I Contact

“Every man and woman on this planet only wants to be loved.  This is all they want, whether or not they will admit it.” -Paul Selig

We all crave intimacy. It’s built in to us. We long to be seen, loved, and accepted for who we are. This longing for authentic connection is inescapable, and has in recent years given rise to social media, which in a relatively short period of time (10 years or so as of this writing) has largely reconfigured the ways in which people connect all around the globe. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and various other social media platforms have opened up a whole new landscape in which social interactions may take place, and for many people, have become the preferred method of communication. With new and faster ways to connect, and with more people to connect to, we should feel less lonely, right? We should feel more satisfied, and closer to each other than ever, shouldn’t we? And yet, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Something crucial must be missing.

As we have been dazzled by the convenience and the immediacy our newfound technology, it seems we haven’t paused to consider what we might be trading off in the process. While people are better able to connect and organize in radical and efficient new ways (such as in the Arab spring in Egypt of 2011, which began on Twitter, and the Women’s March in Washington DC after the 2016 election), it seems to be much less effective as a vehicle for genuine interpersonal connection. We spend less time talking to real people and more time interacting with their digital avatars. We are looking less into each other’s eyes and more into our glowing screens. Our attempts at intimacy increasingly take the form of likes and follows and comments which bring us a very transient sense of connection, but are superficial at best, and do little to scratch that deep itch which is yearning for something more real. Only a real finger can scratch it, not a Scratch App, or whatever this is.

Through our well-intentioned but short-sighted embrace of social media, we end up losing nuance, context, body language, tone, emotion, and other subtleties of human expression that are exchanged in every encounter. However great our technology becomes, it will never replace real and genuine eye contact, touching, hugging, cuddling, smelling, sex, and other forms of intimacy. Ultimately, we need to be with people, IRL ;), to look into their eyes and feel their energy, smell their pheromones, absorb their biome, and experience the totality of their being. We need to soak each other in in a way that simply cannot be experienced through a technological middleman. No matter how hard we try, we cannot reduce the fullness of humanity into raw data and information, and we cannot fully satisfy our need for intimacy in a digital landscape. Who we are, and our needs and desires to be together, are much more dynamic than that.

So where does this desire to connect come from in the first place? Why isn’t it enough to live life online? Why are we so drawn to actually be together? It’s quite simple. At a deep level, beyond the many different forms and personalities we have, we actually all love each other, in a deep and intimate way, and this desire to be together is the heart’s memory of the unity we shared before we left the Tao, or perhaps you could say before the Big Bang, before “the many” came into being. Ultimately, it’s a desire to be reunited. At the deepest level, we miss each other.

“It is not surprising that we keep looking for love, because we are all born of love. We come out of love. All of us are nothing but vibrations of love. We are sustained by love, and in the end we merge back into love… This world is nothing but a school of love; our relationships with our husband or wife, with our children and parents, with our friends and relatives are the university in which we are meant to learn what love and devotion truly are.” -Swami Muktananda

We love each other is because love is our true nature. We are made of Love itself. Of course, to look at the world, you may immediately refute this claim, as it certainly does not appear that we are all made of love, desiring to love each other, but that is only because the vast majority of the time we are not operating from our true (loving) selves, but are instead dominated by our ego or personality-selves. This is the part of us that operates in a state perceived separation, forgetfulness, and hence fear, about who we really are. A Course in Miracles says, “the ego is the mind’s belief that it is completely on its own.” Of course it is harder to truly love and connect with others when this is how we identify- when we think we are disconnected, in competition, or are otherwise taking a defensive posture in the world. Our need for intimacy is like a homing beacon, calling us to move beyond that, to lay down our well-crafted defense mechanisms, beyond the limitations of our self-imposed isolation, and beyond the fear that we are all alone in a cold and meaningless universe. It is an invitation into something much greater.

We see this play out time and again in nearly every romantic relationship, especially at the outset. I have certainly experienced it a number of times in my own life. Every insecurity, fear, and vulnerability gets brought up when we first become close to someone. As we open up, the parts of us that are afraid to open up make themselves known, sometimes in subtle, quiet, self-sabotaging ways, and other times in very obvious, loud, and aggressive ways, but ultimately this is all so that we may address it, work through it, heal, release, and resolve it - if we are courageous enough, and willing to do so. This is one of the key, sacred functions of human relationships. They have the great potential to be used as a vehicle to help us awaken, to process our “uncooked parts”, and to help us open our hearts.

Ram Dass says, “Eventually you will be in love with the whole universe.” If love is our true nature, than he’s right, we’ll have no choice. We can fight it as long as we want, but eventually we will grow sick and tired of all the suffering we’re creating for ourselves, and we will let it all go. A Course in Miracles also says, “The ego depends solely on your willingness to tolerate it.”  Eventually, we will no longer tolerate it, and we will yield to our higher natures, open our hearts, and when we do, we will experience true intimacy of an order and magnitude far greater than we can imagine from the limited and faulty perspective of the ego.

What we all truly desire with each other is a sort of “I” contact - that is, contact with the being behind the ego, the I Am presence, the infinite and eternal loving awareness that exists within each of us. Conveniently enough, this contact is most readily accessed through the eyes, through literal eye contact, which we all know are the “windows to the soul”. So our desire to be intimate with each other, to love each other, and to be together, is really a desire to know the self, to know who we are in truth, and to love ourselves completely. It is a desire for reunification. As we make real connections with others, we give them the gift, the possibility, of knowing themselves in truth, as we come to know ourselves in truth. It’s a win-win.

Shining Light on the Shadow

"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious." -C.G. Jung

 

The following claim should surprise no one: we are living in massively polarized times. Here in America, this is commonly seen in the ongoing battles between the left and right, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, alt-right and antifa, the MAGA crowd and the never-Trumpers, just to name a few. What is often overlooked is that the division we can so readily identify “out there” is simply mirroring a division we are less likely to see within ourselves. The world is conflicted because we are conflicted, each and every one of us, in different ways, and we are being asked right now, in some ways with quite a bit of force, to reckon with ourselves to resolve our inner-polarization. Ultimately for this to happen, we must unite our left and right brains, our rational and intuitive selves, our masculine and feminine sides, our hearts and minds - there are many ways we could frame it - but this is the work of our time, creating unity within the self. Personally, I think a quantum leap in human evolution awaits us if and when we can finally take responsibility for ourselves, for all parts of ourselves, and integrate our individual and collective unconsciousness, also known as the shadow. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about “the shadow” lately, about my shadow, about America’s shadow, and how this seems to be a crucial element of the human psyche to understand right now, as we move through this collective “dark night of the soul”.

What is the shadow?

In Jungian psychology, the shadow archetype represents the unconscious mind, or the dark side of the personality, which tends to be filled with our negative traits.  Because we are inclined to reject, ignore, or deny that which we perceive in ourselves as undesirable or unloveable, we push these things down, or away - but they do not disappear (if only!)- they simply become a part of our unconscious self, our shadow. This is precisely how we’ve ending up making such a mess of the world.  We tend to think that we are only the contents of our conscious minds, and we are unaware of or simply ignore many aspects of ourselves that lie below the surface, so to speak, in our unconscious minds. We erroneously think if certain qualities are not a part of our conscious awareness, then they are not a part of us at all, and therefore have no power to affect us. And yet these things do affect us, more than we realize, and our ignorance of them and refusal to deal with them is why we don’t live in a utopian paradise, but instead are cultivating more of a hell-on-earth scenario.

What's in our shadow - our deepest fears, suppressed desires, unexpressed emotions, past mistakes, unresolved pain, and unconscious traits are all coming to the surface now, no longer hidden but out on stage in the spotlight, right in our faces, demanding attention, and in some cases running amok. This is an uncomfortable, messy, precarious, and often painful process, but it is ultimately a good thing, as the shadow is seeking to be integrated and healed. In doing so, it is teaching us many valuable lessons along the way, lessons we have not wanted to learn. Until we take responsibility for our unhealed parts, we will continue to unconsciously recreate them in the external world in different ways. We will find ourselves wrestling with the same themes and the same issues over and over again, with each iteration intensifying, as long as we remain unaware that we are not the victim but the creator.

For most people, the shadow is decidedly negative, but It is important to note here that the shadow can also contain positive traits, found in such people as those whose conscious awareness is overrun with depression, anxiety, false belief systems, self-destructive tendencies, anger, hate, fear, etc. In those cases, the shadow would contain the positive aspects of the self which are currently unknown or unconscious to them. It’s essentially whatever you don’t know you don’t know about yourself, and are typically unwilling or unable to look at and take responsibility for. 

What’s in your shadow?

It can take some work to uncover your own shadow, as we typically have a lifetime of avoiding them, both individually and collectively, and have created many blind spots in ourselves so that we are not even aware of what we are avoiding, but once you do know what to look for, you can start to ask the right questions to uncover it.  For most of us, the things we hide in our shadows are things we judge, condemn, mock, become obsessed with, blame on others, get disproportionately angry about, refuse to talk about, accuse other people of, or just downright hate. In most cases, the shadow shows up as a projection, as something we see out there. This is a very clever tactic used by the ego to distance itself from its own shadow by making itself psychologically separate from it. We project our fears, unexamined traits, undesirable emotions, and really anything we don’t want to take responsibility for onto someone or something else, and then we react to that, usually by employing one of the aforementioned strategies of judging, blaming, condemning, mocking, etc. This looks like the extremely homophobic politician who is later revealed to have a secret gay affair, the serial liar who constantly accuses others of lying, or the cheating husband who is constantly accusing his wife of being unfaithful.  From the outside, with this perspective, it looks like complete insanity, but that’s mostly because it is so much easier to see other people’s shadows than our own. But make no mistake, we all have a shadow, and we are only under it’s rule as long as it remains safely hidden from us outside of our conscious awareness.

 

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

 

One of the amazing things about the human mind is that we have an almost unlimited capacity for self-delusion. We can lie and hide and deceive ourselves to seemingly no end. We can create an alternative reality in our minds that in no way has any bearing to any external or collective reality, or any relation to the truth. In short, we can avoid taking any and all responsibility for ourselves, if that is what we choose.  Of course, you must be clever in some ways to do this, but we humans are also very clever. We can get away with this approach for a lifetime, and often we do, because who really wants to look at, and take responsibility for, their shadow? It’s an understandable urge, to look away, but it’s one that unfortunately does not work in the long run. Humankind has been playing this game for a long time, and now the chickens have come home to roost, so to speak.

The solution to all of this can sound rather simplistic on paper, but the execution of it requires a great deal of discipline, focus, and will-power. Regardless, if we don’t undertake this work, then we remain at the mercy of our shadow-selves, as they now more than ever desire to be seen and reconciled. We simply can’t afford to ignore it any longer.   

The first step is simply to become aware of the shadow, and cultivate the willingness to take responsibility for your own. Often in our willingness, things start to show up, or we become aware of things in ourselves that have been hiding in plain sight.  It was only that we were not willing to see it.

The second practice is ruthless self-honesty. This is a more difficult practice, at least at first, as the ego will do anything it can to keep us from exposing it’s tricks and uncovering it’s lies. It does not want us to see ourselves honestly, or neutrally. Being identified with the ego, we have spent so much time and energy avoiding our shadows that we may not even know how to be honest with ourselves, or what to look for. But it’s pretty simple - whatever bothers you out there is reflecting something that bothers you inside. Upset at the way children are treated (school shootings, separated from parents at border)? Then perhaps you could look at how you treat your own inner-child.  Do you get angry about our authoritarian leader? Look at how your own inner-tyrant tries to take control of you.  The amount that this upsets you, or you want to deny it, is inversely proportionate to how much it exists in you. It’s hard to look at, and it can make us very uncomfortable in the short-term, but as we shine light on it, the healing process begins.  In fact, much of the healing is done just in the act of being completely honest with ourselves, and witnessing our shadow from a neutral place. 

Observing with neutrality is key. Your essence is neutral, your ego never is. The essence is merely a witness, the ego needs to control everything and has opinions and judgments about every last little thing. So if we practice ruthless self-honesty but then use what we find to beat ourselves up, go into guilt, shame, blame, decide we are bad people, etc. then we know the ego has hijacked the process and is using it to its own ends, namely, to keep us trapped and reinforce the very cycle of bad behaviors we are trying to heal. A helpful pracitce here that works for me: whatever you observe, instead of labelling it good or bad or whatever, simply choose to find it interesting. This is how we see things in our essence, as interesting. “Ah, so. Anger. Interesting.” Simply witness.

Step three is forgiving yourself, accepting yourself, and loving yourself, no matter what you find in your shadow. This is also not easy - which is why it is a practice. It can takes years, maybe a lifetime, to really learn how to love and accept ourselves, but again, it is well worth it, and something we all must do sooner or later. In many ways it is the only thing we are here to do. Jung said “The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.” If it were easy, we all would have done it by now, right?  We would be living lives free of any conflict, turmoil, or suffering. We would be radiant and joyful, full of healthy self-love, in thriving relationships, always acting with integrity, always doing and saying the right thing. But this is obviously not the case. We are human, and we struggle. But this struggle is the struggle to awaken, the struggle to clear the darkness of our shadows, the struggle to become free. Once we are willing to acknowledge this, to look at our darker natures and be honest about it, and to begin to love and accept ourselves regardless of what it is we find, we are on the path home.

Heart-to-Heart with Ram Dass

“We’re fascinated by the words, but where we meet is in the silence behind them.” -Ram Dass

I recently had the great fortune of spending an hour with Ram Dass on a “heart-to-heart” Skype conversation, as he calls them. He was in his home on Maui, and I was at home in Brooklyn. It was the first time I met him- albeit virtually- although I have been a student and admirer of his work for the last 5 or 6 years now. I have taken in countless hours of podcasts, YouTube videos, lectures, interviews, articles, anything I could get my hands on (and there is certainly no shortage of material out there). It seems that Ram Dass, now 87, and his Love Serve Remember Foundation are deeply committed to getting his message out to as many people as possible, especially the younger generations who came up after the height of his popularity and may not have discovered him yet.  The LSRM has developed a big social media presence, and has millions of followers around the globe, making the deep catalog of Ram Dass’ spiritual teachings and transformative wisdom available to a world that sorely needs it.

At the beginning of our call, Ram Dass greeted me as though we were old friends, with a huge Cheshire-Cat grin on his face, and excitement in his voice. It didn’t matter at all that I was a complete stranger to him, he welcomed me with a warm, virtual embrace. His manner put me at ease, although I was a bit nervous at first, which I suppose is somewhat natural when meeting a cultural icon, but I soon relaxed, and I too then felt that I was simply talking with an old friend. There was such comfort and grace being with him.

Ram Dass talked about soul awareness - the idea that we are best served by identifying with our soul, instead of with the ego-personality, or the body - and I realized that that’s what Ram Dass has become. He is an embodiment of soul awareness. If there’s any ego left in him, it isn’t much.  You can really feel the soul awareness in him. He wasn’t looking at me or talking to me as some guy, as David from Brooklyn, but as a timeless, eternal, wise, loving being, just like him. He made me feel totally and completely loved and accepted, which is what souls do.

“Souls love. That’s what souls do. Egos don’t, but souls do. Become a soul, look around, and you’ll be amazed-all the beings around you are souls. Be one, see one. When many people have this heart connection, then we will know that we are all one, we human beings all over the planet. We will be one. One love. And don’t leave out the animals, and trees, and clouds, and galaxies-it’s all one. It’s one energy.”  -Ram Dass

With him, I felt that I was truly being seen. Seen beyond my computer screen, beyond my form, beyond my personality.  Seen as a soul.  Seen as love. When someone looks at you this way- so completely, so purely, so truthfully, so lovingly- it cuts through all your defenses and opens you up.  It calls to you at a deeper level, and awakens that part of you that is beyond your personality. It’s invites your soul to come out and play. When he looked at me that way, I smiled, I giggled, I got tears in my eyes. I was filled with gratitude, and awe. It immediately took me out of my ego, and brought me into my heart. It feels good to be seen in this intimate and truthful way, and it feels good to see another in the same way. It’s a rare and true gift in this world. It’s deeply healing. I’ve only received this gift, the gift of being seen with this kind of love, one other time, and it had the same profound effect on me. I was floating on clouds afterwards, my heart bursting with love for the whole world. Once you get a taste of this, of receiving this kind of love, you naturally want to develop it in yourself, find it within, bring it out, embody it, and share it with others. This, to me, is really all that the path of spiritual awakening is - becoming your soul awareness, or as I like to call it, the true self, the essence of which is unconditional love. 

My guess is that the vast majority of people have never experienced being seen with eyes of unconditional love, which may in part explain why there is such an epidemic of isolation, loneliness, sadness, and depression right now. We don’t see each other. Mostly we don’t know how to, as we are identified with our egos, and not our souls. An ego is incapable of witnessing someone in unconditional love. “Love” to an ego is transactional, meaning, it works out agreements, arrangements, and alliances. It always has an agenda, needs, terms and conditions. This is very confusing in our culture, because when most people talk about love, they are actually talking about this kind of ego-love, which, to me, is not real love (that which is unconditional), but is really just “liking” things to different degrees. Ram Dass was not looking at me through his ego, but through his soul, and I could feel it. I could feel the completeness of it. There was no agenda, he didn’t need anything in return, didn’t need me to love him back (though I surely did), and there was no judgement or condemnation of any kind. He embraced me and accepted me totally in that moment, and it was a true gift. It was profoundly healing.

When Ram Dass had a stroke back in 1997, his life radically changed. There were the obvious physical challenges - slowing down, becoming wheelchair-bound, and dependent on the help of others - but his speech also slowed way down, which was a radical shift for someone like Ram Dass, who used to jokingly say that the “Ram” stood for “rent-a-mouth”. He talked about how post-stroke it became harder for him to connect the ideas he was having in his head to the words his wished to use to express them. His speech has improved significantly since then, but there are still more gaps in his speech. There is more silence. He has used this as a spiritual practice, as grist for the mill, as he likes to say. He says the silence has become his teacher. 

While we discussed many interesting topics - psychedelics, the importance of having a guru, death and dying, parenting - what has stayed with me and affected me the most was not what he said, but what was happening in the silence, in between the words, when neither of us was talking.  The silence was full, meaty, filled with presence, awareness, and love. It pulled me in, opened my heart, and made me present, helping me to see beyond my ego-self and just be with him. Being with him in this way really shifted my awareness, and even in the days following our call, I have felt myself to be more present with others, more loving, more neutral, and more aware of myself as the I AM presence behind my thoughts, and not just the contents of my head. I feel like my true self is in the silence, not the words. Perhaps this is the meaning behind the old Bible verse, “Be still, and know that I am God.” 

There was a moment towards the end of our time together where he was just looking at me with such warmth and love in his eyes that I fell completely silent, and just looked sweetly back at him. The moment seemed to stretch out, it felt like we slipped into a timeless state together. I eventually slipped back out, at least enough to say, “You’re so beautiful, Ram Dass. We could just sit here and look lovingly at each other, and that would be enough, wouldn’t it?” Really, it was enough. It was a beautiful reminder that, in a world so focused on doing and achieving, we also need to learn to simply be with one another, share space, witness each other, and love one another.

Ram Dass likes to use the mantra “I Am Loving Awareness”, which I have also adopted as one of my own. After my call with him, this mantra seems even more real, as I have now experienced what it feels like to be on the receiving end of someone who really, truly embodies it. Early the next morning, after the call, I was doing my morning meditation, and I saw Ram Dass in my mind’s eye, sitting with me, beaming that big, joyful smile of his, loving me, witnessing me. That’s all it was. That’s all he is now.  A loving witness. It was so wonderful, and powerful, to feel him there with me. He’s a soul now, and that’s what souls do. Of course, Ram Dass is still in his body, but because of his decades-long practice, he is so much more identified with his soul. And being in his presence, its hard not to become identified with your own.  Thank you, Ram Dass, for seeing me.  I see you.  And I love you.