On that course, I found new heroes.
I never had a single student get injured. Not one.
There is a feeling that many people experience. It’s like a sense that there is something missing – inside oneself.
And there is an experience that can be attained through direct perception.
Both of these things may be called ‘emptiness’, but they should not be confused.
The feeling of emptiness inside oneself is a symptom of a deep malaise. It has often been attributed to depression, and rightly so. However, I have found through my work that it stems (the root cause) from certain kinds of abuse trauma that damage one’s self-esteem.
Actually, this example is a very good one, because it represents what I consider to be the most common, and perhaps the most damaging (although also the least recognized) form of abuse: emotional neglect.
A child is born utterly dependent and vulnerable. She enters this world with very few needs: physical security (food, water, oxygen, physical warmth) and love (attention and emotional warmth).
Very soon she sees that her parents are able to do a vast array of things – they provide for all of her physical needs; they move around and communicate effortlessly; they cause miracles to happen spontaneously (light, fire, water… all appear to be under their power).
So naturally, the child feels that these two beings are as Gods. They seem all powerful, and she depends on them entirely (not to mention – they created her!)
But very soon, something strange begins to happen.
Days go by and she doesn’t see the God (he’s a busy man and works dusk ‘til dawn). Although she would dearly love to see him, he apparently does not feel the same way (after all: if he did, he would – he is all powerful!)
And perhaps even when he is present physically, he somehow is not really present. His attention is not fully with her. And she feels (deeply subconsciously in her child’s mind):
“What is wrong with me that my Father does not see me? What am I missing?”
She truly feels that an important part of her is missing – some beauty, or some power, or something precious. And where that missing part should be, is only emptiness.
That feeling of emptiness is incredibly painful – because it is related not only to the emotional relationship with parents, but also to our very survival: if a child is not worthy of love, who will save her when she needs saving? How will she survive the many years of dependence that are to come?
The feeling is in fact so painful that it cannot be accepted: as a defense mechanism we resist it by suppressing it (into our subconscious) where it remains as a blockage, until healed. Subconsciously we continue to feel empty.
So the child grows up feeling unworthy of true love; unworthy of abundant happiness, health, and success.
This, or a variation of it, is what causes very many of us to have low self esteem: a parent’s (or both parents’) inattention; absence; or inability to express love.
The other kind of emptiness is not a feeling: it is a reality.
When we develop beyond independence to inter-dependence; when we see things as they truly are rather than projecting our own selfish desires, needs, and fears onto them; when we acquire enough energy and personal power to elevate our awareness beyond the mundane… then we perceive the true essence of reality – and it is emptiness.
(Nothingness and emptiness are not the same. But Nothingness is part of emptiness. This was expressed most concisely and most beautifully in my opinion by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj when he said:
“Wisdom is knowing I am nothing,
Love is knowing I am everything, and between the two my life moves.”
When everything is one, then nothing is separate, and the something that we thought we were disappears. This is transcendence; it is also frightening to someone who has not yet developed a strong sense of self.
You see, ‘in order to be spiritual, we must first be human’.
My wife taught me these wise words.
Too many people are turning their backs on their material selves: their bodies; their physical needs’; their animal nature.
Let me tell you something: nothing is not spiritual. Everything IS spiritual. Yes, even money. Sex. Death. Disease. Depression.
I used to think that spirituality was the opposite of materialism – that was my definition. However, I have learnt that there is no difference between the two. They are two sides of the same coin. The same way that nothing, and everything, are two sides of the coin of emptiness.
If you are trying to be spiritual you are not being yourself. We all have material needs.
Don’t spend many years (as I did) trying to transcend materialism. It doesn’t work. You might have a transcendent moment, but you’ll still have to be back in time for dinner (or work Monday morning).
Instead, focus on balancing your spirit with its physical, material reality.
This is what has come to be known as being-ness.
Don’t chase after oneness – after all, it will find you (when you die)! Instead, use your time in this world to integrate your full being-ness.
I’ll end with a personal anecdote – a true story.
When I was a child, I had a recurring dream; a nightmare. I was floating in space, utterly alone. I could wave my arms and legs, but there was no way of moving anywhere – I was weightless, with no momentum. Lost, alone, and powerless.
In the far distance there was a tiny speck of something. I had no idea what it was, but it felt like a toilet (odd, I know). So I was lost and alone and powerless, and apart from the stars and myself, there was only a toilet-like object in my field of awareness. The over-riding sensation was one of total desolation.
I had this dream many times all through my youth, until in my twenties it faded and I forgot about it.
Then, a few years ago I was in a meditation led by Tony Samara. I had a series of very powerful visions (which I won’t go into here – another blog, another time) but one of these visions was my old dream: I am floating in space, a toilet-like speck in the distance. Only I don’t feel alone any more. In fact, I don’t feel any sense of separation between myself and the toilet and the stars and the empty space. Rather, I feel myself as all of that – I am the emptiness in between! And tears flood my eyes and pour down my face, because I realize deeply that I Am That.
To say that this was a beautiful meditation would be an understatement: it transformed my life.
The purpose of my writing this is threefold:
1. I want to highlight the two different kinds of emptiness: one can be a sign of progress; the other is something that inhibits progress, yet can be healed.
2. I am promoting my work: I heal blockages, very successfully.
3. I want more people to understand and realize deeply that spiritual progress depends upon material stability. We must accept ourselves and love ourselves fully as individuals before there will ever be any peace amongst us on this Earth.
So, help me achieve all three of these more fully by ‘liking’ (Facebook), sharing, and of course, I’d love you to leave a comment!
Some people talk of the world ending in 2012 – personally I think that’s nonsense. The world won’t end; but our world just might, unless we evolve human consciousness from the fear mentality that currently pervades, to a new paradigm of love.
I have always had this feeling, this vision (and it has not faded) since I was a child. Indeed, as I have grown older, it has been re-affirmed.
Swami Vishnu Devananda founded the Sivananda Yoga teacher-training course because he had a vision during meditation of the world burning; human beings running around in chaos and fear and desperation. He created that yoga teacher-training course not so much to train yoga teachers as to train world leaders. He recognized that moral, ethical, and spiritual leadership throughout society would prompt change at a ‘grassroots’ level: the change that is necessary to avoid the kind of disaster we may be facing now.
When I learnt of this – as I took the teacher-training myself – I was deeply moved. I silently vowed to do all I could to become the kind of leader that Swami Vishnu envisioned. I did this not only out of love for him (although I never met him – he died in 1993, the year I discovered yoga – I have always felt a tremendous loyalty and love towards him). I did it also because I resonated with his vision, and because I love this Earth, this home that we all share; upon which we float together through space, and towards our shared destiny.
So my work for many years now has been about making a difference. My work as a therapist, healer, and teacher; running yoga retreats and healing holidays; and indeed everything I write; all comes from a heartfelt urge to create a more positive human society.
Today, I begin to do something more.
I call myself a spiritual teacher from time to time – I don’t mean, and have never meant to imply, that I am a guru, or that I am enlightened. Like many, I have tasted the bliss of self-realization but have not been able to sustain it.
Tony Samara is different. I have never met anyone like him, and believe me: I have searched; and I am not easily led.
He is endlessly patient, yet utterly intent.
He is simultaneously deeply compassionate and ruthlessly detached.
He is powerful – miracles seem to happen around him all the time – but his power is matched by a deep humility and gentleness.
I invite you to watch the following video. Made by those students closest to Tony, it is stunningly beautiful. However, the most beautiful aspect of it, for me, is simply Tony’s voice. I invite you to listen to his voice, feel his energy, and consider his words.
If you feel drawn to his teachings, know that there is no dogma or doctrine. He teaches a path of simplicity, and is himself a family man – he has four children.
You can find out more about him on this website, and tune in, for free, to his live Satsang at 17.00 UCT every wednesday. You may also view many of his previous Satsangs, and other videos, at the video archive accessed from the same page.
I will write more articles promoting Tony’s work: how I met him (and the amazing impact that simple moment had on me!); how other people met him; some of my personal experiences whilst being guided by him in meditation; how he has visited me (and others) in dreams.
For now, please enjoy this beautiful video!
With love, Ben
When my wife and I first moved into our hilltop home / retreat center amongst the farmland and forests of Eastern Slovenia, we left our T.V. behind.
|Hills, forest, farmland; no tsunami!|
We’d decided to simplify…
Our courtship was in an ashram, and the austerity of our lives there brought us face to face and heart to heart and soul to soul in ways that I had dreamt of, yet had not dared dream of.
Our courtship was unlike any other I had experienced – and I’d experienced many; mostly fast and furious, and without real substance. But meeting Petra was like tasting a fruit that I’d never heard of before; it was a totally new, fresh experience, that burst into my senses and spread through my body, mind, and spirit.
We spent 6 months getting to know each other the old fashioned way. Surrounded as we were by Swamis who had taken vows of renunciation (my intention on coming there was to become a Swami myself!) we couldn’t express our feelings for each other in a physical way; we couldn’t even hold hands there!
So we talked when we could, but mostly just ‘tuned in’ to each other’s energy, bathing in the electric awareness of loving presence that seemed to surround us whenever we happened to be in the same room.
It was a magical time; also frustrating as hell! Having grown up in a culture of microwaves, one-night stands, and instant coffee, it was the supreme lesson in patience that I unwittingly needed.
Our first ‘date’ was to the cinema, to see ‘The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe’, chaperoned at the last moment by a Swami who shuffled down the aisle, stepping over people’s legs in the semi-dark, in his orange robes with an orange knapsack, and pulling out a thermos flask to ask, grinning from ear to ear:
The soundtrack to our courtship was all Kirtan and Indian flute and tabla. And our shared favorite was “I am the eternal seeker of peace, love, and simplicity”. Those three words are on our wedding rings now, even if mine is somewhere in the Atlantic off the coast of the Algarve (long story, another time).
So when we moved in to our new house, we shed our television in the name of simplicity. And so I come to the point of this little story:
Soon after moving in, we met our postman for the first time. Please bear in mind that we live several hundred kilometers from the sea…
The postman sped up the steep hill and turned sharply into our driveway, sending gravel spinning in all directions. He huffed and puffed his way out of the van towards us, immediately sensing that he was stepping into a different world: Petra and I had just spent 2 hours meditating and practicing asanas and pranayama, and were feeling deeply mellow. He was on guard; this was unknown territory… he clocked our car; in those days a mobile advertisement for our yoga business.
He became visibly suspicious.
Handing us our post, he asked us about the car. We explained that we taught yoga, and he immediately asked us, rather indignantly – as if the very idea were some kind of travesty – if we were vegetarian. When we replied that we were, he looked worried. He questioned us about protein, and didn’t look at all convinced.
Then he glanced at our house.
“You don’t have a t.v. antenna”
“No, we don’t need one, because we don’t have a t.v.”
Incredulous: “You don’t have a TV?!”
Wide eyed, “But what will you do” glancing furtively over his shoulder “if there’s a Tsunami”!
Now, I have no idea how he thought that a t.v. would help us if a Tsunami magically appeared on our hilltop above the clouds.
No idea. But I realized something very profound that day: Television makes people afraid, whilst reassuring them that they’re safe as long as they watch it.
If love is light, and fear is the shadow in which we all too often get lost, then television can be a serious obstacle between us and the light.
I’m not saying that you should trash the television: but watching it less never hurts, and awareness is all. Petra and I actually have a box in our home now, and the temptation is always there to over-indulge. We use it mostly to watch dvd’s.
Bonus video, Gil Scott Heron’s ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’:
Bonus video, Gil Scott Heron’s ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’: