sending 5000 volts through a 120 volt wire. It can be a terrible experience: do not wish for it until you are already well on the journey, for it won’t necessarily leave you better off. It is an energy that should be guided and encouraged in small quantities, when it can be highly beneficial and transformative.

To steady itself against emptiness and negativity the ego develops boundaries. They may be very open or tough as steel. They may collapse when a loved one is nearby, leaving you too personable and vulnerable, or they may grow thorns to prick any who approach too closely. Whatever its final form, the boundary protects the child from his own emptiness. This is where ambivalence is born. On the one hand he avoids his emptiness by strengthening ego-based boundaries and, on the other, he yearns for the promise of beingness and oneness that emptiness contains. Thus he is at one and the same time creating and demolishing his own framework. This is both exhausting and dispiriting.

Boundaries should be affirmed and consolidated, so we are able to direct their strength and porosity at will. Then, as we gain more of our original qualities back and our natural spaciousness moves into consciousness, the need for an outer barrier is replaced by an inner solidity and serenity.

Loss of essence and lifeforce need not be permanent. They are only in hiding. Removing the blocks has a huge effect on our lives: we are filled with pleasure and there is no fear. When the lifeforce is strong we exist, and then the other exists also. Nothing that comes from the pleasure current can do us ill.

To heal the emptiness we remind the inner child of what it knew but has forgotten. Whenever we can embody subtle impressions so they achieve the same reality they had when we were young, there will be deep changes. We do this by using our senses to make the hollow more tangible and, if we can bear to stay with the experience, by bringing our full awareness to the emptiness. Then negativity changes to something positive and a spaciousness may appear. Almaas describes how "space eliminates our defences, our identification with personality. Then essence unfolds and flowers in its various beautiful manifestations. Filling and bathing our sexual area, this essence allows us to feel rooted in its beauty and certainty. Our sexuality is our relatedness, our grounding in being where we experience our nature as pure, unadulterated pleasure and preciousness."

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