The man, who being really one the Way, falls upon hard times in the world will not, as a consequence, turn to that friend who offers him refuse and comfort and encourages his old self to survive. Rather, he will seek out someone who will faithfully and inexorably help him to risk himself, so that he may endure the suffering and pas courageously through it, thus making of it a “raft that leads to the far shore.” Only to the extent that a an exposes himself over and over again to annihilation, can that which is indestructible arise within him. In this lies the dignity of daring….Only if we venture repeatedly through zones of annihilation, can our contact with Divine Being, which is beyond annihilation, become firm and stable. The more a moan learns whole-heartedly to confront the world that threatens him with isolation, the more are the depths of the Ground of Being revealed and the possibilities of a new life and Becoming opened.
-- Karlfried Graf von Durckheim, The Way of Transformation
If you have been in the game of transformation for any amount of time, you have felt the annihilation mentioned in the quote above. Why on earth would you keep playing this game? Annihilation again and again doesn’t sound like very much fun.
In fact, on a recent conference call, a WorldWorks graduate said – ‘why can’t it be more fun instead of feeling like I am consistently coming face to face with all of the stuff within me that drives me crazy?’ Believe me, I have been there. In fact, I still can easily go to that place in my mind (where there is a standing reservation for me to show up in that thinking). I want to clarify what is actually occurring in those moments.
First, what is being annihilated?
It is NOT my Self (big ‘S’ deliberate), the eternal and Divine part of me that operates outside of space and time and is the absolute majesty of the universe moving through and within me. What is being annihilated is the hook of my ego.
Let me stop right there and say a little bit about the ego. The ego gets a bad rap. People use the word ego to describe when someone thinks too highly of themselves, is arrogant or ‘egotistical.’ There is a focus on the ‘I.’ But the ego’s job is to keep us safe. It’s knows survival incredibly well and just wants things to stay the much as same as possible – so that there is minimal risk of something going wrong, you being hurt or a pain you have experienced in the past being repeated. The ego was set up in childhood. It paid really good attention to experiences in which you were hurt, suffered or there was pain. I like to think of my ego as a seven or eight-year old little girl who is doing her best to make sure that I stay okay and don’t repeat ‘mistakes’ that I have made in the past that have resulted in pain or hurt. Only this little girl is now pounding Red Bulls and she is a little overzealous about her job. So it isn’t that the ego is bad – it’s rather that the primary focus is on staying safe and everything remaining the same.
I’m sure that you have noticed by now that your ego has brilliant ways of getting you not to risk. Your ego is adept at excuses and justifications as to why you didn’t ask the hot girl or guy on the date – why you haven’t yet done that business plan – why you haven’t shared authentically what you see possible for your best friend in the WorldWorks trainings – whatever it is. Your ego is the built in answer behind the word because. Every time that the ego succeeds in giving you an excuse, answer or story as to why you did or didn’t do something – it has hooked you into believing that the story is really true. So if your ego is telling you that other people will leave you or reject you if you are honest, open and revealed, and you pull back from actually sharing fully who you are – your ego just succeeded in hooking you, and will continue to use that hook again and again until it becomes standard.
When you confront those stories and excuses, seeing them not as ‘real’ or ‘true,’ but rather justifications that you have been buying into, there is a new possibility that arises. When you are willing to risk and go through whatever your ego is screaming NO to and justifying why you should not – the indestructible arises within you. You discover that the fear and justifications created to keep you safe are unnecessary. You discover that you are safe and have always been safe – no matter how far out on the skinny branches you climb. And you uncover Ways of Being that were previously unavailable – courage, power, passion, freedom, outrageousness – all waiting to be awakened when you have the courage to use your frustrations, points-of-view and suffering as a “raft that leads to the far shore.”
What are we really risking? Our Self – that eternal, infinite aspect of us? NO. Absolutely not. What we are risking is our ego, our self-image. What will people think of me? What if they do not approve of how I am being? What if I am rejected? What if they don’t love me? What if they judge or criticize me? What if I do it wrong? These are the hooks of the ego. That is all that is being risked. Illusions to keep you safe, protected and inside of your comfort zone.
I always say that it is pretty easy to sit on a mountaintop in a lotus position, eyes-closed, maintaining peace and equanimity for all. It is challenging to do so in the day-to-day of the world. It is challenging to do so when we confront our own selfishness, fears, hurts and pain. It is challenging to keep heart wide open, when old fears of abandonment or betrayal come up. It is challenging to remain authentic, when a family member criticizes and makes accusations. It is challenging to believe and see possibility, when someone has made promises again and again to follow through, but doesn’t do so. These are opportunities to see what is arising within, face it head on, and go through to the other side – instead of walling off, shutting down, using stories and justifications, denial or avoidance.
Abraham Maslow wrote about the possibility of self-actualization, "the desire for self-fulfillment, namely the tendency for him [the individual] to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.” That is a tall order, and for me, a possibility that call me forth with passion. It isn’t an accident that when Maslow came up with the 19 Characteristics of Self-Actualizers, at the top of the list was:
“Perception of Reality These individuals tend to have a “superior relationship with reality” and are “generally unthreatened and unfrightened by the unknown.” In fact, “they accept it, are comfortable with it, and often, are even MORE ATTRACTED BY IT than by the known. They not only tolerate the ambiguous and unstructured – THEY LIKE IT.”
That is someone who has become comfortable in risking – comfortable with not-knowing and is willing to confront the imaginary dragons his ego is convinced lurk just outside the comfort zone, unearthing aspects of Being that were previously not available.
We go to movies like The Lord of the Rings or any of the Harry Potter installments and delight at how the hero confronts not only external demons, but the demons within themselves. And in the end, the hero always emerges stronger, more confident, courageous and powerful. But then when it comes to our own lives, too often we seek to minimize our discomfort, want to stay in routines and keep our risks to possibly trying a new Latte at Starbucks. But that isn’t where the gold is – the gold is being willing to see the ego attempting to hook you into limited points-of-view, beliefs or interpretations about yourself and your world – and refusing to take the bait. Diving in, surprising yourself by doing more than you knew possible. Jumping and risking – playing ALL IN on every hand that is dealt.
There’s a great old poem called The Dilemma below. But to me, there really isn’t a dilemma.
• To laugh is to risk appearing a fool
• To weep is to risk appearing sentimental
• To reach out for another is to risk involvement
• To expose feelings is to risk rejection
• To place your dreams before the crowd is to risk ridicule
• To love is to risk not being loved in return
• To go forward in the face of overwhelming odds is to risk failure
But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing, has nothing, is nothing.
He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he cannot learn, feel, change, grow or love. Chained by his certitudes, he is a slave. He has forfeited his freedom. Only a person who takes a risk is free.