Most of us are habituated to avoid the unpleasant and seek the pleasant. Like the proverbial pigeon in the psych experiment that will tap a bar to receive a reward until it’s too weak to tap the bar anymore, we may be addicted to positive experiences and find difficult ones frightening or threatening. This is an understandable predilection, given our evolutionary history and genetic endowment, but it can prevent us from welcoming parts of ourselves we don’ t like and resisting the natural movement of our essential nature toward the complete embrace of all the many energies and levels of the psyche.
In a mentoring session recently, a student mentioned that she gets nervous when she feels certain emotions or impulses because she’s afraid she’ll lose control of herself and go crazy. In her twenties she did act out sexually in ways she now regrets, but there’s no evidence in her history or genetics that she would ever go insane. Even though she knows the fear is baseless, it still comes up from time to time and freaks her out because at some primal level she believes she stands to lose her marriage, her career, indeed, everything she holds dear.
Such fears are not uncommon, especially after we’ve experienced some awakening. We may have peered into the unknown and felt the ground of the familiar shift and give way beneath our feet. But we haven’t fully recognized that awakening is not a matter of falling into an abyss, but rather of recognizing and coming to terms with the fact that we already stand on groundless ground, and the belief that life is predictable and controllable is just an illusion.
In the spirit of welcoming whatever arises without identifying with it or pushing it away, I advised her to welcome the experience of fear with compassionate awareness while being curious about the stories that may have given rise to it. Then, I recommended going even further and surrendering to the fear completely and inviting it to destroy her, if it possibly could. Instead of tightening and contracting against the fear in a protective posture, she could experiment with softening and opening to it without resistance. In this way she opened the possibility that the fear could finally dissipate in the realization that who she is, and who we are, is all-embracing and indestructible.
Only by giving ourselves completely to fear or other intense emotions, which otherwise would be lurking in the shadows and controlling our behavior, can we heal the splits in our psyche between the difficult emotions and the parts that resist them at all costs. Ultimately, the integration of nondual realization involves welcoming every experience without exception, as just another expression of the essence, the awakened awareness, that we always already are.