We are not all that we think we are. There is much to us that we don’t know about or that we find so unacceptable that we really don’t want to know about or deal with. It can be pretty scary to face the fact that there are parts of me that I simply don’t know exist. We utilize some amazing maneuvers to keep ourselves safe from disruptive intrusions from unknown parts of the self. Anna Freud, in her classic book, Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense, outlines the variety of defenses we utilize to block, distort, or rid ourselves of unknown parts of ourselves. The important thing to know about our defenses is that they don’t really operate at a conscious level.
We don’t say to ourselves, “I’m going to PROJECT a part of me that I’m afraid of onto my neighbor, and build a fence to keep him at bay so I can avoid that part of myself!”
We don’t say to ourselves, “I’m going to RATIONALIZE how I interpret this situation at work so I don’t have to see some part of myself that I’m unaware of that has just acted out and caused a problem.”
These defenses operate outside of full conscious awareness. They have to. If we were fully aware of our use of defenses they simply wouldn’t work, since we’d be directly confronted with the hidden truths of the parts of ourselves we seek to avoid! And so, it’s important to suspend judgment of our defensive egos. We’ll never get to know who we really are if we hate ourselves for using defenses to avoid scary things! On the other hand, we must take full responsibility for all that we are, even if we don’t know who that is!
If we can successfully suspend judgment—the shame of not knowing, the shame of feeling bad and unacceptable—and instead become archeologists and anthropologists of the soul, fascinated by and curious as we excavate, discover and trace the origins of the self, we arrive at a place of fuller knowing, accepting, and integrating all that we are. The shamans would call this a Practice of Awe: Awe for the Awesomeness of what is.
A pragmatic process to support a practice of awe is meditation. In meditation we learn to be in stillness and calm as we are confronted with the cogitations of mind, emotions, sensations, and truths that come to greet us as we place our awareness on our breath. In meditation we return again and again to simply observing our breath entering and leaving our nostrils. We notice our awareness being taken to thoughts, reflections, feelings and sensations—hundreds, thousands of times. And each time, we simply acknowledge what has come to greet us, without judgment, without further attention or attachment, and gently return our awareness to our breathing, over and over—hundreds, thousands of times—without judgment, in gentle calm.
There is no failure; there is no success in a practice of meditation. There is simply being with and accepting all that is. As we practice we notice more of what we are. We withstand the knowing; we are not wiped out or thrown for a loop by what comes; we let emotions flow through us; we shift back to our breathing.
Judgments are released as we shift constantly to our breathing, as we become observers of ourselves, in command of our awareness, in full acceptance, in awe of the awesome. We become curious travelers into the deeper self, no longer needing to defend an illusory self, because we have discovered instead, all that we are—perhaps for infinity!
In calmness, in awe,
A special note on a special day: Today we honor Jeanne on the 10th anniversary of her departure from this world into the awe of infinity. Sending her love, as she continues her most amazing journey.