I placed the video into the VCR, pressed play, and sat on my couch with my scruffy beautiful mutt at my feet. An American spiritual master, Adi Da Samraj, began speaking, clarifying the nature of ego, the origins of humankind’s self-created suffering, and expounding upon the Divine Reality in which everything is arising. A few minutes into his talk, “The Fire Must Have Its Way”, I saw a bright gold light start to emanate from the TV, flowing like a slow river and filling up my living room. This light force enveloped me and my body responded and surrendered. I no longer controlled my inhalation and exhalation and was slowly being dissolved in nectarous Love Bliss.
The master’s words, the sound vibrations from them, my body, and this Divine Light pervading me and the room, became one radiant “thing.” There was no separation as my body’s cells lit up, ecstatically vibrating, but also registering a peace beyond description. His talk ended after about 45 minutes and I went out to walk my dog at Green Lake Park near where I lived in Seattle. I continued to experience everything as one thing. Non-separate. Energized. Alive as Divine Light, as love filled and released from my body with every breath…only to eventually fade away after 20-30 minutes, giving way to my “normal” perceptions, fears and desires.
A handful of years later, near the onset of my career as a licensed therapist, I received notification from the licensing board that a colleague of mine had submitted a formal complaint against me because I hadn’t included a detail in an evaluation I wrote. The licensing board dismissed the complaint as unfounded, concluding I had not engaged in unprofessional conduct. However, it was traumatic. For a couple days after receiving the complaint, though my mind knew the complaint was frivolous, my body was taut with anxiety, my mind racing with worries about my new career and finances.
What made those two experiences so vastly different? From the larger picture there were similarities; for both, I was in good health, I was physically safe, and words were being conveyed to me – the first via a video, the latter via a letter. The first left me dissolved in the force of Love, while after the latter I was suffering and wound like a yo-yo string.
A hologram is a 3D projected image whereby from any point you can see the entire image. I believe that a trained eye can see a great deal from a snapshot of a person’s life. As a trained therapist, this skill is honed, year after year, as clients step into my office and begin talking. But my training as a therapist paled in comparison to what spiritual experiences and great spiritual masters have revealed to me about the big picture, Reality, and the root of suffering. I’ve suffered anxiety my entire life and I’ve also experienced extraordinary freedom and love. What is the cause of, and what is there to learn from, suffering? What is there to learn from feeling love? Are they both Grace given? This article is purposed to address these crucial matters.
WHAT IS GRACE?
Humankind has always been confronted with the dichotomous impulses of goodness and selfish motives. Most sane people would agree that, collectively, our selfish impulses have been winning out – much to our collective detriment. We find ourselves looking at what many scientists portend to be a most ominous future – a future where even our survival is in doubt. What will align us to our highest intelligence, to our strengths, to genius, and the compassion and courage to face present and future challenges? Essential in this alignment is getting clear about what Grace actually is.
The American Heritage Dictionary provides the following theological definitions of Grace: a. Divine love and protection bestowed freely upon mankind. b. The state of being protected or sanctified by the favor of God. c. An excellence or power granted by God; an unmerited gift from God.
“Protection…favor…excellence or power granted…unmerited gift”? These definitions imply that only what we generally perceive to be good things coming our way as signs of Grace’s intervention. Is that true?
Quantum physics has irrefutably concluded that everything is energy/light – that everything animate, inanimate, visible and invisible is merely and mysteriously energy/light. This energy/light is the all-pervading Life Force. We humans are arising in an infinite ocean of Life Force whereby forms appear, perpetually change, and disappear – but that which is constant remains unchanged. There is always this unchanging all-pervading Life Force in which everything arises and from which nothing is ever separate or differentiated.
Some people use the words God, Spirit, Love, and the Divine, interchangeably, with Life Force, Light, and Reality. Is it really necessary to argue about what to call that which is inherently mysterious? But we all know there are real consequences when we aren’t sensitive to Reality.
If everything is Light, Grace cannot possibly operate or exist outside of it. Grace IS the all-pervading Life Force, the Spirit. I also learned soon after the spiritual experience I described above, that the rarest of spiritual masters are spiritual transmitters and as such they are mysterious vehicles of Grace.
UNIVERSAL LAW & THE ILLUSION OF SEPARATENESS
What is the nature of the Life Force? Does this Life Force/Light/Spirit/Grace have a Law? I ask you to consider that the Universal Law is Freedom. As water “wants” to flow and spread, energy wants to be free, unbound. To align with the Law of Reality we must have our guard down, feeling whatever is arising in and around us. When we feel free, our bodies register a wide range of potential feelings; happiness, love, peace, humor, and strength. And the feelings we typically don’t like; fear, anger, sorrow, self-loathing, shame, guilt, loneliness, hurt, when felt freely, are felt for what they are – simply energy – to be allowed.
Quantum physics also has proven there is no separateness but only the illusion of such. The word “ego” is Greek in origin, and means “I.” Feeling ourselves to be individuals, and where the illusion of separation is reinforced by language, an egoic consciousness arises that is rooted in the false sense of separation and threat. Our human bodies are also binary. We are either opening in any given moment, or contracting. This contracting, coiling, putting up walls, reflects that we are feeling threatened. But if there’s only Life Force, only Light, who or what, if anything, is actually being threatened? I read words on a paper from the licensing board and immediately my body tightened and my mind raced. I was out of touch with Reality, buying the ego machine’s false perception of threat. Sitting in front of my TV, listening to words, eager and open to learn from a spiritual master, I had a very different experience. Yet, there were no significant outward differences. In both cases I, my body, was still arising in an ocean of Life Force/Light. In the former, I was like a sponge in the ocean refusing to be saturated. Where’s the intelligence in that? Staying with the sponge metaphor, my enlightened master shared that in the enlightened state you no longer identify with being a mortal sponge but, now fully saturated and allowing the currents to freely flow, you identify as being the eternal Divine ocean itself.
Few beings have ever been graced to learn to live perpetually with their guard down, uncontracted, enlightened. Those few have been the most free and loving among us and who have the most to teach us. As my spiritual master expounded, the ego is not an entity but an activity – neurotic and addictive seeking and avoiding. As we consciously and subconsciously contract, and thereby obstruct peace and the sense of connectedness to Love, we neurotically and addictively seek comfort, pleasure and security, as we simultaneously try to avoid challenging feelings. We don’t recognize painful feelings as simply unthreatening energy, so we haven’t learned to deeply relax and feel freely all emotions. Or even harsh sounds or a cold wind in our face for that matter. A baby screams and cries and we wince and contract, reflecting that we perceive the noise as threatening. A cold wind hits our face and we brace ourselves, as if the wind is threatening and bracing will somehow help us stay warm. All ego-driven activity arises from and creates suffering. And when we allow the ego’s perspective to rule our mind, the mind is the thief of happiness.
THE ACT OF SUFFERING
What have we gotten ourselves into by being born?! Day one, the ego machine is also born. We’re afraid, we feel threatened, and we want comforting. Until we learn to transcend the ego, our lives are emotional patterning and perceptions created during our lives as infants and toddlers. We feel pain and discomfort, and we seek relief. As children, we experience fear, sorrow, loneliness, rage, shame, and guilt, and we wrongly conclude that these feelings are bad, threatening, and should be avoided or escaped. We create our emotions and when we don’t like what we feel, we react by trying to escape them through our addictive and neurotic seeking. Our refusal to be responsible with our emotions is suffering and has been at the heart of every insensitive and irresponsible act.
It is our inherent birth right to be free. What’s required to be free? The ego machine pursues happiness, wants to be free, but the very pursuit is suffering and will always be fruitless. My first spiritual master once said, you cannot become happy, you can only be happy.
When we are relaxed, open, undefended, we literally feel better because our nervous system is uncoiled. In this disposition we are light-hearted, capable of freely giving and receiving love. We think more clearly, are more creative, and can gracefully respond to our challenges.
CONCEPTUAL VS. PERCEPTUAL
My first spiritual master also declared that it’s not a question of whether there is God. He said there is only God. And that God/Love is found “in the feeling of being.” The profundity of this cannot be overstated, nor can the difficulty of mastering the capacity to feel freely under all conditions.
There are two basic modes of being: the conceptual and the perceptual. In the conceptual mode we are in our heads, thinking, left brain active, abstracted from reality. The conceptual mode is useful when calculating, designing, and strategizing. But humans tend to be extremely addicted to engaging life from this mode and have a hard time disengaging and dropping into the perceptual mode. The perceptual mode is when we are living in the state of feeling awareness, senses open, grounded, responsive. We sometimes consciously or subconsciously give ourselves permission to be in this state when we are bathing, enjoying music, dancing, meditating, doing yoga, relaxing on a beach, laying down to sleep, or engaging in sex. Most of my clients approximate they spend less than an hour a day in the perceptual mode. Typically, humans rarely sit still, rarely enjoy deep relaxation, and have no clue how to experience profound calm while feeling deep hurt, shame, anger, sorrow or fear.
The perceptions rendered from the ecstatic spiritual experience I first described revealed: there is only God/Light/Love, there is no separate Creator, freedom is a choice, and that any sense of threat arises from buying the ego machine’s lies of separation from Love. It was also evident from the experience that there is no separate someone that is “Robert” that dies with this body. It was equally evident that there is no place of hell, nor eternal damnation, and that the “kingdom of Heaven IS here on Earth,” (as it is everywhere) as there is ONLY God/Light.
THE TRUTH FREES & OFFENDS
The ego machine is perpetually dramatizing one way or another “poor me” and “screw you” – blaming, complaining, manipulating—and angrily, despondently, and fearfully never believes it has enough of what it wants or thinks it needs. It has become starkly evident that only we create all of our own emotions, and that we create any suffering associated with our emotions and thoughts.
Grace is perfectly operative. In the best and worst moments. How could it be otherwise when all is Light? In our happiest moments, in the moments we feel love in our hearts, when we feel most free, the Truth is being affirmed: that all is Light/Love. In our worst moments, Life/Grace is showing us via our pain, that we are missing the mark, we are clinging, neurotically seeking and avoiding, presuming separation from Love, reacting, not responding. In these moments, we are in our heads, feeling threatened – refusing to freely feel whatever there is to feel in our bodies and around us. I once read that a politician who died of cancer said that his cancer was a miracle. He expressed that it took facing death to reveal to him how hateful and afraid he’d been, and that in the course of dealing with cancer he finally learned to give and receive love. A powerful lesson for all of us.
A FEELING MATTER
Grace “wants” us to be happy, no matter what we require to “get it.” Life presents all the opportunities.
Not long ago, late at night, I found myself dripping with shame. I’d just learned that I’d inadvertently been very insensitive to a friend. All my spiritual understanding was being tested – though I knew there was no “Tester.” My spiritual master’s words were recalled, “God is found in the feeling of being.” He literally meant that feeling is the portal to communing with Spirit. With my body tight as a knot, my heart burning like a red hot coal, and my stomach aching, I leaned into the task of embracing my master’s instruction to freely feel the intense shame. I lay in my bed, sweating, hands on my heart, and began to breathe slowly and deeply, accepting the hellish discomfort, affirming Love’s presence and that there was no threat. The feeling of shame intensified as it expanded throughout my body. For probably an hour or more, I radiated with shame. I had to maintain tremendous focus throughout this process, by observing what was going on and not buying that I was a victim to it or that it was too much to feel, or else I’d knot up again in agony. Then slowly the shame morphed into intense waves of energy flowing from my extremities. All sense of good, bad, positive, negative was gone. It was just pure Life Force. About two hours into this ordeal, I felt the tiniest feeling of love in my heart. It took discipline not to attach to it or focus on it and I continued to breathe, relax, and allow my body to stay in the state of feeling awareness as it maintained its feeling connection to the bed and my surroundings. The Love expanded and within about half an hour my body was radiating Love through and out every pore. My master’s words were proven true. Had I gotten impatient with Grace, not understood what Grace is, and/or doubted my capacity to stay with the process, I would have continued to suffer by being at war with the shame I had created.
I’d discovered I couldn’t think my way to freedom, love, God, or happiness. It is a feeling matter. A life-long practice, and Grace rules. We can only learn what It reveals and teaches. The greatest beings, past and present, those who most exemplify love and freedom, are Grace’s greatest gift to humankind.
Robert Hirsch, LCSW copyright 2022
Robert Hirsch has been the student of two American born spiritual masters. Since 1990, he’s had a private practice as a therapist in the Seattle area. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org