I've come to understand that the answer for anyone is, Only if you make it that way. Only if you believe it to be. If you interpret things as punishment, if you respond to things with punishment.
Focus on punishment as a thing, and it's a thing. Make it a Big Thing, and it can define your whole reality. (This is true of anything. I like to say that whatever you put under a microscope fills your whole field of vision.)
I think it's profound and powerful for most anyone, raised in most any way, colored by any religious tradition or belief system, to ask yourself if you live in a punitive Universe. I'm serious: Pause. And ask. And watch for what arises.
If you get any whiff of yes, breathe into that. Feel that energy of punishment and castigation in your body, and breathe into that. (This is the pain-body work.) Ask yourself if it's true. (This is the tend-the-mind work.) Ask yourself if you'd like to experiment with the possibility that it's not true. Ask yourself if you'd like to take responsibility for creating a reality that isn't informed by punishment and the whole mess that goes with it (unworthiness, hypervigilance, perfectionism, defensiveness, needing to earn things that are your natural birthright—like love). (Living into that responsibility will be the choose-your-focus work.)
I did a lot of work around this later in life, long after I had consciously declared myself not to be a Christian or to subscribe to the beliefs of the brand of Christianity I was raised with (fundamentalist, or specifically, Southern-Baptist flavored). I started considering the possibility that I still (unconsciously) saw the Universe as punitive when I noticed something important and simple and super-recognizable by a lot of human beings. I realized that I felt myself being punished when things went badly (or not to my liking). I paused, breathed it, asked again (I did this again, and again, and again, each time it arised): Do I live in a punitive Universe?
For me it was the last undoing (with many repetitions) of the long-ago teachings instilled in me (and then presented as Truth, so my attachment to them ran deep even after I no longer consciously intellectually saw them as true). While fundamentalists in the Christian tradition (and probably others) give a lot of lip service to grace, there's a ton of emphasis on concepts that counter grace (and its twin, unconditional love): being inherently sinful, needing to constantly watch for the workings of the ego and somehow eradicate that aspect of ourselves (actually not possible or desirable), etc. There's also the disingenuous (a nice word for BS) "love the sinner, not the sin" thing, which is almost never actually applied with anything that feels or looks like love. If you have no experience with this yourself, ask anyone who's queer who's also been on the receiving end of this so-called spiritual concept.
I took total responsibility to uncover my punitive Universe AS IT LIVED IN ME. I found:
Honestly, as with EVERYTHING else, I've found the undoing is less hard than we think it will be.
The undoing takes wayyyyyy less time than it took to originally instill these wrong concepts in our minds and hearts and sometimes the cells of our being.
The undoing is set up through strong, clear intention (I'm going to notice where I live in a punitive Universe, take responsibility for that, and engage in the undoing), followed by choices now and now and now that align with that intention. (Back to the process described above—catch any whiff of it and pause, so that you can work it on both the body/breath and the thought levels; a few simple questions, just sitting with it till it seems absurd—that's enough to undo one hook right now, in this one moment.)
Nonjudgmental awareness is your best ally in the process: you get to simply notice your own punitive mentality (the punitive Universe you live in) that will always look like typical human stuff—which you therefore don't need to take personally: I'm punishing my partner right now for not connecting with me the way I want connection. I'm wishing horrible things for our so-called president. I'm making my kids feel bad about something instead of having an open conversation in which I invite them to tell me their experience, including what feels off to them. (Thus you could teach them to honor their own guidance system, not follow your beliefs that you keep reinforcing through punitive means.)
Thus, the undoing happens one moment at a time, each moment that the issue presents itself, not by a single unplugging. But people miss the extent to which this is a great process to be in. It's easy precisely because you know exactly when to go in with it (when it presents itself). You basically open the door and look it in the face when it comes knocking. The rest of the time, you're as free of it as you need to be. Ah, the power of NOW. (Thanks, ET.)
I invite you out of any model of a punitive Universe. If you choose a love-based, expansive, forgiving Universe, you get to live there. That too, requires living into your vision, now and now and now.
Please look below where I've given you a clip of writing describing my dear friend & colleague Kelli Younglove's indoctrination into a punitive Universe. I share it because our work together was part of the undoing for both of us. I share it because she may be your right coach. (If you're an Enneagram Two or need support with boundaries, standing strong, or speaking up, she may very well be your gal. She's also gifted with supporting cisgendered men to do their best personal-growth work. And ... she's a powerful, gentle healer.)
love & blessings, Jaya
p.s. An addendum featuring Kelli's writing follows. If you'd like another one from me on releasing guilt to get out of a punitive Universe and back to present time, follow this link.
ADDENDUM FROM KELLI:
Specifically, this is from Kelli Younglove's blog post on a healing she set up using a surrogate listener (when the one she wanted to say things to, in this case a parent, could not hear what she had to say). The part copied below describes her own indoctrination into a punitive Universe:
In 1971, my parents moved to a Bible Institute on the isolated prairies of Alberta, taking me and my sister with them.
Back then, it was the largest Missionary Training Centre in Canada.
Imagine an army barracks with its own school system (everything from pre-kindergarten all the way up to Bible College) and you'll catch a glimpse of my childhood.
The Institute was based on an authoritarian system with a top-down hierarchy that put children on the bottom rung.
And what I experienced and witnessed there (and after) went directly against the church's message of love and forgiveness. Corporal punishment was used to to break children's spirits and force them to submit to the will of the parents.
Signs of independence were commonly met with force.
The loss of self was devastating.
See the entire post here. I love the healing event it describes that could serve any human being who can't get the listening they want from a specific human being—while staying open to getting exactly what they need in another form. You may also want to look around on her blog: there's such good content there.
(NEVER MIND ALL THE SENSELESS HUMAN VIOLENCE BASED ON VILE BIASES THAT IT DOES SEEM WE MIGHT HAVE EVOLVED BEYOND BY NOW?)
LET'S MEET IT TOGETHER.
I made one of those wee-hours decisions early this morning, launched by mama grief.
Right before bed, I talked to my 20-something kid who lives in NYC. He was recounting a harrowing adventure in rally and rioting in Brooklyn the night before. He told me he couldn't stand being a white person not taking part in the protest launched by George Floyd's death. (You've surely heard about the senseless murder by a police officer of this man who deserved no violence directed his way, except the cop was white and the dude was black—and wow, whoa, mystifying though it is, though we've gotten all the way to 2020, that can still be all it takes.)
So during a pandemic, my kid was out there holding space with and for other protesters, chanting, looking out for vulnerable people, running for cover sometimes, taking part in protectively surrounding someone spray-painting a message sometimes, dodging rubber bullets and getting pepper-sprayed—and continuing to breathe the stuff because he didn't want to remove his face mask (both for virus and identity protection)—witnessing aggression between police and people, watching NYPD officers do things like drag protesters over the don't-cross line to throw them on the ground, beat them, arrest them, and more. He watched a scene in which he saw police ask a bus driver to surrender the bus so they could use it to transport those arrested (already there were vans standing by, my son reports, to throw people into like cattle), but the bus driver refused. You can see a brief video of that very scene right here.
So forgive me for the flaky, bad-business aspect of this, but I've changed the topic for my first Monday night zoom program in the current series (June 2020).
This Monday, instead, I want to sit with you, whoever wants to come or request the audio replay to go into later, and be with this pain. I've been carrying it around as you have, in my case ever since my other son called to unload his distress because he had watched the video of the murder and needed to recount every detail. I would not have chosen to watch that. I did solidly choose to hear about it for 2 reasons: 1) I don't want to look away from this reality; 2) I wanted to hold my son's heart with him (as I wish to do with you on Monday night). For him, this was a sort of next death of innocence. He's had a dream of being a good cop since he was small, and had held out believing he could be a force for good with others who actually care. In a flash, he sees it differently: not even possible.
I've got mama grief for George Floyd too, because what happened to him might have been his mother's worst fear, certainly not what she ever wanted for her boy. He grew up to be a man people spoke well of, a big-hearted human being who cared about those coming behind him enough to make a video with a plea for an end to gun violence. (Scroll down on linked page for that video. Go ahead. Hear his voice. Look at his face.)
What I'll be doing with anyone who comes (or asks for replay) this Monday night (June 1, 2020, 6:30 pm ET to 8 pm ET):
much love & many blessings in these tender times, Jaya
Oh, dear ones, how normal is it for big feelings to sometimes hit hard as we navigate Corona times? Stomach-dropping fear anyone? Roiling, buzzing anxiety? Chest-gripping grief? I invite you to judge nothing—by which I always mean NOTICE that you're judging it and seek to release judgment: welcome yourself to the human race; meet whatever you're experiencing now knowing you can be feeling it only if millions of others feel it too.
I offer you 2 resources here:
1. The HEART MEDITATION is truly helpful (and has gotten some strong feedback from a couple of trusty wise ones I use to gauge effectiveness). You can do it either in the actual moment of meeting a strong emotion or when you simply choose to settle into the heart realm and find what's there. The meditation invites you to keep dropping in where perhaps you haven't yet—or never as you are right now in this fresh, all-things-new-all-things-possible moment.
2. The written part follows.
STEP-BY-STEP TACTICS TO GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY when strong emotions hit and you feel disconnected from love.
1. NOTICE AND MEET RESISTANCE.
This really means notice it and let it be there. You will resist. So get okay with that. But know that if you run with the resistance (otherwise stated, ignore it and let it dictate what you do or don't give attention to), you can't sort of reach around it to stroke and soothe what you're feeling. Resistance will take many forms, and may look like:
2. LOCATE YOUR WILLINGNESS TO MEET WHAT YOU'RE FEELING.
You don't have to make resistance go away! Once you notice it, accept that it's here; accept that we all resist. Then you can pause with it, breathe into it, and find your willingness to meet the strong emotion itself. Beyond your resistance is the thing that will set you free. Here, that means that beyond resistance is the emotion for you to meet directly by dropping in with it and feeling it fully.
You might simply tell yourself: Something feels awful here. Because something that feels awful is here, I'm willing to meet it. I'm willing to feel it. I can't just will it away, so I'll drop in to see what it has for me. I'm willing to feel bad, for now. I'm willing to feel whatever any human being might feel. I'm willing not to abandon myself here and now.
3. FEEL WHAT YOU'RE FEELING AS YOU INTEND CONNECTING TO LOVE.
Every emotion carries with it a call to love. Wow.
No matter how painful a feeling, no matter how close to the fear or hate end of the spectrum it may register, it only wants to call you back to yourself, back to self-acceptance, back to love.
It's actually amazingly easy to feel what you're feeling—as opposed to analyzing it, thinking about or mulling over the related story and all its gory details, or letting it engulf you in a toxic way.
You know what I mean by that toxic engulfment? You're there if you feel wretched with it; if you're despairing (even to the point of questioning your life's worth or declaring yourself hopeless for living it well); if you're steeping in your worst beliefs about yourself, others, your prospects, life itself. You're there if you feel all alone.
So how do you feel a feeling? This post will take you there (This is what X feels like), even as it connects you to all the other beings who feel it too, so you don't get lost in being alone or in feeling singular in or singled out by what you're feeling. Chapter 3 of Scooch! offers a lot on that topic in the Mind the Pain Body section (ch. 3 covers Mind the Pain Body, Tend the Mind).
More than anything, you drop in. You give yourself to locating IN THE BODY the specifics of what you feel:
Be a scientist collecting data on the body. See if you can do that without a lot of words or naming (or work up to that as you experiment with this method). Ultimately, all you're trying to do is FULLY feel whatever you're feeling, and feel it where it is—in the body.
Call on the breath as you do this. FEEL the movement of the breath as it already registers in your body. Then gently direct your breath to the place of pain.
That's all the pain body wants: awareness and breath. So drop in. Fully. Drop into the pain as you would something that feels great, relaxed, letting it have you: think of easing down into a jacuzzi and letting go, releasing all resistance.
4. SEEK TO LOVE WHAT YOU'RE FEELING—AND LOVE YOURSELF FEELING IT (HINT: neutrality is a great support).
This heart meditation (mentioned & linked above) will walk you through. Read on for some words to explain it.
Start with simply intending love. Remember that love doesn't need ANYTHING put on or forced. It doesn't need you to try to locate some approximation of feeling love. Love doesn't necessarily come with any particular feeling attached. You don't need to rev up inner flavors of sweet or kind or whatever loving means to you—or rather, to your disconnected self. Just let love be a powerful, neutral force that doesn't need you to cough up anything in order to show up and make itself known. It's already who you are in your essence. It already drenches the entire Universe. So simply intend connecting to that.
Since you're already dropping into the feeling and breathing it (if you've followed instructions in #3), now bring your awareness to your heart center and invite love. Relax muscles you don't need on the out-breath so you stay out of effort, and simply breathe in the intention, the invitation, the truth of love's inherent location everywhere—accessible from this specific area of the body (aka, the heart chakra).
You've JUST been exploring a feeling. See if you can head from that feeling/sensation to some neutral acceptance, even expectation, of love. Love as ever-present, inherently yours, beyond any need to earn it. Scooch that way and don't worry about getting there.
But let me stress the idea of NEUTRAL. It's powerful to just let love be, call it in, let it come as it will as you sit here as you are: you need ask nothing specific of love; it asks nothing of you except the letting go, the allowing.
You'll love yourself better if you cultivate some connection to neutrality inside yourself, especially in painful or self-disapproving moments. It's neutral, in fact—because these are normal human things—to feel strong emotions, to feel out of control, to be confused and in the dark, to have a bad taste in your mouth, to have a wildly beating heart, to fear you won't be okay, to disconnect from your best self, to lose track of all hope, to not know what to do next. It gets easier to drop self-judgment if you can hold a neutrality toward anything you've habitually disapproved of (in yourself or others).
So I'll leave you there. This is a practice. Make it an experiment (perhaps a grand experiment while you're at it). Let it take you wherever it will. Come back and seek to meet yourself, your emotions, the heart space again and again and again. Especially during intense, hard times of collective fear, grief, and letting go, as we find ourselves living in now in the time of Corona.
Love & blessings, Jaya
4 Things to remind yourself early & often
(which will connect you to self & to guidance)
1. Bring it to now: Come back from the future (quit predicting what you don't want) and come back from the past (quit accruing towers of one thing stacked on top of another so it's all too much) and don't try to figure it all out. What can you do right now to align with this moment? Notice that you're equipped for this one moment.
2. Come back to the breath: Breathing is a felt, sensory experience, but we typically don't feel it. I love to invite people not to breeaaaaathe or even to take a deep breath, but to simply drop into the breath; follow it; stay with it; feel it. Feel its soothing, its kindness, its calming capacity. Feel how it brings you to the core of your being and brings your whole nervous system down a notch or two. It's powerful to take some moments dropping in with the breath and come back to yourself.
3. You don't have to figure it all out right now: This is a great thing to tell yourself to get out of your head, out of fix-it mode, out of believing you're not okay till you have it all sorted out and see the way forward. Actually, if you don't see it all clearly, then you don't have to figure it out right now. Soothe yourself instead (see Come back to the breath above).
4. You are guided: Life wants to get you where you're going. It wants to feed you, provide for your needs, heal and evolve you, keep bringing you closer to love. When you think you need to know what the future will hold, or insist on a blueprint for getting there (when there isn't one), or--yuck--fault yourself because you must be doing something wrong if you don't see the way forward: STOP. Quit thinking you're all alone and it's all up to you to find your way through the dark. You're guided. Connect to guidance.
Love & blessings, Jaya
heyyyy. LOOK RIGHT for CORONA SUPPORT label under CATEGORIES. Find posts most likely to support you as you move through the fascinating challenge of a pandemic. You're equipped to meet this, and to meet yourself kindly on this journey!
ppsssssst. LOOK RIGHT for CORONA SUPPORT label under CATEGORIES. Find posts most likely to support you as you move through the fascinating challenge of a pandemic. You're equipped to meet this, and to meet yourself kindly on this journey!
This post was originally written in 2013. I'm bringing it back because here we are collectively pushed to our walls during this pandemic. This offers guidance to use it all for growth, healing, walking ourselves through kindly — not making it harder by believing we should be gliding through in the sweetest, most unflappable version of ourselves. Let's get the gifts that are in this for us.
(this polaroid is a pic of one of my sons photographed by the other: courtesy of zwalshphotography)
I SHOULD BE BEYOND THIS
Why is it that the very people who really show up for their personal-growth work are also the ones who love to lay trips on themselves about how they should be further along than they are? The more they get a handle on the equanimity thing, the more they believe they should be unflappable. The more they clear their judgments and divest themselves of should, the more they believe they should never judge. They're downright horrified when something really throws them off, especially if any reaction on their part makes them feel mean, judgmental, disconnected, unforgiving, sad, hopeless, despairing — go ahead, name your ugly. The shame they then feel (and doesn't shame feel bad enough?) packs a double wallop because they're ashamed of feeling shame. They've been completely bamboozled by this crazy thing they tell themselves, “I should be beyond this.”
If you have any capacity for questioning your negative, critical, judgmental thoughts about others, then please don't believe the thoughts that would dictate a list of shoulds requiring you to move consistently through whatever life brings in the most serene and blameless way. If you've eavesdropped on your thoughts, you know how your version goes. I'd like to make a case that you shouldn't be beyond anything (except, of course, whatever you're actually beyond, and you may forget what that is because it won't be showing up anymore). And if you're capable of ever laying the I should be beyond this trip on yourself, join me now in considering it carefully so that next time you find yourself there, you may see how to show up differently and actually benefit from the experience. (It really helps to look at what we do while we're not doing it.)
It's my belief that life's job is to throw you off and push you to your walls. It will use all manner of creative innovation and maddening redundancy to do this. Listen to yourself go over the evidence (out loud or in your head, again) of all that happened before you lost it. (And then I was going to run back in to get it, even though there wasn't a second to spare, and that's when I learned I'd locked myself out. Of course, this was the moment he had the gall to say. ...) Didn't it take a fascinating sequence of happenings or several things rushing in all at once for you to blow your fuse or let something so important fall through the cracks or go back to feeling depressed or otherwise forget yourself in such a spectacular way? Didn't it involve people or events pushing up against some major button — otherwise stated, something unhealed inside you that's tender and vulnerable and oozing with something ugly that you don't know — haven't yet known — how to clear?
Life's job is to clear your unhealed places. It will do this by creating whatever situation or sequence of events you need in order to have it all brought right up to the surface. When this happens, chances are very good that you'll sometimes React. You'll sometimes behave as the worst version of yourself — the one you may have thought your spiritual practices or personal-growth work or even the simple fact of time made obsolete. This is where you might feel horrible about your response and take it as evidence that you're a bad person after all, that you're not worthy of being a parent (friend, lover, spouse, teacher, mentor, therapist, boss, coach — whatever), that you're a complete failure.
Here's another possibility: welcome the whole experience. This includes catching (but not believing) the thoughts that judge your behaviors and emotions and tell you you should be beyond this. Please don't confuse welcome as meaning bright smiles and joyful feelings. This is not a Tupperware party or a picnic of any kind. But it could be your liberation.
To welcome it, start by simply saying, “I am willing.” If you're not there yet, make it a question: “Are you willing?” Here it is, like it or not. There's not a thing you can undo about this moment or the ones that preceded it and landed you right here. It's good to get to I'm willing in those moments when there's nowhere else to go. And I'm willing can certainly coexist with I hate this and This is not what I wanted. Still, it acknowledges, Here I am.
(Here's a quick illustration in case you need one: If you're walking in the snowy cold and you're not home yet and there's no one stopping to offer a ride, what good does it do to tell yourself the lie that you're not willing? Of course you're willing: here you are, walking in the snow. I am willing puts you back in alignment with reality, it's honest, and it reconnects you to choice — because it certainly is an option to choose that moment to lie down and die.)
Why should you be willing? Because when life pushes you to your walls, those are the moments you get to move closer to the very thing you most want for yourself, speaking on the soul level. It's interesting and maybe ironic that those are also the moments when you feel farthest away from that, and the times you potentially like and believe in yourself the least and see a bunch of evidence accruing all at once for the likelihood you'll never get there. But will you take in this radical thought? This very scenario, all of your reactions and self-judgments included, is precisely the thing to get you where you want to be.
What is it that you most want? Maybe you want to be and live love. How can you do that unless you're willing to show up and love yourself when you feel hideously ugly after you've screamed and yelled at your kids or your lover? Maybe you want to stand consistently in your power. How can you do that if you don't encounter the person or circumstance that makes you wilt and clam up and fail to draw an important boundary? Maybe you want to be and live peace and practice tolerance and forgiveness. How can you do that if you can't pardon your murderous self on death row? Do you want to be self-sufficient? Then don't you need to face the thing that makes you abandon yourself? Then there are those who actually want to reach enlightenment. Wow. Well, if that's you, if there's even one thing left that could make you drop that intention in favor of attacking someone else or yourself, don't you need to bump up against that thing? Wouldn't you welcome it? Are you willing?
Whatever you're trying to get to in this life, all of life will help you get there. It's a blessed fact that this sometimes looks like loving faces beaming at you, things falling into your lap, helpers showing up right when you need them — that's the good stuff. And it's just as true (and truly, just as good) that it sometimes looks like you weeping on the hard stairs or putting a hole through the wall or speaking hate to the one you most love. Sometimes it looks like you all wrapped up in the cloak of shame with no idea how to peel the thing off, and suspecting you deserve it as a permanent outfit. Maybe you could find some nice scarlet letter to embroider on for a nice splash of color. ...
So when you lose it or behave badly or get hopelessly confused; when you go back to whatever version of angry, jealous, mean, vindictive, clueless, or spineless that you thought was way behind you; when you react in any way that feels mean, judgmental, disconnected, unforgiving, sad, hopeless, despairing—go ahead, name your ugly—can you make space for that, too, instead of then turning all of that on yourself? What if this too is admissible as part of the growth process you know you're showing up for? What if your essential beauty is still intact? And what if exactly what's happening, including the worst of what you feel about yourself in the moment, is your one-way ticket home?
love & blessings, Jaya