Enlightenment by Denial is the Denial of Enlightenment


    Adapted from "Paths of Emotional Healing – The Way of the Western Warrior"

    As a lifelong seeker who was among the first waves of baby boomers to journey to the East in search of spiritual teaching, I have observed the modern spiritual quest for more than three decades. In recounting my own journey and that of many others, it has become increasingly apparent to me that much of what passes for enlightenment in New Age spirituality is cliched sentimentality. In spite of the large volume of spiritual wisdom we have imported to the West, much of it has not become deeply rooted and is simply intellectualized and commercialized. A consistent, direct awareness of truth is frequently missing.

    Inherent in this shallow transplant of ancient wisdom is a widespread denial of the essential emotional issues of Western seekers living in the secular world. The teachings of the East typically do not address emotional dysfunction and we may actually use them to deny our personal emotional histories, as I did. But the bodymind doesn’t forget negative impressions; when we turn our backs on our personal demons, they can return to haunt us when we least expect it. In the grip of denial, we strive to reason and affirm our way to enlightenment rather than undertake the difficult sacrifice to transform our shadow.

    I suggest most Westerners cannot approach enlightenment without emotional healing. Not many of us are willing to recognize this and do the work!

    Skeptical of feelings

    Both science and religion persuade us to be skeptical of feelings. We are told feelings are unreliable and have no objective reality, or that they are demons that can lead us into confusion and sin. Feeling negative emotion is considered to be weakness and failure by many, especially seekers, so we reject and gloss over life’s traumas rather than fully feel them. We desperately cling to positive emotions with ostrich optimism. When we do feel grief, sadness or distress, we become full of dread and guilt – even when these emotions are quite appropriate. If we deny part of ourselves, how can we be free? How can we have enlightenment without dispassion and equanimity? Dispassion and equanimity reflect emotional neutrality, neither rejecting nor grasping anything. Denial creates false dispassion and contrived equanimity.

    When we deny negative emotions, they accumulate in the shadows of our bodymind and emerge to sabotage our best intentions and make us ill. Locked into denial, we also end up rejecting the intuitive wisdom of our bodies, because that would dredge up the pain we have been refusing to feel. We are then resigned to approach life habitually through our intellects and attempt to dominate emotion with mental discipline. But reason alone cannot overrule emotional history. Cognitive knowledge is limited and can become dangerous when it is disconnected from the larger context available through intuition. The truth is that reason is not objective, because it rarely can be separated from feeling and emotion. Yet, despite much talk about the mind-body connection, we try to do so and believe this is a superior (objective) point of view.

    When we approach life too conceptually, we separate ourselves from esoteric wisdom. We become alienated from the richness and fluidity available through the bodymind’s instruments of instinct and intuition, which are allies, not obstructions. This is the plight of most modern humans. We have put Descartes before the horse!

    Timeless awareness

    Esoteric wisdom is so-called because it is so hidden that it eludes most who seek it. The reason for this is that esoteric knowledge is not cognitive information we can know and accumulate. It originates in timeless non-verbal awareness, whereas cognitive reasoning is verbal, linear and time bound. Esoteric wisdom eludes a mental framework and therefore is often paradoxical. The mind alone cannot grasp it. An enlightened one does not necessarily know what they know, only that they know. And because of a deep esoteric connection, they usually act in a more spontaneous and harmonious way. They have forged the courage not to cling to nor deny any belief or emotion.

    It is possible to reintegrate our cognitive with our intuitive and instinctual awareness. We are born this way. Such integration can be observed in the astuteness, openness and freedom of children. They are highly intuitive and not stuck in their minds. In this way, we have to again become like children, but we also need emotional maturity. Whereas the mind seeks logical consistency, intuition and instinct may not demonstrate immediate continuity, but are connected to a greater knowing. We may live life with integrated perception leading with our feelings (heart) and intuition (gut), modulated with the intellect (head).

    We could describe such integrated being as full bodymind awareness. Full bodymind awareness is multidimensional and allows one to simultaneously sense and interact with the manifest world of matter and the unseen world of spirit. This mode of "seeing" allows a more integrated experience of life. Living in this awareness is like a waking dream for the awakened one, a fleeting epiphany for the average person, being in the zone for an athlete. An enlightened one lives permanently in this awareness connected to a larger context, the great mystery.

    Emotional distresses that linger in the bodymind obscure the integration of full bodymind awareness. They cause us to contract in fear or anticipation of the past or future. Therefore, if we want to have clarity and integrated perception, we have to assimilate our minds back into our bodies and consciously feel and release our emotional wounds. I’m not suggesting we act out our negativity, but that we bring it into conscious awareness to heal what we can and be vigilant with what we cannot. This is not an easy task and requires struggle, especially for those of us with difficult personal histories.

    Attain the bliss

    Many of us, myself included, have tried to bypass an emotional healing process naively believing if we practice devotion or spiritual discipline long enough, we will attain the bliss of spiritual enlightenment. But because most spiritual practices from the East have monastic roots. They don’t address Western personality issues well, and our emotional distresses remain unhealed. While this may not be an issue living in solitude or a monastery, I suggest this results in inadequate development for those of us who choose to engage in the complex relationships of secular life. Many of us are unaware of our need for emotional healing and remain childish. We are unwilling to endure the considerable pain of such a process. Many spiritual teachers are unintentionally complicit in this deception. We cling to a false, romanticized ideal that spiritual life should only feel good or blissful.

    I suggest Western seekers incorporate a process of emotional healing into their spiritual discipline and first achieve adult maturity. Only from a mature place can we then pursue spiritual freedom, if that is our ultimate calling. True liberation is self-dissolution, not self-improvement, and therefore not for everyone.

    We may need help in either process from someone who has healed their emotional wounds, or was fortunate enough to be unconditionally acknowledged, accepted and loved as a child. Dr. Alice Miller, who has published many excellent books on child abuse and emotional healing, calls such a person an "enlightened witness." An enlightened witness can be anyone willing and able to closely listen to and support us without judgment or a particular point of view to defend. Ideally, we could work with someone who is trained in counseling and has genuine spiritual development. Such people may not be easy to find! Therefore, I will suggest some self-help methods that have aided me in this healing process.

    Experienced and expressed

    One may start by paying consistent attention to one’s feelings, allowing them to be fully experienced and expressed. Resistance to emotions causes added reactions that are often more painful than the initial experience. Our own judgment, fear and rejection of our negative emotions aggravate those emotions. We cannot escape all painful experience in life, but we can end such self-inflicted suffering.

    Next, try to identify all the feelings you are having in a particular moment. We can and often do feel several feelings at once, even conflicting ones. Feel where in your body you are experiencing these emotions. Open into any emotional contraction with your breath, attention and loving acceptance. Fully feeling and expressing one’s emotions prevents them from accumulating in the bodymind where they will fester to create future problems.

    If any emotional reaction is out of proportion to its triggering event, one can be fairly certain an old buried wound is being activated. Opening into long-forgotten emotions allows us to gradually retrieve the energy that is used up in resisting them. We may reclaim this trapped energy through emotional release, enabling us to better hold and express expanded awareness. This liberated energy also improves our health and vitality.

    This describes a process of emotional alchemy. Negative emotions can fuel the fire of spiritual transformation, and help build a strong vital container for emotional/spiritual work. This struggle also develops the courage essential for both adult maturity and spiritual liberation. This is not an easy process and I recommend the aid of an enlightened witness or mentor to facilitate it.

    It is possible to heal emotionally and this, in itself, leads to profound freedom and a greater expression of our potential.

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    Larry Alboher, D.C., is a healer, writer and teacher who has spent more than 30 years practicing Eastern and Western mysticism and receiving personal initiation into two different wisdom traditions. He maintains a professional healing practice that intuitively blends esoteric energy healing techniques with chiropractic and cranial-sacral therapies. For further information and to contact the author, please visit www.LarryAlboher.com. Copyright © 2005 Dr. Larry Alboher. All rights reserved.


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