Whatever came from being
is caught up in being, drunkenly
forgetting the way back.
We are born with a beautiful open spirit, alive with innocence and resilience. But we bring this goodness into a difficult world.
Imagine that at the moment of birth we begin to develop a space suit to help us navigate our strange new environment. The purpose of this space suit is to protect us from violence and greed and to win nurturance from caretakers who, to varying degrees, are bound by their own self-absorption and insecurities. When our needs aren’t met, our space suit creates the best defensive and proactive strategies it can. These include tensions in the body and emotions such as anger, anxiety, and shame; mental activity such as judging, obsessing, and fantasizing; and a whole array of behavioral tactics for going after whatever is missing—security, food, sex, love.
Our space suit is essential for survival, and some of its strategies do help us become productive, stable, and responsible adults. And yet the same space suit that protects us can also prevent us from moving spontaneously, joyfully, and freely through our lives.
This is when our space suit becomes our prison. Our sense of who we are becomes defined by the space suit’s “doings,” its strengths and weaknesses. We become identified with our skill in problem-solving or communicating; identified with our judgments and obsessions; identified with our anxiety and anger. “Identified” means that we think we are the space suit! It appears to us that we actually are the self who possesses the anxiety and anger; we are the self who judges; we are the self whom others admire; we are the self who is special or imperfect and alone.
When we become fused with the space suit, we begin living in what I call trance, and our sense of who we are is radically contracted. We have forgotten who is gazing through the space-suit mask; we have forgotten our vast heart and awareness. We have forgotten the mysterious presence that is always here, behind any passing emotion, thought, or action.
Living in trance is like being caught in a dream, and while we are in it we are cut off from our own moment-to-moment experience, disconnected from this living world. We have left home—our awareness and aliveness—and become unknowingly confined in a distorted fragment of reality.
We each have our own styles of leaving home—our space-suit strategies to cope with the pain of unmet needs. Yet waking up is a universal process. Slowly or quickly, we come to see that we’ve been living in a contracted and often painful reality. We want to reconnect with our innocence, our basic goodness. We want to know the truth of who we are. Our sincere longing turns us toward a path of true refuge, a place where we can finally feel safe enough to step out of our protective suit, and experience the freedom of natural presence.