I believe that the evolution of the self occurs through successive transformative leaps and that this is the whole purpose of spiritual life. I like to refer to this now as the Three Stage Process of Evolving Selfhood, which this essay will explore. The spiritual experiences that we have, the breakthroughs, openings and energetic surges are all stirrings of a new self that we are being invited to become.
Our spiritual work allows a new possibility in selfhood to reveal itself and catalyzes a shift in our sense of identity from the person we have been to the person that wants to emerge through us.
As I have come to understand it this shift in identity occurs in three stages:
- letting go of who we have been
- discovering the possibilities of an emerging self
- creatively expressing those new possibilities until they become who we are
Letting Go of Who We Have Been
We are a self – a somebody – or at least we think we are. We live inside of an identity, a self-concept, a collection of ideas about the person we have been. That person has a name and a history. That person is good at some things and not good at others. He or she has fears, desires, memories, hopes, dreams, and aspirations.
The most valuable way to think about your sense of self is to think about it as a range of possibility. Some things are possible for the self that you are, other things are not. Spiritual growth is always an expansion of possibility.
In the first stage of evolving selfhood we let go of the self that we think we are. There are many ways to do that, but on this summer’s retreat we will focus on a practice of meditation that I call The Practice of No Problem.
By learning to perfectly embrace the experience you are having in each and every moment you generate inner spaciousness and ease of being. In this space your attention begins to slip away from the habits of worry and self-concern that are the glue that hold our identity in place.
As your awareness is liberated from the sense that anything is wrong you relax at physical, emotional, spiritual and ultimately existential levels of being. In this realization your awareness slips beyond the sphere of your familiar concerns and eventually beyond anything you have ever known. You find yourself more and more aware of a vast expanse of non-conceptual awareness beyond your ordinary mind.
As you acclimate to the experience of consciousness without understanding you discover something wonderful. Here you are not a somebody. Here you don’t know who you are. You experience the unimaginable freedom of awareness without identity. You are no longer tied to the solid sense of self that has always been your anchor and you enter into the unlimited possibility of who you really are.
This is the realm of spiritual realization that has been called Enlightenment, Satori, Illumination, God-Realization and Self-Actualization in various traditions.
This depth of awakening frees us from the limitations of self-concept and self-concern and makes us available for a miraculous transformation of self.
Discovering the Possibilities of an Emerging Self
Initially the freedom from the known that we experience is shocking, but with more practice we become accustomed to it. And as we relax more deeply into the true depths of our being we begin to notice something wonderful.
That incomprehensible expanse is not just emptiness. There are stirrings there, we are moved there. We feel things – delicate things, subtle things, amazing things. These are spiritual energies – energies of awakening – that abide there out beyond what we know.
In the second stage of evolving selfhood we allow ourselves to be moved by the subtle energetic currents that we discover emanating from the unknown. Learning to be moved in this way is only a matter of learning to trust the inherent goodness of those energies.
The inner currents of spirit are there to move us, to guide us, to expand our being beyond the limitations of who we think we are into more of the fullness of what is possible. Being moved by these energies is not something we do, it is something we allow to happen.
You float in an ocean of spiritual currents that want to carry you into expansive realms of being. All you have to do is learn to trust them enough to let go of what you are holding on to that is inhibiting your growth.
On this summer’s retreat we will use a series of experiential exercises and inquiries to examine the spiritual energies we discover and adventure out on them in a safe environment.
As we experience the succession of insights, revelations, and awakenings that these exercises and inquiries give us our confidence in the ultimate goodness of these energetic currents will grow and we will find ourselves able to venture further and further out into new possibilities.
Expressing New Possibilities Until They Become Who We Are
I said earlier, the most valuable way to think about a self-identity is to think of it as a range of possibility. Very practically speaking, changing our sense of self is a matter of expanding the range of possibilities available to us.
On this retreat you will discover that the new range of possibility that we discover through deep spiritual practice opens into a radical reconfiguration of the field of possibility not only for us, but for all human beings.
The transformation that we are exploring is not just about becoming a different human being. It is about becoming a different kind of human being. It is about letting go of your fundamental identity as a separate and isolated entity that lives in the midst of other separate and isolated entities. It is about discovering that there is nothing that separates us. That we are One, even though our particularity and uniqueness are part of that Oneness.
As we begin to swirl together in the currents of a new way of being we will find ourselves swept up into impossible possibilities. We will begin to feel things, see things and even know things that were simply not possible before. Together we will learn to express these new possibilities, to give them a voice, to articulate them.
We will become what my colleague and friend Jeffrey Kripal calls ‘authors of the impossible.’
During this summer’s retreat we will engage in collective practices that will become platforms for the emergence of a new way of being. We will engage in practices designed to shift our sense of identity and reveal to us that the person that we have been is a significant, but limited, part of who we really are. We will discover that we are an individual expression of a way of being – a range of possibility – that exists between and through us and that has infinite potential to grow and evolve.