The essence of this chapter is about developing a way of meeting life’s challenges instead of suppressing or avoiding them.
The process of transmuting our darkness into light is known by many names including “working through our issues” and “processing”. Whatever we call it, the path of spiritual development does involve looking deeply into ourselves and seeing where we are hiding our strengths and our weaknesses. Often we can liken the process of spiritual development to that of being a detective. We have to listen and observe, to train our mind to recognise clues, to learn to see what someone is trying to conceal and to gather clues like jigsaw pieces and assemble them into a cohesive whole.
Although many of the great fictional TV detectives have been mavericks and went about solving crimes in a rather unorthodox manner, they usually had one or more dependable assistants who did equally important work such as writing things down.
Write it down
I cannot stress strongly enough the value of keeping some kind of journal and writing down key thoughts, feelings and events in your life. The reason for this is that it can greatly speed up your progress on the path.
Say for example that you had an argument with your neighbour about something and then several years later you found a similar event occurring. If you had kept a journal and written down details of the first argument, when the second argument occurs you can flick back through your journal and see that it has happened before. This shows you that there is a repeating pattern and therefore there is something for you to learn. If you had not written down the details of the first argument you might have forgotten all about it and by the time the second argument occurred you would be none the wiser. Also if you had written down details of the first event, studied it and learnt from it, it may not have been necessary for there to be a repeat of it.
Take the characters out of the equation
Another valuable tool for working through issues is to learn to remove the characters from the equation. When it comes to spiritual development, everything that we have to learn is about ourselves, so if we encounter a situation in which we are having difficulties with another individual, what there is for us to learn is about us, not that individual. If we become too fixated on the characters who are mirroring things back to us, we lose sight of the teaching.
If, for example, we have an encounter with John and it seems to us that John is being unreasonable, if we get too stuck on what we see as “John’s unreasonable behaviour” we may get stuck in judging John and blaming him for what we see in him that we don’t like. By taking John out of the equation and saying “someone is being unreasonable” or “I don’t like it when people are unreasonable” we can take the first steps to gaining a deeper insight into what is there for us to learn.
Ultimately the situation will be mirroring back to us that there is something about “being unreasonable” that we have to work on. It might be that we are being unreasonable without realising it or that perhaps we are trying too hard to be reasonable and need to be a bit more selfish in a particular situation. Whatever it is that is going on, John has nothing to do with it apart from being the messenger or the mirror. When we look at situations in this way we can see other people in a new light. In our fictional example we could even arrive at a point where we can silently thank John for unwittingly being one of our teachers.
The three stages of processing
Awareness is the first vital ingredient we need if we are going to move beyond limitation and into greater freedom. We have to become aware that there is a pattern in order to be able to change it.
Secondly we need to have the willingness to look deeply into our issues and to challenge the stories that we tell ourselves which justify not changing them. Awareness alone is not enough. Mindfulness is a vital tool when it comes to processing and it is important to remain mindful as we progress but mindfulness alone will not be enough to change our patterns.
Thirdly we need the courage to take responsibility for our issues, to identify where we need to make changes in our lives and to put those changes into action.
Bringing an issue into awareness requires study. We need to focus our attention on the issue. Once we have recognised that there is an issue and have managed to describe it in some way, we then need to own the issue by taking other people out of the equation. This is where many people get stuck as they take solace in believing that somebody else is to blame for their issue and somebody else is ultimately responsible for holding them back.
Sometimes working through our issues doesn’t involve anyone else. We might have issues about safety, security or trust for example which we need to work on within us. Someone who has issues surrounding security may develop an obsessive habit of checking to make sure the front door is locked at night.
In these cases we still need to apply the same three-pronged approach of awareness – willingness – courage. We need to become aware of the processes which are not serving our development, we need to be willing to change them and we need to have the courage to apply those changes to our lives.
When we talk about programs in relation to emotional processing, what we mean is conditioned responses to life. Life’s experiences cause us to feel either pleasure or pain – or perhaps, more accurately, I should say that the way we interpret life’s experiences causes us to feel either pleasure or pain. Without having to think about it our minds create behavioural strategies in response to these experiences which are designed to move us towards pleasure and away from pain. So if we have an experience which feels pleasurable, our mind will create a strategy, or program, to bring more pleasurable experiences like this into our life. Similarly if we have an experience which feels painful, our mind will create a pattern of behaviour which is designed to help us avoid similar situations.
Learning how programs are formed, what keeps them alive and how they interact with each other to keep us stuck in the same place is the first step to overcoming them. The main components of programs are as follows:
- Every program has a purpose: either to bring more pleasure or protect us from pain. Seeking pleasure involves desire and attachment whereas fleeing from painful situations involves avoidance – none of these will bring us the kind of true happiness or joy which transcends both pleasure and pain.
- Programs are like pills insofar as they treat symptoms and not causes. As with most medicinal pills, programs can have benefits as well as side-effects.
- Programs come from a variety of sources: some come from our own experiences, usually in the early years of our life, but others are inherited from our parents and from the world around us.
- It is not necessary to relive the event which gave rise to the program. Although there are methods for processing such as psychotherapy which involve talking about past experiences and reliving emotional experiences, this is not necessary – it is one route but by no means the only route. To overcome a program, all that is required is that you identify the discord or misalignment created by the program and then create the opposite, balancing energy and come into alignment. In so doing, any emotional pain or memories of the original event which need to be released will come up. The danger of methods like psychotherapy is that we might wallow in our emotional pain longer than is necessary. Undoing our programs is about moving into greater freedom and not indulging in self-pity.
- Individual programs become associated and connected with other programs to form a mental web which can be described as our overall mindset. Programs with opposing vibrations serve to create a type of inertia which masquerades as balance. For example programs of “desiring more” are “balanced out” by programs of guilt about having too much and being greedy.
- We can visualise our programs as a circle: we are in the centre of the circle and moving forwards in our life means breaking out of the circle. Our programs are like sentinels posted on the perimeter of the circle. When we approach a program we find that we are unable to remove it because it seems to be serving a valuable purpose and as we bring it into focus we find that it is setting off another program with a different agenda. So we can find ourselves being bounced around inside of the circle, never able to break free. For example, we may have a belief that we are not good enough to earn a lot of money, so we set about blowing up this program. As we do so it activates our guilt about wanting more and guilt about the fact that we already have so much more than many people in the world who don’t even have enough food and water to live healthily. The guilt programs serve only to make us feel bad about ourselves which in turn feeds the program that says we are not good enough to earn a lot of money. The end result is that we stay where we are, stuck in a mindset of scarcity.
- Programs are created or inherited unconsciously, without us being aware of what is happening. The key to changing our programs is to be conscious creators of our own mindset using the values of our Inner Being as guides.
- Every program has an underlying mantra, for example “I’m not good enough”, “life isn’t fair”, “people are liars” etc.
How to change our programs
The purpose of presenting this brief introduction to programming is to offer you an overview of how programs are created, what makes them tick, and how to set about changing them. The theory of changing our programs can seem a lot simpler than the practice – when we are in the thick of it, trying to work through our issues, it can seem as though the whole subject of programming has become very complex and confusing. The following four-step process is offered as a signpost to help you find your way through the jungle of conflicting thoughts and feelings which might arise.
A four-step process for changing programs
- Discover the mantra of the program
- Work out what the purposes, benefits and side-effects of the program are
- Consciously create new mantras to replace old programs
- Be the energy of these mantras. These mantras must come from our Inner Being, otherwise we will simply replace one set of programs with another.
One of the inevitable questions which arise when we start to investigate the murky waters of our programming is “how can we be true to ourselves when we don’t know who we really are?” How can we tell the difference between our Truth and our programming? To this there is no easy answer, other than to ask what is behind each program. With true spiritual development there really are no shortcuts – in many respects we have to act out our programs until we see through them and are ready to live our Truth. The collective function of a person’s programs is to protect his ego which is the false identity. It is through false identification with the ego that resistance to changing programs occurs and we will only be able to truly move on from our programs when we are ready to let go of the ego and step into the presence of who we really are.
Thus far I have discussed programs on an individual level, suggesting that the collective function of our programs is to protect our false identity. We could rephrase this by saying that programs protect our identity of individuality and separateness. They are there to reinforce the idea that we are separate individuals needing to protect ourselves from other separate individuals.
Whereas many programs stem from our own personal experience and others are inherited from those around us, I suspect that there may also be a category of programs which we could label “collective” – a set of programs which are impersonal and shared by the whole group, either humanity as whole or perhaps smaller groups of souls. If the intention of the program is to perpetuate some form of “us versus them” mentality, programs like “I feel contaminated”, “I feel trapped” or “I’m being stifled” could have their origins, not in individual personal experience, but from the very fact of having a physical existence. Maybe just being born into a world of separation and ignorance is enough to give rise to such programs.
Could it be true? If it were true it would make sense of why we feel the presence of a feeling or a program when we are unable to trace it or find any corresponding cause in the events of our past. Maybe we could end up feeling trapped and contaminated just by being here in a world where our own truth is not allowed free expression and where the stories that other people tell are seemingly forced upon us. I shall explore this theme further, with somewhat less caution, later in the book in the chapter Beyond The Bubble.
*** This chapter is taken from my book The Light Within ***