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Can I Love Myself AND Lose Myself?

Link to watch the full devotional:

I grew up on a farm in Idaho. My parents were extremely busy in the summers. We went swimming once every summer. Because of my limited experience in the water and lack of formal training, I never learned to swim, but I loved the water. When I was 16, a lady in my town was offering swimming lessons in her small above ground pool. I eagerly signed up for lessons. The lessons ended up being incredibly frustrating because I did not float! The instructor was at a loss on how to help me. As I stretched out in the pool to float, my body sunk like a rock. After a frustrating week, the instructor said I had too much muscle mass from all of my dance training and not enough fat so my body just didn’t have buoyancy.

This was incredibly sad for me. After I was married, my husband tried to teach me. He couldn’t figure out how to help me either. I wanted to experience the freedom I saw others enjoying in the water. I felt limited and sometimes on the sidelines because I couldn’t swim.

Many years later, my two older children were taking swimming from an excellent teacher. As I watched her instruct my children I thought, if anyone can teach me to swim, she can. I enrolled in semi-private lessons with my three year old daughter. This insightful teacher had me try to swim and observed the sinking. She told me I was actually quite natural in the water. She said my problem was I was working too hard and trying to control the water. I was tightening my core and resisting the water instead of relaxing and trusting the water’s natural buoyancy to hold me up. It took me all week to train myself to fill my lungs with air and just relax. The first time I swam on my back across the pool, I started to cry. I felt so free—so supported. I felt like I was in the flow with something higher than myself. There was no resistance or hustling to keep myself above water. There was peace.

A voice came into my mind “Nesha, this is how you move through life. You are constantly trying to control things outside of yourself to secure a sense of enoughness and to control outcomes. You try to control, to prove your own worthiness. Your constant resistance and efforts to control prevent you from experiencing the divine flow that is always in you—you don’t trust that I (something higher, God) has you and is supporting you. This experience was a powerful physical manifestation that became a marker for a new way of moving through life and of experiencing God.

What was I trying to control? What was it that I was resisting? How was my resistance and my efforts to control causing me to sink and overwork in my life? Discovering the answers to these questions has been quite the journey for me the last 10 years. Michael Singer in his book the Untethered Soul teaches that whenever we close our hearts in response to life in an act of self-protection, we create a samskara, or a blockage. There are two types of samskaras: Positive experiences we are afraid to lose, or negative experiences we are afraid to feel or face. Instead of being in the flow of life, open to whatever we are experiencing in the present moment, we try to control situations and people so that events that bring up the pain from our past experiences don’t get triggered or we are trying to recreate things that have validated us or felt good.

For example, as a 4-year-old, I came home one day from dance class, and my older sister was having cheerleading practice in our basement. I innocently came down the stairs in my tights and leotard when a friend of my sister looked at me with disdain, looked at my sister and said, “she has a belly!”. Before that comment, I had never thought about what my body looked like. In that moment, I felt deep shame that something was wrong with me—my sense of belonging was threatened.

That experience created a samskara. I couldn’t handle the strong feelings of shame I was having in that moment. This and a few other painful experiences of body shame in my childhood put me in a rigid relationship to my body that led to an eating disorder. If I could control how thin I was, I could make sure that painful experience never happened again. I no longer trusted my body’s innate ability to tell me when I was hungry, when I was full, what it needed to be nourished and strengthened. I became in a state of resistance that made it impossible for my body to support and carry me the way it was designed to. I was sinking.

I was also highly validated and praised for my talents and accomplishments. It felt good to have other people express admiration for all of my achievements. It gave me a sense of mattering and belonging to have others think well of me or express admiration. There was a point in my life that I felt like I didn’t exist if I wasn’t externally manifesting something that could be validated. I lived in a state of constant pressure to outperform my last accomplishment. Life often felt like I was pushing a giant boulder up a big hill and could never get to the top for a bit of rest. The more success I had, the more pressure I felt to deliver on expectations. I was in a constant state of trying to control things to ensure impressive outcomes-often overworking which gave me the illusion of control.

This is often what we as humans do. Our minds, in an effort to protect us or to help us secure safety in belonging, seek to control the circumstances of our lives so that we are OK inside. We often aren’t experiencing reality—what is really present in this moment—instead we are trying to manipulate reality to be what matches our preferences so that we can avoid pain and increase perceived safety and pleasure.

Think about how we often pray. How much of our prayers are asking God to prevent things that are fearful for us that we don’t want to have happen or praying for God to give us the things that will help us feel comfortable? We are often asking to God to match our life circumstances to OUR preferences of how we want our life to be.

Michael Singer’s states, “The purpose of spiritual evolution is to remove blockages that cause your fear. The alternative is to protect your blockages so you don’t have to feel fear. To do this, however, you will have to try to control everything in order to avoid your inner issues.”

For me, Christ’s encouragement for us to “lose ourselves to find ourselves”, means to lose my need to control things outside of me so that I’m OK and to learn to connect with the deep I—the divine that is already with in me that is always OK—that doesn’t fear—that has absolute trust in a loving higher power by whose strength we can be with whatever inner disturbances life circumstances might bring up. It is my faith in such a being that supports and holds me up that allows me to float. I have come to see how my resistance to reality, my fear that I can’t handle it, is what often prevents divine power’s ability to buoy me up.

This is easy to say and nice to think about but so hard to do. From an evolutionary perspective, we have this organ in our body—our brain—that is always scanning for danger and trying to keep us alive. When we are not aware, our brain is operating from its default network. Eckhart Tolle and other spiritual teachers call this part of our brain, the ego. It is the lowest level of our minds—it is survival based, highly protective and instinctive. It is I-centered—always thinking about how everything affects me and has pre-programmed confirmation and negativity bias. We all experience the constant chatter in our minds like a recursive ticker tape. When we are unaware, we think that voice is who we are and that our thoughts are true.

Our minds, this default network, creates the majority of our suffering not our life circumstances. It is the way we think about our circumstances, that resistance that comes when things don’t match how we want them to be that can make it hard to be inside of ourselves. And as long as we are grasping for things outside to feel better, the suffering will continue.

Resistance can take several forms. The following words are signs of resistance in our day-to-day lives. As you read them, think about what forms of resistance you notice most often in yourself.

Complaining Minimizing Judging

Avoiding Blaming Worrying

Self-pity Criticizing Ignoring

Annoyance Denying Fighting

Controlling Numbing Obsessing about the future

Stuffing Stressing Obsessing about the past

One way we resist letting blocked energy move through us is by developing unhealthy coping strategies. In my experience, I feel like a more helpful way to look at sin is to think of the behaviors that aren’t serving us or others as self-defeating behaviors. They are an unhealthy way to cope with the things we feel like we cannot handle inside. It isn’t because we are inherently bad and need to overcome the evil inside. A more compassionate way to look at humanity is we often don’t have the skills to deal with the difficult energy and emotions we feel so we turn to things that numb us or offer some temporary relief.

Richard Rohr in his book The Universal Christ explains that the first public word out of Christ’s mouth was a Greek verb, which literally translates as “change your mind” or “go beyond your mind”. Unfortunately, in the 4th century St. Jerome changed the translation into a Latin word which means “repent” or “do penance”, initiating a host of moralistic connotations that have colored Christian’s understanding. The original Greek term describes a primal change of mind, worldview, or your way of processing (moving beyond the default network or egoic mind) and that this change of how we work with the mind leads to a specific change in behavior.

When we are focused on changing and controlling external behaviors first, it puts the cart before the horse: we think we can change a few externals while our underlying worldview often remains fully narcissistic and self-referential. Father Richard says Faith became about external requirements that can be enforced, punished, and rewarded, much more than an actual change of heart and mind. Christ made religion about interior change rather than anything people can see or anything that will produce any social payoff or punishment. Rohr says that when religion focuses on the external it is more likely to become corrupt and manipulative. Right action will always come when the inside, the mind and heart are aligned with God.

Bringing it back to my experience of learning to swim, in my life I was focused on controlling external things, my good behavior, the way others perceived me, securing outcomes that propped up my view of myself, preventing external circumstances that made me uncomfortable, trying to make sure no one was ever disappointed in me, accomplishing things so I could secure a sense of being enough. All of this “striving” was really about propping up my sense of self, preventing suffering especially things that hit on my samskaras, getting what I thought I wanted, proving myself to God and others and so that I could support my identity as a good person.

I was unconscious of the how this way of being in the world was preventing me from getting what I think we all really want, a deep and abiding connection to God and to humanity, the ability to see myself and the world with clarity, wisdom and compassion and developing the capacity to really give and receive love. I had this phrase come to my mind in the beginning of this journey that what I needed in all aspects of my life to learn to live from the INSIDE OUT.

This process of learning to live more from the inside out and letting go of control has been a messy sometimes disastrous process. In fact, there was time I am sure outside observers thought I was falling apart. After all, I went from being a person who always looked like they had it together to a floundering, self-doubting mess. I even had someone close to me express concern and say “how can this be good?” In our stories behind how progress should be—the straight and narrow path—I totally understand how our thinking about what it means to grow can give us the idea of a pretty picture.

But that has not been my experience or what I have seen in the deeply transformative change of others. Richard Rohr says, “going somewhere good means having to move through and with the bad, and being unable to hold ourselves above it or apart from it. There is no pedestal of perfect purity to stand on and striving for it is an ego game anyway.”

To lose ourselves is to wake up! To become conscious and aware of what is really here inside of me. To truly know and understand my inner world. It is the death of the ego and learning to operate from our highest selves. We fear the process! We fear letting go of our preferences, of facing the things that have felt terrifying to face. But until we have the faith to face our shadow, we cannot access the flow of love and divine energy that is already inside of us.

Richard Rohr again, “Love is a fire of transformation that constantly needs wood to keep the fire alive. Real fire is destructive; throw yourself into a fire and you will be destroyed. God’s fire is destructive too because it can swiftly eliminate all self-illusions, grandiose ideas, ego-inflation, and self-centeredness. Throw yourself into the spiritual fire of divine love and everything you grasp for yourself will be destroyed until there is nothing left but the pure truth of yourself.”

The process of living from the inside out has been an interesting one. I recognized that my conditioning and my understanding of religion, goodness and righteousness was associated with doing “good works” which is wonderful. Service and hard work are good for the soul and important to a thriving community. However, I didn’t have a practice or awareness of how to really work with what was inside of me and in fact, it didn’t ever feel important or worthwhile. I would even go so far as to say it felt like a waste of time.

Richard Rohr talks about how Buddhism and Christianity shadow each other. They reveal each other’s blind spots. In general, Western Christians have not done contemplation very well, and Buddhism has not done action very well. When we see Christ depicted in art his eyes are open, his hands are outstretched, and the Buddha is often depicted with his eyes closed in a more contemplative stance. In the west, we have largely been an extroverted religion. And the East has largely produced introverted forms of religion. Both religions tried to breath with one lung-and that is not healthy breathing. You can’t just inhale and you can’t just exhale.

Eckhart Tolle teaches that we are creatures of a dual nature: human beings. There is the human part that I was the most connected to my first 40 years of life: limited, finite, and temporary. This part of us is real and necessary. It includes what we look like, where we live, our career, our abilities, our shortcomings, our culture, our religion. The human element of our existence is conditioned by all these different aspects of our individual life experiences. Every human has a different set of life experiences, giving each one of us our own unique identity. This is where the ego lives.

There is also the Being part of us: limitless, infinite, and eternal. This part of us is just as real as our more visible human qualities. Awakening to the Being part of who we are is crucial to our ability to navigate meaningful, productive, and fulfilling lives. Our Being-ness transcends everything about our temporal existence. It goes beyond our conditioning and personal characteristics and represents the deep and mysterious connection that weaves all life together into one glorious manifestation of the Creator. While our human-ness makes each one of us different, our being-ness makes us the all the same. At our deepest level, we are so much a part of one another.

For the first 40 years of my life, I was defined almost exclusively through my inherent human-ness, operating in my default network believing the egoic voice in my head and disconnected from the divine presence of who we really are. The ego has been described as “the little me” or “the story of me.” The ego always sees itself through the tiny lens of how things measure up in the human realm. It is the part of me that identifies myself exclusively with my life story, my life situation. Ego creates this story one experience at a time and uses whatever it can to give itself a sense of value. It is what creates samskaras that cause us to either grasp for things or push things away to self-protect. By focusing on things outside of me, trying to manage my preferences, I had been tricked into serving my ego in the never-ending pursuit of trying to secure what it will never find: fulfillment where it does not exist. Safety and control where it is impossible to acquire. As we get hypnotized by this world of form, ego emerges for all of us. Without even realizing it, there is a Being inside of us who is desperate for love. Desperate to matter. The more we find ourselves cut off from the ever-present love of God surrounding us like a warm blanket, the more we begin to grasp around blindly.

Where is that calm assurance that came from deep-knowing: I am perfectly enough, in this very moment, exactly as I am? When we have lost touch with Source, with our higher power, the only place this kind of love ever exists, our egos take over at the wheel. Thus begins the hustle. The wrestle, the efforts to control the water. The word hustle perfectly describes how I lived and how I swam before I learned to float. As I practice surrendering to the flow of life, finding acceptance for this moment exactly as it is, trusting in something higher, letting go of control over anything outside of me I can float. I no longer am trying to prove myself, hustling to secure my preferred outcomes. Instead, by practicing a more mindful, open-hearted way of being inside of myself, I am increasing my capacity to be with whatever struggles are created by my life circumstances. Here I am, I am here—the deep divine presence that is always within me that allows me to always find the surface of anything that is pulling me under.

Michael Singer says, “No matter what happens below you, just turn your eyes upward (trust in something higher) and relax your heart.” I have come to see that this is the only way to live without fear. It isn’t because challenges that create painful disturbances inside won’t occur—we cannot control that—it is by learning through experience that I can be with whatever external circumstances come my way and be OK inside.

We are often conditioned to focus on outward performance—things that can be measured and evaluated as good or bad. But the most important work—the real work is to know yourself—to pay attention to what is going on in here—in my own mind and heart. When I am aligned with the highest that is in me, right action will come. Self-care has become about prioritizing a state of centeredness and connection in my own soul—an alignment of mind, heart, body and spirit. When I can recognize I am in my default network, reactionary, I’ve flipped my lid, feel a need to prove, to hustle or defend—my highest priority is to slow down, go inside, practice inner contemplation and bring myself back to center.

Self-care can look like a variety of things. A few things to consider. There is a difference between recharging and escaping—the biggest form of self-care is to learn to be with whatever is coming up for me—to learn to observe my thoughts and emotions from a space of loving kindness—to not stuff them down, suppress or control.

There is a difference between self-care and self-indulgence. True self-care nourishes me, brings me back to a state of presence and consciousness. It helps me to recenter and access the divine love that is always within me. Self-indulgence is depleting and cuts me off from what is here. It is a running away or a desperate attempt to control.

To lose myself for me means to go beyond the default network, to stop prioritizing the human part of me and to connect to the love that is really who I am. When I can accept the totality of the human experience—the beauty and the struggle, the joy and the suffering, the light and the dark and that God is in all of it, I can let go of resistance and learn find an ease in the water’s of life.

One more beautiful thought by Richard Rohr. “All the truly great persons I have ever met are characterized by what I would call “radical humility.” They are deeply convinced that they are drawing from another source; they are instruments. Their genius is not their own; it is borrowed. They understand that we are moons, not suns, except in our ability to pass on the light. Our life is not our own, yet, at some level, enlightened people know their life has been given to them as a sacred trust. They live in gratitude and confidence, and they try to let the flow continue through them. They know that love is repaid by love alone. We are interrelated with Essential Being, participating in the very life of God, while living out one little part of that life in our own exquisite form.”

We shouldn’t take ourselves so seriously. We are all participating in this crazy human experience trying to uncover the light that is in me and in you. We are having an experience designed to wake us up. Everything that I experience can serve me, whatever is present in my life circumstances is what I am working with to heal and bring awareness to what’s happening inside. Learning to surrender to God, learning to trust the water is the greatest act of courage and faith and the key to inner freedom.

Poet Danna Faulds wrote “There's no bubble of safety, no place that grants immunity from life's challenges and difficulties, but there is the haven of the heart. The love that flows through all of us, whether we know it or not. There is a foundation, a center, a source. There's a presence inside us, inviting us into harmony and peace even when the outside world is swirling with insecurity. There's a choice to be made in every moment between fear and something greater than ourselves. I pray for the strength to make the bold choice, the only choice that leads to freedom."

There are a lot of things I don’t know. But I cannot deny the existence of a loving divine presence in my life that guides and supports me in all of my crazy humanity. My life experience has shown me that I am a small part of something much bigger. I know the power inner healing and greater self awareness has brought into my life--healing samskaras enables us to not live in a state of constant resistance—avoiding my fears is not what is motivating me each moment. Life can have flow and ease—this inner work is something I practice every moment of every day. A waking up of sorts to what is really here—allowing myself to fully experience each moment as it is.

From my dear friend and business partner for Lifehouse Body & Soul, Becky Moller,

"Until I knew my ego, I never knew my Higher Self

Until I could see the walls that were caging me in, I could never comprehend the spaciousness of the infinite Soul that I am.

Until I could see the damage I had unconsciously caused to others, I could never have the capacity for true compassion.

There is a painful beauty in waking up. In realizing that the self you thought you were is not who you are at all. What you had tried to confine in little boxes that made sense and felt comfortable, was always an illusion.

There is a shock in the realization that the stories you had told yourself were lies. That you aren’t any different than anyone else. You are just a human being with strengths and weaknesses, on a journey, just like everybody else.

But there is a magic to the Oneness this awakening creates. A trust in the Unity of all life, in the beauty of the process, in the wisdom of the Creator.

There is no fear in failure. There is no fear in pain. These become most valuable spiritual tools to peel back more layers, to let go of one more ego-illusion, and discover, at your center, the Divine Abundance that you have always been.

Take a deep breath. Feel it swirl in your heart center, feel it tingle in your toes. Sense the aliveness of the Spirit that lives within you. Can you feel it? This is who you are. There are no words. There are no identities or roles or stories or concepts. There is only this glorious sense of aliveness… and space, as wide and infinite and deep and blue as the sky itself.”

In the name of Jesus Christ amen

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