We have a great hunger. I don't mean obvious hunger—hunger for love, food, nourishment, a warm bed, a partner, a creative happy life. All these are valid hungers, and it is hard to be a human being without experiencing them. But, the hunger to which I am referring is not only greater, but also deeper than any of these. It is the hunger for what is real, for what is true—a hunger for the essence of life.
When you think about it, reality is the only feasible foundation for your life; it underpins absolutely everything. Take the hungers above—just a cursory list—you could have any one of them, but if it is not real, then what good is it?
Real or Not?
Then take food and nourishment. The reality of this today is surely without doubt. Only the most credulous of us are ignorant of real, organic, unprocessed, natural foods and their superiority in all ways over junk food, confectionery, candy, and convenience foods. Real nourishment is healthy, tastes good, and strengthens our immune system.
The Inner Experience of Reality
You and I are born into a world that is not of our own making. It is a challenging world, possibly a hostile one, and one where our needs are almost certain to be ignored or sidelined. There may be many individual reasons for this: incompetence, ignorance, insensitivity, selfishness, busy-ness, but one universal reason is that all children have unrealistic expectations. From the cradle to puberty you expect all sorts of incredible things, perfect things, ideals of perfection. And naturally you are disappointed. How could you not be? You are disappointed, and according to your reaction to this disappointment you begin a lengthy and complex process of building defenses, ways to resist the pain of disappointment, the sadness and cruelty of a world that does not respond to what you need.
Your Essence is Spiritual
You are in essence a spiritual being. I know that for some of you this will not be a surprise. But whether it is or not, take it in for a moment. You are a spiritual being in essence. You were born, and you found yourself with this appendage, this gross dependent: a body. You are spirit walking around in a temple that is attached to you, as surely as a crab is joined to its shell. This body defines you and your relationship to the physical, just as your spirit defines and occupies your body. Hence, we say that the eyes are the windows of the soul or we detect physical grace, ease, and flowing movement in the aware or awakened human being.
But before that is possible, we have to grapple with a truth: we have been hindered with a gross duty and responsibility to a body that, far sooner than we think or desire, is in an inevitable process of deterioration that ends in physical death. A human being has every reason to fear, worry, plan, and seek security in such a predicament! One thing is for sure: we are bound to die.
But wait! This physical death is only your own death if you are absolutely sure that you and the physical body are one and the same; that is, if you identify yourself with your physical body. Identifying with the physical body is very close to defining yourself as a separate self, a defended character, a mass of stories, experiences, judgments, and prejudices that comprise your character, what you are like, both hidden and apparent.
Fear of Death/Fear of Life
You may answer, "I am me" (fill in the gaps with experiences, stories, prejudices, thoughts, opinions, and so on) "in a world of others" (things, people, the earth, and so on; fill in the gap with everything that is not me). This may be how it looks, but it is patently untrue! You cannot possibly exist in a world separate from everything else, divided from the others. You are like everyone else—continually in context. Look at any photograph of yourself and what do you see? Other people, trees, a dog, sidewalk, beach, sky, clouds, sunlight, nature, a street. See what I mean? In fact, you do not exist without these things (and arguably they may not exist without you).
Identity, Separation, and Division
Having supporters is a comfort and a consolation, and it tends to be fine until one of two things happen: dissatisfaction or crisis.
Some dissatisfaction or crisis is necessary to propel you into inner work. Something provokes the conviction that this is not enough and you want more! (And this "more" will lead you to reality.) Inner reality demands an archaeological dig to skillfully clear the layers of emotional-behavioral patterns, restrictive life-statements, repressed emotions, and deeply-held protective beliefs that cover your essence. Your essence is intact beneath these many veils and waiting for you. It is as I have written in my book Your Essential Self: you awaken to a most welcome stranger, your true self.
The Gifts of Life
Once you are living from your essence, these and other treasures come to you and you are showered with the gifts of life—attractiveness, confidence, authenticity, genuine heartfelt-ness, compassion, feeling, kindness, soulfulness, charisma, creativity, and purpose.
This journey of self-discovery is enormously challenging, but the curious thing is you get everything you want. When you survey the desires of people today, the way they go about getting what they want seems transparently misguided. It is there within you for the taking!
Connect with Your Essence
So, look inside first and then look outside. Connect with your core, your essential self inside, before you start superficial manipulations, alterations, and interferences that don't actually work in the long run.
When we make discoveries like this in early life they form guiding dictums for our lives. They become inner law. We unconsciously become guided by these formative experiences and seminal beliefs. Thus, Gillian believed she was unlovable simply because her father rejected her.
Unconsciously, for the next almost twenty years, she had followed the implications of this life-statement (that she was unlovable), which brought us to the present and the demise of her latest relationship.
Looking back, she realized that sometimes she had been rejected and at other times she had rejected her partners, since she had absorbed the full experience from both sides of the relationship dynamic between herself and her father. We had to return more than once to this poignant memory of her father taking her off of his knee. But, eventually she understood clearly that she didn't have to live according to the emotional conclusions she had drawn from this early experience.
A Return to Reality Gillian returned to reality—or really arrived in it for the first time. Without this archaeological dig she may never have realized that she harbored a deep belief in her own unlovableness, and her relationships would have failed as a result.
Setting Up an Inner Practice to Discover your Essence
Richard Harvey (Granada, Spain) is a psychotherapist, author, and spiritual teacher with thirty-five years of experience. He is the founder-director of Therapy and Spirituality, a personal and spiritual growth center in the ...