A couple of years ago, I was driving Reggie Ray from one retreat center to another in the New York/Boston area. Reggie is a meditation teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition with whom I have been studying closely for the past 7 years. When I heard he needed a driver, I thought it would be a good chance to spend some one-on-one time with him, in a closed situation—a vehicle—and to pummel him with questions.
As we were leaving the Garrison Institute to drive to a E-Vam, a small retreat center devoted to the work of Traleg Rinpoche, I asked a live receptionist at Garrison for directions. Much to my relief, they were incredibly simple and straightforward. (The truth is that even though I volunteered to be Reggie’s driver, I actually have very little confidence behind the wheel; you might say driving is one of my “inferior functions”.) As we got into the car, I exclaimed to Reggie that this drive was going to be easy: just one turn and we would be on the expressway to our destination.
When I said this, Reggie looked at me and said, “I wouldn’t be so sure.”
“Whatever,” I thought, “Reggie is just being negative.” Well, you guessed it—after driving for only 2 miles, we started hearing a strange thump, thump, thump. We had somehow developed a flat tire. I remembered his comment about “not being so sure” and asked him if he had had a premonition or something. He said, “No, you just sounded awfully confident.” Well, now I was panic-stricken and anxious. (Here I have the meditation master in a rental car with a flat tire and we are stuck on the side of the road!) But Reggie just looked at me, smiled, and said, “Don’t worry, I live for this kind of thing.”
Well, he might have enjoyed the unanticipated newness of the experience, but for me it was uncomfortable and stressful. And this is the same way I felt after I wrote my first (and only) “manifesto” a few weeks ago, on the topic of “manifestation” (see “Manifestation Manifesto”). After I confidently posted that entry, which extolls the virtues of listening to one’s inner voice and claims that following its directives is the key to creating, I was immediately plunged into a period in which I couldn’t hear any inner guidance at all. Nothing. Static. It was like a sudden flat tire inside.
Now, there were outer causes. In January and February, Sounds True had very disappointing top line sales due to the overall contraction in the retail marketplace, and we were having some issues with our line of credit (which, fortunately, have since been resolved). What I noticed was that my inner system was “jammed up” in a flight or fight response, and in that state, the last thing I could do was tune in and hear my inner voice clearly. And yet, I had just written a “Manifesto” that made it sound like listening to one’s inner voice and following its call is as simple as driving a few miles and making one turn onto an expressway.
During this period of hearing static inside, I asked myself two critical questions:
- What works for me when I find that I need to “un-jam” my circuits so I can receive inner guidance?
- How do I distinguish between what could be called “the voice of ego” and “the voice of the knowing self”?
Here is what I discovered:
When my “circuits are jammed” (which is what it feels like to me), I can conclude that I am terribly afraid of something or other (in this case, potential economic doom) and that the first thing I need to do is release the fight or flight response from my body. A friend of mine recently wrote a PhD thesis on a somatic approach to resolving conflict in couples and he called it “Fight, Flight, or Feel,” a title which I quite like. When I am in conflict with myself, let alone with another person, what I need to do is move beyond fight or flight and into feeling.
Okay, you may ask, but how do I approach “feeling” when I am terrified of feeling how terrified I feel? (Now that’s a mouthful of a question.) I found three things that worked for me: 1) Deep bodywork, 2) Loving and intelligent friends who truly know how to listen, receive and reflect, and 3) Intensive meditation practice.
What I found was that I could restore my sense of inner connectedness when my body relaxed, when I felt loved, and when I could connect with a vast sense of spaciousness. During this particular period, I participated in a 5-day meditation training program. Being at this program , I felt that I regained the antenna that had been lost in the fight or flight attack; instead of hearing static inside, I once again had clear reception of what you could call a “grace field”—a sense of being informed as to what was being called for in each moment.
The second question I examined during this recent difficult period was “how do I distinguish between what might be called the voice of the ego and the voice of the knowing self?” For me, it is all about how my body feels. I have come to recognize the feeling of genuine guidance in a kind of somatic “rightness.”
And so I pose these two questions to you, the readers of this blog. When you are going through a challenging time, how do you “un-jam your circuits” so you can receive guidance in a clear way? And how do you distinguish between what could be called the voice of the ego and the voice of the knowing self?
I have been asking people these questions in an informal way and discovering that people have their own inner language and signaling system. What is this for you?
Finally, as you respond to this question, I offer one last thought. I feel a bit strange writing a blog post that is as confessional as this one. (First a manifesto, now a confession.) And yet I know that vulnerability is real strength. I recently interviewed Terry Tempest Williams as part of a new Sounds True podcast series. (She was in our studio recording an audio adaptation of her new book, Finding Beauty in a Broken World, which will be available this Fall.) In the interview she talks about how one of the reasons she writes is to create community—and how ironic it is to engage in a totally solitary act for the purpose of connecting with other people. The writer and the audience are, as they say, “alone, together.” As I connect with you, the Sounds True community, through this new experiment of a “Publisher’s Blog,” I want to do so in a way that is real and vulnerable and raw. I want the exchange to be genuine and at eye-level. I want to “manifest” something that leaves no residue of “half-said” but instead is a reflection of our collective wholeness—and in your responses, I invite you to do the same.