Hide and Seek: The Power of Awareness

Chapter One

The Dominos of Suffering

In the late 1980’s a gathering of devoted seekers found themselves in an informal conversation with a revered spiritual teacher. During this exchange, a swami expressed his intention to venture into the impoverished countryside of India with a mission to enlighten the people about God. The teacher responded with a penetrating gaze and profound compassion, imparting these simple words, “When our belly is empty we are not interested in God. Feed them.”

In the journey of our lives, when we find ourselves in the clutches of suffering, we often lose sight of the esoteric realms of spiritual philosophy and practice. In the midst of our pain, the idea of the transcendental reality feels like an unreachable, distant star. It is in these moments of agony and despair that the lofty ideals of enlightenment seem to drift a million miles away, disconnected from our tangible reality.

If we can’t breathe all we want is air. If we are hungry all we want is food. If we are suffering all we want is relief. It is akin to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs where the most basic physiological and safety needs must be met before we can even contemplate belonging, Self-esteem and Self-actualization.

In the throes of suffering, what matters most is the cessation of our suffering, and this relief is found in an expanded understanding and experience. We begin with contemplating the human condition. There is a purpose to suffering. For many of us, our drive to alleviate suffering and discover happiness leads to remembering our true Selves.

Suffering:

I was fortunate. I grew up in a peaceful environment, surrounded by loving parents and a pervasive sense of safety. As a child, I experienced a profound feeling of connection, fearlessness, and openness.

At the age of four, my life took an unexpected turn due to two simple words uttered by a small child I barely knew. At that time, I lacked the vocabulary to articulate the impact of that moment. Today, with crystal-clear recollection of that pivotal event, I can finally put words to the experience.

My beloved outfit was a cowboy jacket adorned with fringe along both sleeves. I cherished twirling around and watching the fringe dance in the wind. One Saturday afternoon, during a visit to my aunt’s home, I chose to wear my favorite jacket.

Next door, in the yard adjoining my aunt’s, two young girls were engaged in play. I observed them with curiosity as I reveled in the innocent freedom of my twirls, relishing the mesmerizing dance of the fringe. However, as I came to a stop, one of the little girls hurled an unexpected insult my way, declaring, “You’re weird.”

For the first time in my brief life, I felt her words strike me like a grenade, detonating deep within my being. The pain was overwhelmingly tangible. In an instant, I sensed a threat, and my sanctuary of safety was shattered. The usual connection I felt with the world was severed as I withdrew inward. I became acutely aware of the heat coursing through me, accompanied by shivers of hurt. I was no longer integrated with my surroundings; I was confined to a body that felt warm, trembling, and wounded. I perceived this small girl as a distinct and separate entity, and I yearned for her to vanish. Fear took hold of me.

I never wore that jacket again. From then on I would fit in and act the part. I would never twirl around again, at least not in public.

In our early years, long before ego has begun to vibrate within us, we bask in the fearless and joyful embrace of the natural state of our essential Self. But as the ego gains strength, connection to that authentic awareness slips away setting in motion a cascade of suffering like a row of dominos. We begin with pain.

Pain:

In life, pain is an unavoidable facet of our existence, taking on diverse forms. There is physical pain stemming from accidents, illnesses, and injuries. Additionally, we encounter mental and emotional pain stemming from life’s events and circumstances. We grapple with the loss of loved ones, the sting of harsh words, the turmoil of divorces, the weight of job losses, and the setback of failures. We may face the ordeal of diseases like cancer, leaving us in a state of agony. The passing of a child can inundate us with overwhelming grief. The one we love leaves and our heart breaks. Our pain is palpable and it stings. It is real. We identify as it and it hurts.

Pain frequently serves as a catalyst for sadness, triggered by the erosion of our well-being, security, and sense of safety. It also engenders a feeling of impending threat. When confronted with a lack of security and feeling threatened, our primal survival instincts are activated, and fear takes root.

Instinctual Fear:

In the presence of pain and perceived threat, our minds rapidly sound the alarm, signaling “Danger!” Our innate survival instinct awakens, giving rise to a natural and protective sense of fear. Pain and instinctual fear are both natural and are experienced by humans and animals.

It is our response to pain, fear, and threats that determines whether they evolve into suffering. Pain, however, does not inherently demand suffering. Suffering commences as we shift into resistance and separation.

Resistance:

When we grapple with inner pain, resistance emerges. Resistance is attachment and aversion. This resistance is not limited to a simple aversion to the pain itself; it extends to a resistance to “what is.” This resistance is compounded by our attachment to safety, security, a pain-free outcome, and relief. Simultaneously, we develop an aversion to insecurity, sadness, threats, and pain. This resistance is part of our internal fight-or-flight response to danger.

As resistance to ‘what is’ sets in and we feel threatened, our ego takes on a dominant role, mobilizing to defend and protect. What was once a beneficial instinctual fear transforms into ego-driven resistance, prompting the construction of barriers, emotional shutdown, and distancing from others. This marks the onset of separation.

Separation:

Within us resides an inherent belief that happiness, peace, and love should reign supreme, while war, pain, suffering, and hate should remain anomalies. In our early years, we felt connected, secure, and liberated. However, with the intrusion of pain into our lives, fear surfaced, and danger became palpable. We yearned to distance ourselves from this pain, fear, and threat. We recoiled, entering a state of resistance, actively seeking ways to detach and separate ourselves.

Separation represents the most detrimental facet of the suffering process. It severs our innate sense of belonging and unity – the very essence of our connection. Both pain and instinctual fear are natural parts of our human experience, while separation is an unnatural divide.

Pain has propelled us from a state of love and security into one characterized by fear, resistance, and separation. Our failure to learn how to hold pain, address fear, and mitigate resistance sets off a chain reaction. In a state of resistance, our pain, threat, and fear fragment and isolate us from others, ushering in disconnection. This disconnection sets us apart from the larger tapestry of existence. In this state, we inhabit a separate reality where ‘we’ morphs into ‘us’ and ‘them.’ We become attuned to differences, distinctions and otherness. Life transforms from a harmonious flow of interconnectedness into a battle of resistance against life itself, where unity gives way to multiplicity.

Separation challenges authenticity and our sense of a true, whole, worthy Self. As pain pushes us from love to fear, unresolved fear causes resistance that pushes us from Self-awareness to Self-separation. We begin to forget our true Selves – consciousness – replacing it with ego and its fight with ‘what is’.

This process invariably ushers in the ascendance of the ego, spawning a distinct sense of individuality. Collectively, these intricate threads weave an outlook of differentiation and distinction, rendering our reality a world defined by unmistakable duality.

Our essential Self, the natural, authentic ‘I’ takes a back seat allowing the ego to assume prominence. We start grasping for love, acceptance and worth from outside sources, molding ourselves into whatever is necessary to gain the approval of others. We futilely seek relief through distraction, worth through accumulation, and acceptance through acknowledgment.

Separation solidifies into differences and distinctions. Differences and separation introduce something entirely new into our experience; Core fear. While both animals and humans experience instinctual fear, core fear is an entirely different beast. Because core fear arises from the ego’s sense of differences and separation, animals are spared the encounter with core fear.

Core Fear and Ego:

Core fear is the offspring of duality.

Our core fear arises from a dualistic way of perceiving the world. When we view reality in terms of the pairs of opposites and constantly judge situations as good or bad, desirable or undesirable, we create a mental egoic framework of distinction, attachment and aversion that gives rise to core fear.

It runs deep, to the core. In a world where misperception and duality rule and the ego reigns supreme, we hide our true Self and start to fear ‘other’. Upon losing the sense of unity with ‘other’, misperception arises and our core fear takes form. In our separateness, the ego that sees distinctions asks, “Am I worthy? Am I adequate? Am I complete? Then, living with a profound sense of difference, we ask, “Can I fit in? Can I be accepted? Can I belong?” Finally, our fear from misperception inquires, “Am I a sinner? Am I capable? Am I good enough?”

Ego is separation. Ego creates our individuality and keeps consciousness ‘other’ than ourselves. Ego causes us to no longer identify as consciousness and attaches our identification to our body and thoughts. That is bondage. It is an attachment to a limited existence.

In our disconnection and separation, we perceive ourselves as unlovable and insufficient. This represents the core of our suffering. This is the basis of our wounding.

When the ego dominates our experience, it becomes protective, and we become driven by core fear. Ego is not selfishness. Desire holds that title. Ego is when we consider ourselves something other than what we truly are. It is a misperception, a feeling that is a mis-identification. Ego causes us to think that we are our body, different from consciousness. Ego is the feeling of “I” and “Mine.” Ego causes us to lose discrimination, the ability to differentiate between what is true and what is false, between reality and non-reality.

The unconscious process of hiding who we are commences. We begin to feel unlovable and unworthy – manifestations of ego, fear and separation. In this state, we shift from living a soulful and emotionally attuned life to an outward, sense-based life. We move from a heart-centered life to a mind and body driven one. Our child-like innocence transforms into a sense of burdened responsibility and heaviness.

Within this duality, our fundamental core fear induces the creation of a meticulously constructed identity, a veneer that overlays our true nature as consciousness, our authentic Self.

Living in the feeling of ego, we source worthiness outside of us and we believe it can be bestowed upon us as we play the never-ending game of trying to be rich enough, beautiful enough, acceptable enough or intelligent enough. In separation, in duality, in ego, life becomes a relentless struggle at its most fundamental level.

Unresolved pain, instinctual fear, and resistance are suffering on a mental and emotional level, but separation and ego – and the core fears that they generate – give rise to the fundamental experience of suffering on the level of Self.

As we increasingly embrace a life of separation, it begins to feel ‘normal’. Everyone appears to be living this way – outwardly success-oriented, individual-focused. However, a significant outgrowth of a life lived in separation is a tendency to personalize everything.

Personalization:

Separation leads us from unity to isolation. Consequently, the limited sense of ‘I’, the ego, dominates our life and we make everything about ourselves. We gradually distance ourselves from the collective human experience, venturing into a life marked by isolation, disconnection and confusion, accompanied by a sense of loneliness.

In a state of separation, with the ego in control, we expand the reaction of resisting pain and fear into the ongoing experience of resisting life. Resistance disrupts the flow of acceptance, love and trust. Instead of oneness, we see ‘other’ and ‘difference.’ We experience limitations and struggles. We see others as adversaries, attacking us, wanting what we have, critical of us. We view ourselves as inferior or superior. This resistance forms the basis for competition, distrust, nationalism, and conflict.

In a state of personalization our resistance of attachment and aversion dominate. Our sense of happiness hinges upon achieving external objectives – desires attached to outcomes. It becomes a self-centered journey, always about our needs, our accumulation, our achievement. Conversely, aversion involves our tendency to push away anything and anybody perceived as obstructing our desired outcome. This exacerbates our need to protect and defend, to shield and safeguard. Basically, we become attached to what we think will make us happy and we become averse to whatever we think will make us unhappy. Personalization becomes selfish desire filled with resistance.

Personalization becomes the lens through which we seek worth and endeavor to alleviate suffering. Unfortunately, it often compounds our suffering. Personalization is laden with judgment and justification. Everything and everyone becomes classified as high or low, good or bad, wanted or unwanted. We live in pairs of opposites, perpetually grappling to discover peace, fulfillment and love, grasping for it in the outside world. We live in desire, which becomes our selfishness.

Personalization ignites an outward quest for silence amidst our turbulent thoughts, a pursuit for peace in a war of self-resistance, and a yearning for acceptance in the midst of our own self-rejection. We become ensnared in self-absorption.

This personalization deepens and solidifies into the anguish of selfish grasping. We believe our selfish grasping will end our suffering – all the while it immerses us deeper into it.

In our war with life, we inadvertently generate a stream of predominantly fear based mental constructs. This cascade of thoughts often manifests as the monkey mind, a consequence of fear, separation, ego and personalization. The mind creates a plethora of stories.

Stories:

It is the nature of our mind to create thoughts when necessary and remain still when thoughts are not required. However, in a state of pain, core fear, separation and personalization, our mind becomes gripped by endless thought creation.

The monkey mind poses a significant issue since thoughts hide pure consciousness. When we say we have ‘forgotten who we are’, we are essentially alluding to the fact that endless thoughts hide the source of thoughts; our true Self, pure awareness.

The most prolific source of unproductive thoughts within our mind is our stories. Mental stories arise from our experience of duality, ego, core fear and personalization. Stories construct walls of attachment and aversion around us, seemingly to safeguard and validate our egoic positions. Most of our stories are personal reactive assessments, judgments and justifications. Our stories evolve from singular events to fully fledged narratives. They transform events into a portrayal of life doing something to us, reflecting our victimization. We create stories that romance our desires, validate our correctness, and re-engineer our past experiences. Over time, we recall and modify these stories. At times, we craft shorter, more bizarre tales, but the longest, most intimate tale is a self-critical opus entitled, “Unworthiness.”

The veracity of these stories becomes secondary. The effect is a dissonant monkey mind.

By constructing stories, we are essentially penning a book that strives to prove us right, justified, honored or victimized. We grow attached to this outcome because our story validates our egoic stance and reinforces some sense of worthiness. Every time a story is recalled, we shift the narrative slightly, reflecting our current experience and understanding. As time passes these stories undergo transformation morphing into our personal works of fiction.

At this juncture, our pain, fear, separation, personalization and stories converge to engender a state of mind dominated by resistance and forgetting who we are. Our incessant mental activity elevates separation to the new heights of Self-separation, true forgetting of our true Self.

It can get to the point where we might even question our sanity. What initially manifests as a general sense of difference and an egoic perspective escalates into a state where true Self is entirely forgotten, subsumed beneath the cloak of thoughts. This marks the point where we have lost touch with who we authentically are and the ego commandeers our experience. We become entangled in an outwardly focused existence where our true Self, our consciousness, remains concealed, hidden. Our mind becomes consumed with selfish desires tethered to outcomes. Our senses dictate our pursuit of pleasure and we become ensnared in distractions. We misperceive the external world as separate from us while still believing it to be the source of happiness. This is the essence of our suffering.

We contract the understanding and experience of who we are, create endless desires in search of our own happiness, and become attached to the fulfillment of those desires. When we misperceive ourselves as limited individuals and grasp for selfish outcomes, we create the bedrock of our suffering and problems.

Back to Introduction
Table of Contents
Continue to Chapter Two