April 10, 2014

Addiction, Family Karma & Spiritual Practice.


Here’s a powerful question from T.
(Notice what arises in your mind as you read.)

Good morning,
My adult daughter is drug addicted. We have experienced years of challenge—life/death scenarios, fear, anger, love, hope, despair, etc. Obviously, it’s complicated on many levels.
Now I find myself on the verge of believing in absolutely nothing. Over the years, I have practiced consistently, bulking up my spiritual ‘tool box’ until I can hardly lift it anymore. I’m empty and exhausted.
Just as healing seems to begin—the wound is opened again. After 20 years of this struggle, I wonder if it will ever resolve.
Thank you,

Dear T.

Thank you for sending this note and for your undefended heart.

When we care about and are connected to others it’s natural for their struggles to affect us. As a parent, friend, partner, colleague, the undefended heart feels and responds to the suffering of those we love.

How can we continue to open, remain present, and engage with compassion?

Particularly in the face of the on-going struggle and the frustration of our best efforts? When conditions are “right” and the people around us are relatively peaceful—it’s easier for the mind to rest in balanced awareness.

But, when those we love spiral into self-doubt or self-destruction, our own sense of balance is threatened.
We teeter and totter and often spiral into our own signature patterns of imbalance.

Is this not the challenge for all who wish to live with an undefended heart, who long to embody wisdom and compassion in the midst of life conditions?

While the details of each person’s family karma will differ in the specifics—the challenge, deep questions and fiery invitation to awaken—are universal.

What differs is the intensity of how you experience this invitation.
What differs is the intensity with which life knocks on the door of your consciousness . . .
knock . . . knock . . . knock . . .

Life is knocking on the door of your consciousness.

This is an image within every wisdom tradition. The savior, the guru, the bodhisattva, the healing presence is knock, knock, knocking on the door of your consciousness.

And, these same teachings point out that the healing presence doesn’t come with a neon sign flashing, “I’m the healing presence! I am the divine energy that will heal your life!”

Nope. The healing presence comes in disguise. What kind of disguise?

The Healing Presence is disguised in the form of your life.

In the traditions, it is said that the healing presence comes in the form of a beggar, a stranger, in rags.

In short, the sacred blessing typically comes in a disguise that challenges your inherited ideas of spirituality, healing, and even love. It doesn’t come in the form of a lovely weekend workshop or trip to the spa. Not usually, at least.

The awakening energy of life comes in a form that reflects your deepest need and your most potent spiritual question.

It’s in disguise. The outer form of the disguise is a mirror—revealing the nature of the emotional pain and suffering that you are here to heal. But, hidden deep within the disturbing form is a sacred gift, a healing energy, that, as you open to it, brings that which you truly seek into your life.

How does life knock on the door of your consciousness?
In whatever way you are able to notice.

Life knocks in the most subtle, gentle, way and also forcefully.
This knocking follows a progression—based on your capacity to listen, be aware, and respond. The first knocks or calls to awaken are virtually silent.

If you hear the silent call, your mind is not cluttered with self-contradictory beliefs and tensions.
In this state of integrated awareness, you can respond to the silence; you can hear the unspoken teachings.

But, if you can’t hear the silent call and are unable to respond to the gentle knocking, if the subtle invitation becomes lost in the swirl of emotional tensions, then life will adapt to your attentional capacity and turn up the volume of the call.

This increased intensity will typically manifest as more and more dramatic events – messages that are harder and harder to ignore.

At some point, the intensity of life’s knocking will match your capacity to attune.
Then you receive the message.
You let it in by letting go—of whatever outmoded identity is limiting you.

In your letter, T, you say, “Now I find myself on the verge of believing in absolutely nothing.”

This is a tender and sacred moment.
All the beliefs of the past have brought you to this moment.
This is the nature of every belief, indeed of every insight—it is impermanent. It has carried you this far and now, as you are ready to go deeper, the belief lets go of you.

Time to Let Go

Will your mind let go of the belief?
Yes, it will—if you allow it to. Breathe…be gentle with yourself.

Outgrowing beliefs—and accumulated spiritual practices—in no way dishonors their usefulness. The beliefs and practices of the past have served you. They have brought you to this moment of letting go. They have purified your consciousness so you can hear the knock, knock, knocking…

Life is knocking at the door of your heart.
It is knocking in the form of your life conditions—including those that are so painful, including all the thoughts and emotional reactions that arise within you.

Open your heart. Receive what is there with loving awareness. Life will meet you wherever you are.

You really don’t have to do anything to awaken.
If you do nothing intentional—no practices, no reflection, no purification—you will still move forward on the path. But, you will move at the pace and the intensity that your conditioning dictates. And conditioning moves very, very slowly and, often, laboriously.

Conditioning requires really, really, overt, intense, even dramatic events before it will let go.
Life never judges this requirement. It simply responds. It meets you where you are.
Life offers infinite opportunities for you to awaken, to heal, and to let go of what causes suffering.

Life does this in ways that are soft, gentle, and soothing and in ways that are as hard, challenging and shocking as it takes to penetrate the swirling emotions and contradictory thoughts of your conditioning.

Life is fully, unconditionally and relentlessly committed to your awakening.
Your awakening is inevitable. There’s nothing you need to do. You can follow the path of events (called the School of Hard Knocks) or you can take the path of spiritual practice.

Choosing spiritual practice makes you a partner with life.
Spiritual practice makes you a co-conspirator with life’s healing agenda. As a co-conspirator you learn to breathe with life (conspire means to breathe with). To inhale the blessings that are being transmitted to you…right now with this breath, and to exhale, releasing that which no longer serves you.

Does that mean that your suffering will end?
I don’t know. Are you willing to find out?
Here’s what I do know—that as you conspire (breathe with) life, the knocks will still come.
And when the unexpected knock comes to your door, you won’t recoil.
You won’t take it as evidence of your own, or others’, lack or insufficiency.

You’ll turn, with loving awareness, towards what is seeking your blessing and with an undefended heart you will step into the fire letting go of what no longer serves you, or life, and embracing the next step on your path.


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Editor: Travis May

Photo: Wiki Commons

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