The Chandogya Upanishad tells as story about Svetaketu, a young man of ancient India who, on returning to his home after twelve years of studying the Vedas, appeared to his father to be as somewhat set up about his vast learning. The father therefore set out to teach him some homely but profound wisdom not necessarily learned from books.
“Bring me,” he said to his son, “a fruit from a banyan tree.”
“Here is one, sir.”
“It is broken, sir.”
“What do you see there?”
“Some seeds, sir, exceedingly small.”
“Break one of these.”
“It is broken, sir.”
“What do you see there?”
“Nothing at all.”
The father said, “My son, that subtle essence which you do not perceive there – in that very essence stands the being of the great banyan tree. In that which is the subtle essence all that exists has its self. That is the true, that is the Self, and you, Svetakeu, are that.”
“Pray, sir,” said the son. “Tell me more.”
For the second lesson the father gave his son a bag of salt, saying, “Place this salt in a vessel of water and come to me tomorrow morning with the vessel.”
When the son appeared the next day the father commanded, “Bring me the salt which you put in the water.”
But the salt of course had disappeared.
“Taste the water from the surface of the vessel and tell me how it is.”
“Salty,” said the son.
“And from the middle?”
“And from the bottom?”
Then the father said, “Here likewise in this body of yours, my son, you do not perceive the true, but there in fact it is. In that which is the subtle essence, all that exists has its self. That is the true, that is the Self; and you, Svetaketu, are that.”
Admittedly, there are a lot of things I’ve experienced that I wish I could just show people. Not use words, but rather send them a download telepathically that they can play and absorb with their minds in order to understand it. For some of the most memorable experiences in life, words either fall short or do not suffice at all.
In this case, they may barely suffice, but I will try.
The Nature of My Own Spirituality
For most of my life, I thought of myself as something close to an atheist, though I was born with a strong spiritual sense. Spirituality, as I define it, is as simple and inherent as self-awareness. It does not constitute a belief system of any kind. It stems off of senses and experiences as one learns to explore and uncover their own selves.
Therefore, exploring spirituality was always a natural experience for me and did not have any external influence. It was and is a personal journey and also as natural of a part of me as my own leg or eyeballs.
I also have never been one to just believe things without personal experience or evidence backing it, no matter the social pressure or any other reason. And, to look or cling to anything external would be to entirely ignore the messages and discoveries that I was finding by looking within.
However it wasn’t until about a year ago, at age 31, that I came to some major realizations that my mind had previously somewhat sensed but not fully realized.
It came as a result of years and years of being introspective. Of exploring the nature of the identities we develop on Earth all the way down to extraordinarily subtle clues my intuition picked up on as I continued my exploration of the soul (I won’t and can’t get into debates of reason on what the soul is and why, for to do so would lose the message in details that won’t get us anywhere).
“I wish I were a real girl” – Me at Age 6
Part of it stemmed from the fact that I’ve always had a sense of not feeling like this body, or me as I was experiencing myself, was the full “me.” In my day-to-day experience of this life for as long as I can remember (even reaching far back to as young as 5), there has ALWAYS been an undertone of feeling like the part of myself I identified with the most was not the one interacting here on Earth on a daily basis, or doing anything that I do here – working, talking, writing, being a human, and so on.
All of these things felt (and still feel) secondary to me, but for most of my life I didn’t know why and I didn’t pay all that much attention to it. They just felt like things I had learned to do and that I was doing what I needed to do to live.
But overall, this life for me has always felt like a dream.
It has always had a sense of surrealism to it, for me. I’ve always had a sense that beyond just being involved with it, I was kind of just watching it and trying my best to fit in.
This persistent underlying feeling is what led me to delve even deeper then to ask the question, “where then, am I?” – or what part of my being or what circumstance do I need to experience myself in to feel like I am fully expressing or being “me?”
The answer came to me, but it took a long, long time.
I don’t think I will ever feel like fully “me,” until the death of this body. What I realized is that I am very in tune with my soul or “higher self”, and have been able to feel its presence strongly throughout my lifetime.
Exploring the Soul Deeply Requires a Specific Understanding of the Nature of Our Identities
What can seem mind-boggling through all of this is that to be able to explore the soul’s “identity” requires a very specific and important harmony of almost what I see as two separate identities (that are also essentially one) at once: our identities/personality as created by our Earthly lives as well as our soul identity.
I had made a mistake at age 21 when I still had much to learn and I was pursuing my soul (or higher states of consciousness) through consistent meditation with the aim of “getting somewhere.” I had already had a prior spiritual experience and thought I needed to bring another one on to “get farther” in my understanding of my existence.
My problem was that I was not yet ready for the lessons I was seeking, and I was bringing them on by force and by a very linear perspective of progression.
We bring on our own understanding by the willingness to have an open mind and also to seek, but the right perspective is also absolutely necessary.
We have to be truly ready. And reason for this is that the soul is massive.
Our souls extend far beyond what we understand ourselves as here on Earth, and being able to understand yourself as a soul means you are ready to not just understand, but EXPERIENCE your connection and your core to all of creation itself.
This often means letting go of what you think you are. Of what you have learned to define yourself by, which has influences from everything we can think of. From school and peers and how they define us, from how our parents might have defined us, what society has told us is important to measure ourselves by, to more subtle things like what our ideologies are and how they match with others’. The list goes on.
Most people may not have even thought of beginning the work of erasing these ideas (why would they if they don’t question it too much, or are too busy to question it?) and do not understand what it would require.
Many people take recreational drugs to experience a brief period of opening up to other experiences of themselves or of life. To learn new lessons and gain new spiritual insights. I totally understand the draw (meditation did the same for me – it was my drug); but here too, I feel as though more often than not they are not doing the legwork to be able to bring these experiences on through their own intellectual and spiritual development.
Therefore, the experiences of themselves in these new realms are fleeting. When your intellectual, conscious, spiritual development does not match that of the experience you are having, your understanding will ultimately be limited and you may not even get the results you desire.
The Soul Contains Knowledge and Memories Beyond Time and Space As We Know It
Receiving messages and discoveries from this part of me often felt like they came from a timeline that was not anything I would ever be able to put my finger on. I believe it’s because these realizations came from a part of me that this knowledge was already IN, and were not only relevant to this lifetime, but I was only now in my lifetime uncovering it.
However, it’s clear to me now that the knowledge was not just coming from a linear time frame such as “before” this life or what have you, but that my brain was interpreting it as such.
The nature of the knowledge was timeless, deeply buried, yet always available. It was only the contrast between this fact and the point in time of being able to be consciously aware of it that gave it a sense of being from a long, long time ago.
Every time I would uncover something it also felt the opposite of mystical. It felt natural, normal, and completely made sense. It would feel like I was simply remembering something I already knew, but not from any definable point in my current existence.
Some of What I’ve Learned – In a Nutshell
The soul has had a journey of its own, that is separate yet also one with the journey we have in our current lifetimes.
I still don’t personally know for sure if we live multiple incarnations. Previously, I was never one to believe in past lives (again, what reason would I have had to believe that? How would I be able to really know?), but it was by journeying within my soul over years of time that I saw, and experienced memories and knowledge that led me to understand myself in an infinitely more massive way. I do know that our essence, our energy does not die. We do not exist in the Earthly shell we have defined as ourselves forever. Our essence exists as a form of energy that is one with a palpitating whole, and it is beautiful, vibrant, and full of love.
The soul has its own store of knowledge and memories, that are also separate yet one with our current lives on Earth. It’s no wonder they are so difficult to remember; as this knowledge and memories are not recalled in the same way we would recall any other knowledge or memories from our lives on Earth. So for many of us, we wouldn’t know where or how to look for these soul memories.
We have to learn to listen to ourselves and realize how much external messages might be detracting us from what’s within. The more we get in touch with our own selves, the more we will realize our true nature and begin to remember things that are buried what seems to be infinitely deeply within our essences.It is by doing this that we will reach heightened levels of compassion for all of creation as we realize that although we have separate manifestations, at our core we truly are all one.
I have found that many of the systems and paths that we have carved out for us in life, or that we follow, can improve our skills but may sometimes dull our creativity or even cover up things in life that we feel truly passionate about.
We may learn that following a path and acquiring achievements and recognition from doing so is the kind of happiness that we think we need. We forget what it feels like to be truly ignited by something, or we sacrifice pursuing that as we consider it less important.
However, I don’t think there’s anything more important.
Sure, we have to make a living and that requires us to make sacrifices sometimes. But, we still are in charge of getting our priorities straight and creating a life for ourselves that may be the “road less traveled by” but allows us to be our best selves and give to the world and ourselves all of our potential.
And, this kind of awareness helps us to truly appreciate life and what we are here for. It brings us out of the mud and makes us feel alive again.
Adulthood doesn’t have to be dull, systematic, and dominated only by to-dos.
There should be an undertone of joy, even amidst all the ups and downs.
Learning How to Appreciate
In thinking about what “becoming alive again” REALLY means, I realized it boils down to one primary attribute: appreciation. You have to learn to appreciate what’s in front of you. Being grateful is talked about a lot these days. However, it’s not just a matter of turning on your “grateful” switch. It’s often not simply just an intellectual process.
It’s very much an awareness that unfolds with really seeing and understanding what comes together in our lives to make us healthy and happy. In other words, it might take some work.
For example, once I tuned in enough to my body to see how good it feels when I eat food with wholesome ingredients (not processed, no added sugar), that represented a very real kind of awareness that made me appreciate healthy food that is doing good for my body.
At the bottom of all of this is us. We have to learn to get in tune with our selves and the rest will follow.
Here are seven things I thought of that can help uncover that feeling of becoming alive again (note, most of these need to be done regularly and require effort and patience. But if done, they will make a huge difference in your life.):
Appreciate your food. Take a moment to think about where your food came from, be thankful that you have it, and chew slowly. Try to observe, and enjoy the process of eating. This took me a long time to do. But I noticed that I started naturally doing it in my times of highest awareness and clarity – like after spending time in nature.
Observe the cause and effect of all situations in your life. Take a look at what happened to lead you where you are today. If you are happy in your current situation in all regards, that’s great. If not, observe the circumstances that took place to lead you where you are today, and where you might be able to make changes to an entirely different path that will lead you to entirely different place.
Watch your mind. This one is the biggest one and I could write a book about it (and many have). But, your mind is the tool with which you create your perceptions and shape your life. Do not hold on to negative thoughts. We all get them, but practice letting them go. Observe and see how your perspectives might be telling you what you can or can’t do, or how life should or should not be. You don’t have to do anything here, but learn to watch.
Experience more. Try new things. Things that might connect you with others, or show you something about yourself. It could be as small as trying a new food you were hesitant to try. Dare to go outside your comfort zone. You’re not getting anything from being in it.
Start paying attention to gut reactions. Learn to say no. I always considered myself a pretty in-tune person, but I realized that just by habit I was often dismissing my own feelings on things. It can actually be a difficult process to differentiate between “this feels like something I should do, not that I’m excited to do,” if we’re always used to putting away our own feelings.
Evaluate your life goals. What kind of goals are you setting, and why? What are you looking to achieve, and why? Is it something that you feel will make you more fulfilled on a deep level, or is it something that you think you should be doing to get ahead? I remember thinking years ago that I just wanted to hit a $50k income goal and that that’s all the money I would need in life ever. Now that I’ve hit that income goal and grown a little wiser, I’ve realized it is so not about the money. We all need it and more is better, but I realized that thinking in terms of money was getting in the way of me focusing on creating a life that fulfilled me, regardless of the income. It is kind of a trick; you have to reverse engineer this thinking. You have to go after what you enjoy doing the most and focus on your talents, and not worry about if it will make you enough money or not. Things will then fall into place.
Set aside time for things in your life on a regular basis. Before bed, I made a sort of routine to light candles, turn off all electronics, read a book and drink tea. This has given me a happiness I didn’t have before. It allows my body to relax and contemplate the day. I’ve realized that constantly being distracted by electronics can create a stress response and not allow us to truly relax, even though you may not realize it at first.
When I was younger and a good thing happened in my life, I was always full of wishes for it to last forever. I’d say to myself “please PLEASE let me have this person in my life forever!!!” or what have you — I’d plead and beg to myself that things wouldn’t change and that it was something I could keep, in its exact state, as it was in that moment. I’m sure most of those of you reading this can relate.
It’s like that first love you had that was unlike anything you had ever experienced and allowed you to experience a whole new range of emotions and maybe made you feel a little more grown up, like you could say you finally knew what this “love” thing was all about.
It might’ve helped you form your identity by having this new experience with another human being and made you feel more important, because you were getting extra validation of your actions and your existence with this close relationship, and through each other you begin to meet new people who see you not just as an individual but a unit.
But as I have gotten older, the passage of time has told me the necessity of change. However, it has also shown me how resistant some of us still are to it. Even as we age, most of us have a plethora of external circumstances that continue to validate our actions. We learn to look to external sources — be it people, structures and systems such as school, accomplishments, careers, and what have you — as tools to measure our existence by.
It’s hard to ignore, because it happens by habit and by growing up in a society with structured systems that each of us plays a part in. Everything becomes a matter of relativity to something else; we’re making less money than someone else, we’re a different color than someone else, we didn’t accomplish a certain number of degrees compared to someone else, and thus the list goes on forever…and in even more subtler ways we might not immediately recognize.
We might be in and out of relationships that put us in different life situations where we have varying social statuses or introduce us to situations that are new and we discover new dimensions to add to what we understand as our identity.
Sometimes we notice how other people (or groups of people) react to us as a person and use that to understand ourselves or our placement in this world. Our identity really ends up becoming the sum of comparisons against something else, or a sum of the reflection of others’ opinions. And sometimes, we forget to learn how to look beyond all of it to reveal the source.
It might sound in words more simple than it is, but it is really complex, because from the time we were born, we have been introduced to life on earth and society as it is in this current state. We learn to understand ourselves only in the context of the current state of our world. If we don’t naturally explore other ideas frequently in our minds, learning to uncover our core can be a major undertaking.
These days, I use meditation and frequent contemplation to discover what deeply rooted perceptions I might have that were built from the time I was a kid or during days where I didn’t know better. I try to observe my day-to-day emotions and actions and see where they might be stemming from, or what is provoking them.
In my opinion, there is nothing more valuable than the evolution of the self. Relationships of all kinds, achievements and the like are important, but if they are becoming a hindrance to your potential, this is likely an issue or will become one. Healthy relationships and circumstances should be helping you to propel you forward, or should at least be supportive as you reach new heights in your understanding of your self.
And without change, we would suffer. We’d never grow, be pushed out of our comfort zone, and come to understand the world in new ways. We’d never reach new heights of happiness or release the chains of our mind that might be holding us back.
If change comes knocking at your door, open it with welcome arms and remind yourself that it might be the opportunity of a lifetime, even if it’s disguised behind a veil.
“I do not accept any absolute formulas for living. No preconceived code can see ahead to everything that can happen in a person’s life. As we live, we grow and our beliefs change. They must change. So I think we should live with this constant discovery. We should be open to this adventure in heightened awareness of living. We should stake our whole existence on our willingness to explore and experience.” — Martin Buber
The older I get, the more I truly learn how to follow my heart.
But following your heart a lot of the time is not easy. Reason being, is there is so much that gets in our way. At age 32, I’ve awakened more and more to the realization that I am often programmed to perceive certain things based on what I think is the “right thing to do.” A lot of times, this “right thing to do” is not what feels exciting or good to me, and I’ve almost subconsciously chalked this up to just being a responsible adult.
While there ARE things that we have to remain responsible for that we may not want to do but are necessary (that IS being a responsible adult), there’s also another side of this that I believe comes from taking actions almost based on a mistrust of myself or possibly some kind of fear — but also not consciously.
Its basis is on the idea that if I don’t follow a certain path, that I might fail at life, or end up broke and on the streets, or let down others, or miss out on some connected opportunity. I’m not sure which it is, because I don’t really intellectually believe these things. It’s not something I think about, but rather something that was taught and programmed into my mindset.
The truth is, many of us have this same programming. It stems from the idea that we need some authority figure or some structure in order to keep us working hard or doing the right thing, like we are inherently wild animals with no moral compass without someone always keeping us in check or leading the way. It’s almost like the system was designed specifically based on the fact that people cannot function like a decent human being by their own will (hey, maybe some can’t…), but it’s not a one-size-fits-all strategy. There’s always someone teaching us how to learn, or teaching us which path to follow to ensure success, and punishing us (albeit possibly indirectly) with an air of disapproval if our life paths look drastically different than others’.
We don’t realize it, but without constant external validation that we’re doing what we’re supposed to or what’s considered normal, many of us might feel lost (maybe we haven’t really grown up at all, have we?).
Our whole lives, this is what we’ve had. People telling us what to value. School. Society. The status quo. Peers who are all achieving different things but going about them via a similar path. We don’t really learn to listen to ourselves at all except for when it comes to asking ourselves what we want to do for a living. And even then, the answer is often purely a result of influence from other people or some kind of reward we get for the accomplishment. As humans we crave community, to be a part of something, to be RECOGNIZED as something, and this can take precedence over our own true feelings until we forget how to listen to those entirely.
So even if we don’t believe in black and white ideas of punishment and reward, sometimes we automatically think that way. We punish ourselves if we don’t meet our own expectations that are coming from things we have been taught, and this can subconsciously guide our actions in life. We might always be trying to fit ourselves within a box or a path that gives us some sense of satisfaction, but no lasting happiness, joy, or peace.
We may not know what true happiness or peace feels like (if we’re locked in the cages of our minds our whole lives, we are accustomed to that as our only reality).
What we might have though is a nagging voice, a consistent lack of energy, a yearning for more but not knowing where it’s coming from, until we take a good look at why we’re doing the things we’re doing. And even then, sometimes we might not even have an immediate answer, or one that truly comes from within ourselves.
My new life path, therefore, is on pursuing joy. Rather than analyze my “why” with reason and logic, I am learning to do so with feeling and senses. I encounter a situation and I think, how does this make me feel? Do I feel incredibly excited about this opportunity? Or do I feel a sense of hesitance that comes along with “I SHOULD do this but I don’t really want to.” If it’s the latter, in most cases, I am learning to say no. But it isn’t always straightforward, because I’ve participated in things I “should” be doing basically my whole life. And sometimes it takes some experimentation to see where something really leads.
But in general I’m learning to look for something that makes me FEEL something. One that gets my creative juices flowing. Because I know that the world will benefit from that much more than anything else I might do, and because I value having my own mind over almost anything else. Over having a mind that really is just a product of others’ opinions and methods.
It’s about learning to trust yourself.
All in all, I know I am a solid individual with good intentions. I’m empathetic. I’m reliable. I want to give to the universe first, I want to help others. I’m responsible. I don’t need to validate this externally by force things upon myself that then give me that recognition as one thing or another. I need to look within and trust, first.
Sometimes it becomes a problem of learning to strike a balance between being able to operate in this world in its current state as well as pursue joy and happiness. For many years I used to think that I wanted to throw away society and live as a hermit. While this would definitely take away a lot of the noise and expectations that come with living as a member of society, it’s not really necessary.
The current state of things are as they should be, because the human-created world as it is in this moment (society, culture, events, etc) is a reflection of humans’ state of collective consciousness. Everything is an energy exchange, and the universe is consistently responding to what we’re putting out there. Many of us just do not know this yet. We are reacting, not yet understanding how energy works, what energy is, or the fact that we have greater control in general than we think we do. The key is in recognizing this and not feeling enslaved by it.
Instead of resorting to being a hermit, we can use money, our systems, and so on without really being caught up in the system. Because it’s our minds we are freeing, not anything else. Everything starts from within first.
• • •
“Should is an ordinary, everyday word — except when it is used to indicate an order that may not be refused. Then should becomes a finger waving under the nose. …”Should” users build prison cells for themselves. They are so focused on what they should do — that they cannot think about what they can do, what they might do in the future.” — Dr. Arthur Freeman and Rose Dewolf
“Many of us have been taught to do our duty. What does this imply to you? For me, ‘doing my duty’ means doing something I really don’t want to do. My heart’s not in it, and so the energy for the act isn’t there. I have to force every move. Usually, there’s underlying resentment. When this is the scenario, tasks may get done but there’s no gift to the world.
We do not truly serve the world if we give to others but neglect our own truth and our own needs. It’s only when our own needs are fully met that we can generously and whole-heartedly give of ourselves. It’s not selfish to look after ourselves — it’s essential!” — Source: Higher Awareness E-Newsletter, John & Patrice Robson
“To serve is beautiful, but only if it is done with joy and a whole heart.” — Pearl S. Buck