Last month I quoted Jesus from The Gospel According to Thomas, where he says:
“If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.”
I talked about the ruptured relationships and social injustices that can occur when we fail to “bring forth” the fears and biases hidden within ourselves and the dominant culture.
I also shared the concept of Alaya or “storehouse consciousness.” Alaya is like an ocean of unconscious kleshas (mental states that cloud the mind) that are individual, ancestral and collective. These below-the-radar thoughts, intentions and implicit biases shape our behavior.
When we are triggered, our kleshas abruptly emerge as thoughtless or cruel actions. Since most of us want to see ourselves as a “good” person at all costs, it is common to instantly forget these actions.
My own father exemplified this dynamic. He would abuse me late at night, then express caring and concern for me during daylight hours.
This instant-amnesia prevents us from making amends or changing our behavior, whereas unearthing our kleshas supports choice and agency.
Below I share some principles and practices to quicken this unearthing process, this “evil twin” taming process, for the sake of personal wellbeing, relational healing and social justice.
Principle 1: Unearthing Takes a Lot of Energy
Some of the most helpful changes I have made in my life started with painful realizations that arose during a silent meditation retreat, where I had enough time–and more importantly, energy–for something new to emerge.
Make no mistake, self-archeology takes enormous energy. Retreat allows me to lean on the collective energy of a group that is focused on waking up, and on the steady energy of my teacher, who holds and encourages, goads and invites.
The retreat structure, which includes specific roles, schedules and collective meals, means I expend less energy than usual on logistics. The silence allows me to release the ordinary social interactions that consume so much energy. Every bit of that freed up energy is needed for practice.
Within this retreat container, profound excavations are possible. Some of the material I have discovered in myself while on retreat is so unthinkable, so unacceptable to my surface personality that I cannot keep it in my awareness unless I write it down. I cling to my pen and journal for dear life.
This, plus the sangha, teachings, silence and my teacher’s presence, ground me enough that I can stay with it, breathing, writing, crying, shaking, doula-ing this alarming newborn into daylight.
Principle 2: Unearthing Takes Curiosity and Compassion
As we saw last month, Anam Thubten suggests “inviting our hidden thoughts to tea.” This welcoming host attitude can prevent shame, and that’s a good thing, because that emotional *zing!* of shame distracts us from noticing our harmful thoughts and behaviors.
To gaze steadily at our evil twins requires curious and compassionate eyes.
Compassion develops our capacity to face and feel what we dread being or becoming. Curiosity helps us ask, “What makes me so fearful that I lash out?” Or, “Why does self-righteousness feel so intoxicating?”
If we cannot feel it–all of it–then we have no toehold to change it. Our evil twins will continue to ambush us and destroy what we care about.
Principle 3: Unearthing Takes Patience and Persistence
Potent *aha* moments do not happen everyday; they are sandwiched between mundane awareness practice. Transformation arises from “dojo style” learning, where you practice the same thing over and over, throughout your life.
We need to regularly set time and energy aside in order to keep evolving.
Even when *ahas* arrive, we tend to forget them. So we need reminders. We likely will have to encounter the same material again and again before can integrate that *aha* into daily life.
An Unearthing Story
Once near the end of a grueling week-long retreat, I encountered a particularly hard-to-grasp, hard-to-stay-with knot of kleshas. I needed to employ all three principles of big energy, curiosity/compassion and patience/persistence to process the experience.
I uncovered an unexpected, ancient, deeply rooted aversion to being in a human body. A disgust at being exiled on this planet. An anguished, arrogant refusal to be confined in material reality.
The experience was so intense it was frightening; the information almost too painful to receive. And ironic, since I am someone who encourages folks to “befriend your body, trust your body, be with it as it is.”
It was a shock for me to uncover within my own alaya such revulsion and contempt for the limitations of bodies. To find within myself such a huge NO to Life.
I had to work hard to stay with this and suspend my disbelief that I was harboring such attitudes, but once I was able to just be with it, I had a memory of “me” becoming form as I was conceived. This memory was traumatic.
I remembered thinking, “Why would anyone want to return to this quicksand swamp, where horrific things happen everywhere to everyone throughout their lives?”
This reclamation-process was not fun. It was hard work. Yet it stretched me in a positive way. I felt an empathy and tenderness for us matter-bound humans that remains with me and enriches my work with people.
And I have noticed that since that experience, I am inhabiting my body more fully, and enjoying this earthly life more and more. Embracing that contemptuous “evil twin” has relaxed its grip on me.
Intentions are powerful tone-setting practices. You can link your declared intentions to something or someone you care about. Here are some intention examples:
1) Take time each day to sit or lie quietly and scan your body with your breath. When you find places where your breath catches, keep your attention there, breathing gently until the “catch” softens. You can also hum into the catches until they soften.
2) Scan your body for areas of muscular tightness; notice the sensations in these areas. Silently say “yes” to the contractions, thank them for their efforts, and move on. You can also hum into the contractions until they soften.
According to Anam Thubten, “calm abiding” meditation enables us to become aware of our concealed, deeply rooted tendencies.
Other Somatic Practices
1) TRE or Trauma Release Exercises are designed to heal trauma stored in the body https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5YJY6hRW-I without needing to talk about or mentally revisit the trauma. What a relief to be able to bypass our thinking mind!
I have found that these exercises also release other energies stored in the body, and I suspect this practice has the potential to unearth deeply rooted fears and negative beliefs.
2) Project whatever is emerging onto an object in the room. (I often use my ficus tree; she doesn’t mind.) Start with your back turned to it, and very, very gradually, start turning towards it, as if you are about to look at it directly. All the while, feel your sensations.
If it becomes too intense, pause and feel your sensations. Give yourself permission to stop the practice at any point.
Practices to Try When Something Barely Bearable Emerges
1) Self talk can be helpful. You can tell yourself:
*Special Note: If you are struggling with mental health challenges right now, or struggling every day just to survive or stay grounded, it is probably not the appropriate time to invite hidden kleshas to emerge.
It is wise to wait until your life has stabilized and you have steady, reliable support. I recommend that you consult with your therapist, psychiatrist or spiritual advisor before you engage the intentions and practices I have described.