All of the ways that we deal with darkness will fall short unless there is a solution that lies beyond the divided self. As long as one part of you wants to get better while another part of you holds on to negativity, you will be conflicted. The world’s wisdom traditions all teach that there is a way out of the divided self; therefore, by following this way, one should find healing from everyday problems like depression and anxiety. Calling them everyday is not to diminish the suffering that is caused. I could have called them age-old problems or the burden of being human. But the solution to negativity is also age-old and part of being human. In practical terms there are three parts to the spiritual solution.
Transcending: It is crucial to go beyond the domain ruled by the divided self. When they are in trouble, people naturally attempt to escape. They suppress their fears, seek distraction, deny the problem, blame others, seek a scapegoat, substitute a more acceptable feeling like anger, and so on. But none of these tactics actually leaves the field of struggle behind; they just pretend to in one way or another. The spiritual rule here is that the level of the solution isn’t the level of the problem. So you must take yourself to a place beyond conflict. The world’s wisdom traditions agree that there is such a place. The challenge is to find it inside yourself. The journey is not as mystical as it sounds.
You are transcending negativity whenever the following things occur:
Sitting by yourself, going within, and letting your internal dialogue quiet down
Meditating, a way of guiding the mind to deeper levels of the self
Feeling empathy for someone else
Giving of yourself
Caring for and appreciating someone else
Being in love
Looking at a situation beyond your own limited viewpoint
Feeling inspired by someone or something
Being uplifted by scriptures (of whatever faith)
Showing faith and trust in a higher power
Asking God or your higher self for a solution and then letting go
Acting morally instead of selfishly
Objectivity: If the ways of transcending are so many, why don’t we take advantage of them? Habit plays its part. People keep repeating false solutions to the point where it is hard to see another way. The mechanisms of denial and repression are also powerful. People talk themselves into believing that they don’t have a problem or that their negativity is under control. Yet at bottom there is a common denominator to all false solutions: lack of objectivity. You are overshadowed by your emotions, habits, conditioning, and hidden beliefs. Instead of offering the road to freedom the inner world is a prison, and the only self that can be found is the shadow self, the part of you that holds on to fear, anger, trauma, revenge, jealousy, resentment, and a fascination with negativity in general.
It takes a degree of objectivity before you can face your problems. From the spiritual perspective, the shadow is a subtler aspect of the divided self. Negativity has been pushed out of sight there; it remains quiescent until you disturb it, and then the negativity comes to the surface. This doesn’t mean that the shadow is your enemy. If it were, then the great sages and seers would advise us to fight back with all our might. The reason they don’t is that darkness can always find a way to return; the only way out is to go beyond darkness. In itself, that realization is a form of objectivity.
You are obtaining objectivity whenever any of the following occurs:
Seeking a new perspective from someone you trust
Seeing that your problem is repetitive-you’ve been here before
Realizing that you have experienced a clear space before and will again, because negativity comes and goes
Finding moments of calm and release
Laughing at yourself
Seeing yourself in somebody else’s situation
Trusting a trained therapist or counselor who has helped others in your situation
Giving up the illusion of being unique-others have experienced the same problems and overcome them
Joining a support group
Helping someone else to heal
Hope becomes real and not just an empty promise
Uncovering your inner power; renouncing helplessness and victimhood
Shifting: Once you obtain a degree of objectivity, a road starts to open, and by following it, you begin to transcend. You leave the level of the problem on the way to the level of the solution. Going beyond is natural, and as we saw, there are many ways to do it. The path to freedom comes down to repetition, not the old kind where you repeat the false solution over and over but a new kind, where you go beyond, in big and small ways, until you have trained yourself to respond to negativity as your own healer. There are forces inside you that exist to help you; you become your own guru when you learn how to call upon these forces.
We don’t need to use a mystical or religious vocabulary here. The forces I am referring to are aspects of your true self: love, optimism, compassion, kindness, non-judgment, tolerance, acceptance. All are imbedded in your awareness, and at one time or another everyone has experienced them, however fleetingly. To shift into healing, you need to direct these qualities toward yourself. When you meet someone who suffers from a chronic problem, it’s inevitable that in their past they learned to judge against themselves. Once that happens, it is automatic to deny oneself the compassion and understanding that we would direct to strangers in distress. The divided self makes you a stranger to yourself. That is bad enough, but you also learn to hate and fear this stranger. Spiritually, you cannot be a stranger to yourself, because in reality there is only you, a whole person who has always been on terms of loving intimacy. Shifting toward wholeness is how you take advantage of transcending. In other words, once you go beyond the level of negativity, you say, “This is my home. I have found out who I really am. I intend to be this person forever.” You stake a claim on wholeness rather than self-division.
You are shifting toward your true self whenever any of the following things occur:
Being kind to yourself
Understanding yourself without judgment
Letting go of old resentments and unpaid grudges
Healing your psychological wounds
Realizing that forgiveness is possible, especially forgiving yourself
Making peace with guilt and shame
No longer blaming yourself, or those who made you who you are
Releasing the past, living in the present
Ending toxic relationships
Seeking a wholesome emotional environment
Making a plan for a better future and sticking to it
Taking the wisdom of spiritual traditions seriously
Finding the courage to confront scary feelings, then releasing them
Learning to be alone; valuing what it is simply to be
Developing a greater vision of life
Defining a purpose that inspires you every day
Listening to the voice within; cultivating intuition and insight
Valuing your own uniqueness
Letting go of externals; no longer defining yourself by status, money, and possessions
Each of these points needs to be gone into deeply. You have a lifetime to do that. Our purpose here was to give an overview of the choices that face you. A menu isn’t the same as a meal. It is up to you to make your choices from the menu first. Millions of people don’t even realize that false solutions and real solutions come down to choice, they feel trapped inside their old, habitual responses. When the ancient sages talk about waking up or seeing the light, in practical terms they are pointing to inner choices about how life should be lived. Now you can see how to expand your choices. Reality is much fuller than illusion. It offers openings every day to transcend, obtain objectivity, and shift out of your stuckness. This is spirit at work, and no other work is quite so fulfilling.
Published in the San Francisco Chronicle