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.

Because of this habitual condition of limitation the biggest motivating factor in our lives is that we all want to experience the relief and release of feeling better.  But because by tendency we pursue “feeling better” in the context of the first or second Great Searches, that pursuit sooner or later ends in dissatisfaction and the seeking for repetition of fleeting earthly or heavenly highs.  We do not actually “feel better” as an enduring condition.  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 more and more consistently, 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, but to actually do it is another!  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 hurricane as I was describing in the last chapter.

The purifying fire or creative friction generated by the Divine Test is what is called “tapas” in Hindu Yoga and “purgatory” in Christian Mysticism, both of which 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 quite 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 essentially 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 aspiration 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.  What experience do you need to evolve?  The one that you are having right now!  The Way is what is in the way!  If you try to bypass what is in the way you will not burn 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 of the Divine Test will increasingly transmute into Light, but to the degree that you resist 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 because you clearly see that is a ridiculously egotistical movement, you choose to express sympathetic joy instead.  Now in such an instance, when you are trying to do the right thing, if your attention is on how you feel—meaning that you take your psychophysical experience to be who you are—then you will make an attempt at transcendence, by expressing sympathetic joy in this case, but you may “miss the mark” and come across has somewhat fake.  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 free and encompasses the context of the whole situation, 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 afterwards you will feel great, not because you actually felt good, but because you proved through your own action that what you felt was unreal.  And so the next time that you are in a situation that triggers that same reaction, you will potentially see it for what it is much more quickly and not give your attention and energy to that feeling pattern or idea.  This is Liberation in action.

As the 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.  The backdrop or gestalt of the ego—the embedded sense that something is fundamentally wrong or missing—is replaced by a continuous enduring happiness. You feel deeply 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, the more we understand, accept and embrace the truth that, as the English poet William Blake wrote, “Without contraries there is no progression”.  Indeed, without suffering we would experience no goad to transcend, without death we would not become reflective, and, as Spiritual Master Adi Da once said, “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 clean, clear and serene.  It is a living Intensity.  Spiritual life 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 the 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 excruciating to the degree that you are attached to those illusions.  But nonetheless, once you go through the burning you emerge humorous, happy, and full and you are a force of Light to be reckoned with!