On a lifelong quest for “the true truth,” one day I realized that truth isn’t to be found in reading more books or doing more stuff: the struggle is to BE not to DO. So I went to work again with all the strength and dedication I could muster. The image of Jacob wrestling with the angel satisfied me for years as I wrestled with being, forging ahead against all odds. Finally I discovered that wrestling or doing battle wasn’t getting me anywhere because what I desired most must be sought delicately, with the recognition that I don’t really know how to get there from here. Any state of tension or blind determination moves us away from what we seek. To approach Being, as Marion Woodman often said, we need to learn to stand in our own truth.
I’m passing this on in the hope that it won’t take others a lifetime to discover that seeking is not a tensing of inner wish-muscles but, rather, a letting go of the neediness to know, a releasing of the desperation to find an answer to the longing for “something else” that rises from the depths. We must enter a no-man’s-land beyond thinking, doing and reacting, beyond what the Buddha called the hankering and dejection in which we usually live. So if you wish to arrive at place where you can stand in your own truth, be ready to wait and listen at the threshold. Then, if access is granted to that inaccessible space, all you can do is listen and wait some more, long enough so that knowing and loving can find you.
Here are some suggestions from my own experience:
- The first step is to develop the attention.
What seems most underdeveloped in the search for presence is the indispensable faculty of attention. “Presence is being able to hold the love, no matter what happens,” said Marion in a Dream Workshop. But
most of us lack the capacity to attend long enough to hold the love or anything else, because we are so easily distracted by the next thought or emotional reaction that comes along. Those who have learned how to attend are good athletes, good listeners, good thinkers, good workers at anything they do. In Waiting for God, Simone Weil insists that the whole purpose of school studies is to develop a child’s attention, and that the quality of a student’s effort to attend is even more important than whether or not a problem is correctly solved.
- We need to give up “knowing’
The contemporary Hindu teacher Jean Klein says that we can never know what we are, but we can know what we are not. In The Ease of Being, he speaks about the stages of self-knowledge that unfold when self-questioning begins. It awakens an “intimation of reality,” kindling a feeling of emptiness which may send us off to hunt in many directions for something to fill our sense of lack. Then, each time we think we’ve found what we were looking for, we may arrive at momentary peace. But soon we’ll be off again “like a hunting dog who cannot find the scent,” searching frantically for what we think we can’t do without.
- And learn from our own mistakes.
However, our experiences gradually educate us as we begin to understand the repetitive lure of wanting. We become attracted to what Klein calls “the scent of reality.” It begins to center us, quieting our habitual agitation and creating a sense of valuation for the spiritual search. Gurdjieff referred to this process as developing a ‘magnetic center,’ a place within our Being that resonates to the sound of truth.
- Then give up the security of answers.
In spite of the fact that awakening to presence begins with questioning, my reasoning mind found it difficult to accept that spending time pondering questions could help. I wanted answers, not questions. However, the many stock answers stashed in the closet of the mind are of little value in this search. In moments of great loss or suffering, or even of great joy, such formulations don’t tell us much that’s useful. Yet, like many people, I wanted safety in a secure truth. While we all share this wish for security, it’s important to allow the difficult queries for which we have no answers to settle deep into our flesh and bones, to see them as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke did, like locked rooms containing something precious but to which we have no key. In this way, they may lead us to deeper questions, exposing the fact that true self-knowledge isn’t owning an answer. It is knowledge of my own nature.
- Relaxation is indispensable.
There’s a world of difference between the seeker who goes forward with every muscle tensed, ready for action, and the Zen archer who aims at the target blindfold, and releases the arrow from a completely relaxed body. In the same way, the quest to stand in our own truth calls not for a tensing of the inner muscles in order to find our way, but a releasing of the neediness to know. So that what we need can find us.