Many people come to a space in their inner work where their minds have become regularly quiet. Some have mental quiet almost all the time except when they need to think about something, and some people always were relatively mentally quiet. But is the spiritual journey done?
Mental quiet has nothing to do with the deeply held beliefs someone has. In fact, sometimes, this can be a kind of false quiet of an uncultivated mind. A mind that has never been trained to think intellectually about oneself and one’s motivations needs work to be done on that level. True spiritual emptiness in the mind is not empty-headedness, e.g. stupidity, ignorance, or lack of intellectual development.
With that said, many of you have developed minds and have also learned to quiet them. This is wonderful work. Now, let’s go deeper. Let’s go towards the unconscious associations and feelings that are still at work. There are many subconscious decisions that get made about how people feel and want to act, and they need to be illuminated so that deeper attachments can be released. It’s all part of a continuing journey towards deeper spiritual freedom.
Many people get started on their spiritual paths because of a spiritual awakening or some kind of spiritual shift (There are many kinds of spiritual shifts, btw; we just don’t have many phrases in the English language for them at this time). It can seem really radical at the time, but eventually, initial shifts settle. Few people really embrace an awakening and let it burn them clean of ego. In general, few awakenings go so far in releasing ego and all of a person’s attachments. Most people seem to level off at some point, and they usually stop where someone is deeply blocked but not yet motivated enough to forge through the discomfort of releasing that block.
If embraced, awakening seems to bring people to a kind of flow that continues the dissolving of attachments in a much easier, but no less powerful way. This awakened rhythm is like being in a river that is no longer dammed. Because it is flowing freely, it can be quite strong and fast, but without as much resistance to that flow, it may not seem as powerful as the initial break-thru.
As people rest in this rhythmic Divine flow, it becomes clearer and clearer how many other attachments they still have. The awakened awareness shines more and more light onto the many kinds of inner forces still at work defining and restricting a person’s freedom. However, in this flow, it becomes natural to move towards greater discovery of those forces so that they can be brought to light and released.
Unconscious Associations Tell You What to Feel
A lot of people trust their feelings implicitly without really knowing where they come from. A person may say, “This is just how I feel.” But why? On this path of self-discovery, we learn to question a lot of things including feelings.
Here’s an example of unconscious associations and feelings at work:
I was on a walk through a park and happened to look up at the mountains. Clouds were rolling down the shoulders of the mountains making them look misty in the distance. I suddenly felt very happy and warm. But where did this feeling come from? I hadn’t thought anything. I just was observing some mountains and clouds.
The unconscious associations at work have to do with a number of positive experiences with fog coming over the hills in an area I once lived in. Often that fog would come during the summer to move out a lot of hot air and cool things down, so I had “good” experiences with the fog in that way. That created an emotional impression in me, and so when I saw something that reminded me of the prior experience, my brain associated the present event with the past event and then told me to feel good.
You see how that works? It had nothing to do with the present moment. It had nothing to do with overt thinking, and yet here was this experience being given to me by a more unconscious level of ego.
And this level of unconscious associating happens all the time. The big difference for most people is that they don’t question it, nor do they realize that they can change how they feel and not simply accept the feeling they’re unconsciously told to have.
Repetitive Associations Help Reveal Themselves
Fortunately, ego beliefs–no matter how unconscious they are–tend to be extremely repetitive. So, for example, the way I feel about hills and fog will likely be “remembered” repeatedly with other mountains and fog situations, and that repetition helps us to determine what is a spontaneous experience in the present moment rather than a past moment being imposed on the present. It should be clear that all unconscious associations are coming from the past. They’re simply the unconscious ego associating a past experience with a present moment, and the person is made to feel the way they felt in the past. Most people are constantly reliving the past in the present moment, and this can make life stale and stagnant, depending on a person’s past.
Thus, one useful tool in finding these associations is to look for patterns. If you have similar “feelings” as well as physical responses to similar types of people or situations, that’s very likely to be an unconscious association or ego belief at work. Take a moment to breathe and slow down to pay attention even more once you notice this repetition. You may want to write down your experiences to help focus on the feeling and get more clues about what past experience or experiences are influencing your experience of this current moment.
Confusing Intuition with Feelings
Because of how familiar with these unconscious associations people are, they can often be confused with intuitions. A person can see someone and have a “bad feeling” about them, but they never question why. They just assume the feeling is right, and many people think this feeling is their intuition telling them something important. Then people take action off this false intuition, and those actions have repercussions in their lives. It cuts them off from opportunities and creates problems in all kinds of ways that are invisible until someone understands themselves and how they create many of their problems.
Along with repetition, connecting to the person or situation more when there is some kind of feeling (good or bad) is a way to discover more of what is or is not going on. Leaning in to the feeling and doing your best to stay open are ways to explore and test the validity of the feeling. By leaning in, I just mean going towards the experience/person/situation to which the feeling is responding. In this way, you can evaluate the truth of the feeling. At the same time, it’s important to practice withholding judgment. Otherwise, the ego will look for ways to prove that it is correct, so instead of letting the ego color your thoughts about the situation, see if you can engage with the situation with as few preconceptions or expectations as possible. Then see what happens.
One thing about true intuition is that it has no feelings to it. Pure intuition is neutral. It also arises spontaneously in the moment, and when someone tests it and is truly open to seeing a situation for what it is, the intuition is usually proven correct. The unconscious feeling is very often wrong. But even if it is “right,” any past association is out of phase with the present moment. We don’t need our past experiences to color our present moment perceptions. Those associations block us from seeing reality.
In the above example of someone having a “bad feeling” about someone, perhaps the person investigates, but finds this person to be a total joy to be around and a kind soul. Their “bad feeling” gets illuminated to be completely incorrect. It was just a past association from forgotten experiences that was being projected onto the other person. This kind of realization can be extremely humbling, and it should also encourage a person to go further in investigating their unconscious associations so that they don’t make further errors in judgment and in how they act.
Finding Greater Freedom from Unconsciousness
True freedom allows us to choose many of our feelings, and usually on the path to freedom, we come back to neutrality for longer and longer times. Being neutral can be a rather surprising space for people. It isn’t apathetic, dismal, or numb. It is pure openness that allows us to move through any emotion or feeling without attaching to them. For those who are used to being lost in their emotions, this quiet inner island may feel like they’ve lost something. Many people are quite addicted to their feelings, and many will dive back into those roiling emotional seas from fear of losing that addiction. But nothing is lost on the spiritual path except attachments. What we find is greater and greater space to be ourselves.
Each attachment that a person releases only gives them more freedom. The more of the unconscious attachments remain in place, the more people are constricted and controlled in how they feel and act. Truly, there is a lot going on inside a human being. It’s great when a spiritual awakening gets the ball rolling on doing inner work, but even after awakening, there are no guarantees about how many attachments will be released. There’s also no need to wait for a spiritual awakening to come. Just get started going within wherever you are in your spiritual journey. You will thank yourself.