Some also call this a spiritual journey. In my opinion the spiritual journey is a road to freedom. Regardless of how you see this path through the levels of maturing ego development, it involves an ongoing investigation of our fear and safety-motivated mind games (internal stories, beliefs, assumptions) until we decide to call out their falseness and release the hold, they have on us. Robert Kegan speaks of this as moving that which we have been subject to, to object. By “falseness” I mean we discover that those beliefs and assumptions aren’t true, at this point in our lives, and are not necessary to maintain our safety and/or abate our fears. We are left with what the Buddhists call formless awareness. To put it another way, we no longer identify with the stories our mind makes up to protect us, but rest in this state of quiet presence. This is our newly discovered home, which was always there, but hidden by our stories.
The right approach to freedom and true identity is to not pursue or seek the truth, but investigate the false, until we see its falseness, drop it, to reveal the truth, which was always there. The truth is that, when I am able to rest in quiet awareness, I am inherently loving, grateful, kind and generous. When I am caught up in my defensive self-protective stories, I can’t access those qualities or emotions, emanating from awareness. When I finally let go of my self-protective reactivity, those qualities percolate to the surface from my true being. I don’t find them out there, they find me in here.
Making progress on the road to freedom is not about effort but about alignment. We align our true nature with the current circumstances. There is no separation between who we are and what we experience. We narrow the gap between our perception of what is happening, and what is actually happening. I apologized to a teacher of mine, after I had lost my temper with him. I said, “sorry for over-reacting”. He smiled and calmly replied, “you didn’t over-react, you reacted to something else in your history, locked in memory.”
A few years ago, I realized a developmental step for me was to be less dominant in social situations, whether professional meetings, or social gatherings. I managed my anxiety by making sure I was the centre of attention. In my past this strategy worked and got me noticed and promoted in terms of social and professional status. At some point, when I was with other “big dogs” I was engaged in a needless, energy-sucking competition for attention. My “filling up the space” was knee-jerk and not useful most of the time for the situation at hand.
Hours of inner work later, I realized that I had developed this habitual self-protective belief, which operated as a foot on the brake for my own personal development. To give it words, “if I am not seen as special, I am not seen at all.” After investigating and testing this belief in real situations, I realized it just wasn’t true. It was false. I could add value in a social space, through a couple of quiet questions, without having to quickly resolve it through my verbalized heroic insights. I could stay present with the tension in the room, waiting for others to comment on how the tension needed to be managed. It didn’t have to be me. My role had become holding the tension, not resolving it.
My spiritual journey or road to freedom has enabled me to sit calmly in an interpersonal or group issue, ask a few probing questions, and wait patiently for others to resolve the issue.
When I was enslaved by my mind, I always felt compelled to be “the guy” in the room, which only alienated me from the affection and respect of the group. What was once a helpful survival strategy, as a young guy in my family of origin, had become a habitual reaction and detriment for me. My knee-jerk reactions now added no value to the situation and stunted my developmental growth.
Through mindfulness meditation practice, I am more able, more often, to be the observer of my reactive tendencies in challenging situations, that my ego perceives as a threat. That observer can now dial down the stories of my noisy mind, and return to rest in a still, spacious present. From here, I have real discernment, and can often respond wisely.
In Mastering Leadership, Anderson and Adams talk about our primary tension in our lives is between safety (egoic protection) and purpose (living a bigger life, while adding value to the whole). I see these as meta-motives that are in dynamic tension with each other. When I am able to unshackle from my reactive chains, I free up energy to apply to purpose and creativity and away from safety and fear.
I had a dream of wandering in pain along a beach in the midst of a thunder and lightening storm, with a ball and chain attached to my ankle. At one point I discovered the key in the sand and freed myself from this weight dragging me down. In front of me was one of those air balloons with the basket to sit in. I climbed in and let it soar, to take me above the storm clouds, and into the endless blue sky. In the dream I realized I was the sky and not the storm.