Feeling the Heat
From the forthcoming book "Meditation is Not What You Think"
As should be clear at this stage of our journey, we are not primarily suffering from what is happening to us we are suffering from what we are actually doing by tendency. We suffer because of our tendency to be addicted to feeling less than love, less than happy, less than free. We tend to be hypnotized by movements of attention toward states that deplete us of energy and confine us to a life of mediocrity. So, of course, the biggest motivating factor in our lives is that we all want to experience the relief of feeling better. But because by tendency we pursue feeling better in the context of the first or second Great Searches, that sooner or later end in dissatisfaction and the seeking for repetition of fleeting earthly or heavenly highs, we do not actually “feel better” as an enduring condition and expression of who and what we are.
So to truly feel better consistently in the deepest sense; we must learn to feel better whatever may be happening. And the only way we can learn to feel better, feel happy, feel love and feel bliss in a context of Freedom, is to divest ourselves of the clenched, deadening, loveless grip of our suffering inner “I” in each and every moment. That is the Divine Test that confronts us every single day and that is the meaning of true spiritual practice. To want to surrender to the Divine is one thing. To actually do it is another! But if we are going to meet that Divine Test we first have to understand that genuinely endeavoring to let go of the clench of the ego “I” does not mean that we will actually feel better right away. Far from it! We will at times have to be willing to bear a prolonged ordeal in the middle of the storm as I was describing in the last chapter.
The purifying fire or creative friction is what is called “tapas” in Hindu Yoga and “purgatory” in Christian Mysticism, which both mean “heat”. And it is when we start “feeling the heat” that we automatically tend to draw the conclusion that something is wrong, or that the heat should not be this hot, or this heat should not be happening at all! But as we grow in maturity in the Awakening Process, we begin to welcome the fact that the heat does not necessarily feel good and that its appearance does not conform to our preferences. Why? Because we trust in the Process and we know that we are coming up against the grain of our ingrained habits and tendencies. We cannot be victimized because we know that this heat is a result of our own action, of our own aspiration to be Free, of our own surrender to the Fire of the Heart. Feeling the heat is not just randomly happening to us, it is all part of the Divine Design.
The willing embrace of the heat becomes possible when we understand that the fact that we are feeling the heat does not mean that we have lost or are losing our Freedom. On the contrary, once we have deeply understood that Freedom is not a feeling, as I explained in the chapter, “The Secret of Freedom”, we understand that Freedom is lived and demonstrated in how we are and what we express, not in how we feel from one moment to the other. Then we experience the heat as the Fire of Purification. It is challenging, it is difficult, and it is hot! It works against our embedded habits, energies, impulses and adaptations. It frustrates and confounds them. But if we are mature in our spiritual aspirations we do not complain because we know that this is exactly what it takes to burn through our ignorance.
If you are continually monitoring the feeling quality of your experience to know how you are doing and how Free you think you are then you will be continually modifying your commitment to the Divine Test based on your own subjective interpretation. You will not get anywhere new that way. The Way is what is right in front of you. The Way is what is in the way! If you try to bypass what is in the way you will not burn on through to the other side! You can even feel dreadful and still fulfill the Law! When there is little or nothing left to burn then the heat will increasingly transmute into Light, but to the degree that you resist surrender you will feel the heat.
Once when I was explaining this principle to a gathering of students, one of them told me about an Indian Yogi who used the slang English phrase, “Fake it until you make it” to illustrate the same point. And that is an interesting and illuminating way to look at this, because of course from the point of view of the ego “I”, acting in a way that goes contrary to how you actually feel, does make you feel like you are faking it.
For example, you are feeling intensely jealous and competitive with someone because they have, or know, or are something that you wish you could have, or know, or be, but instead, because you clearly see that as a ridiculously egotistical movement, you choose to express sympathetic joy. Now in such an instance (and there will be many as the Process unfolds, perhaps on a daily basis!), if your attention is on how you feel, meaning that you take your psychophysical experience to be who you are, then either you will not be able to transcend that pattern or you will make an attempt at transcendence but you will miss the mark.
Another way to describe this is that you experience yourself, as the inward “I”, looking from the “inside out” and so your primary focus is on how “I” feel. But if your attention is on the context of the whole situation and what is true and right, if you experience yourself as the expanded, non-localized “I” looking from the “outside in”, meaning how you are and what you express is who you are, then you do not feel like you are faking it at all, and you hit the mark. When you hit the mark, that egoistical pattern is burned, because not only did you not act upon it, you acted contrary to it. Then you will feel great! And so the next time that it comes around, you will potentially see it for what it is much more quickly and not it give your attention and energy. This is Liberation in action.
As this Awakening Process matures over time you will find that you do progressively “feel better” in the truest and deepest sense, regardless of what is happening. You are deeply happy and infused with an increased sensitivity and capacity to love, not necessarily because you literally feel good all the time, but because you are living in and as your native Fullness, or Full Feeling, as a liberated human being. As you discover and actualize this deep equilibrium, joy and spiritual radiance more and more consistently throughout the ups and downs of life, you will come to understand and embody the principle of Light. But that “Light”, or Lightness of Being, is not only experienced in flashes of Awakening as it was before, now it is realized. And the more we pass the Divine Test, then the more we understand, accept and embrace the truth that, as the saying goes, “There is no gain without pain”. Without suffering there would be no goad to transcend. Without death we would not become reflective. Without Fire there can be no Light.
So the Light that is produced by the Awakening Process, by this alchemy of creative friction, is not a kind of giddy high or living in some kind of exaggerated bliss state all the time. It is very sober and it is very serious. But by that I do not mean that it is uptight, morbid or heavy. By “sober” I mean that the Process is real and that you are real. Then spiritual life is living Intensity. It is not a matter of sweetness and light, it is a matter of Fire and Light. It is not a matter of the fulfillment of experience; it is a matter of transcendence of experience. Whatever you think you are is burned up and then that Heat becomes Light. It feels like a Fire because your attention is so wedded to illusions and the burning can be terrible to the degree that you are attached to those illusions. But nonetheless, once you go through the burning you are humorous, happy, Full-Filled and you are a force of Light to be reckoned with!