On our shoulders, we carry an angel on one side and a devil on the other.Feb 02, 2023
On the devil's side, we beat ourselves up so often that it becomes status quo. It becomes like the air we breathe. We may be well aware of it, plagued by it.
We might be highly self-critical, unable to shake a mistake or let ourselves off the hook. We mull it over in our mind well past the incident.
We may have a lack of boundaries and feel we are unkind for saying no.
We may feel we are not worthy of this, that, or the other.
We are deflated.
These are just a few examples among hundreds of scenarios.
On the angel side, we can do no wrong.
We act in the name of goodness and mercy, contribution and service.
We are good citizens, neighbors, students and spouses.
We accomplish great things, serve our children to the point of martyrdom, and take up causes to improve the world.
We are filled with inner pride.
We see ourselves as accomplished, righteous, or caring.
We are puffed up with our own goodness.
You may be thinking some of these things are good and others bad, but to see that both are states of entrapment is to set oneself free. They are two sides of the same coin. We must understand that there is something of grave importance outside of this duality.
When we are governed by one, the other side simply doesn’t exist.
This means we are convinced hook, line and sinker that it is true. We can even waffle between these opposing states of identification, for example, being totally unworthy to totally entitled. Neither is where we want to be.
Both have everything to do with how we are seen by others, and other external circumstances that inform our outlook and demeanor. There is no one at central command making decisions regardless of these outside circumstances. If you stop to notice, the angel or the devil is in action because of some outside influence. It is usually in regards to things happening around us. We cannot follow our own conscience because it is not available. In fact, our conscience is not developed because of these habits. Identification with one or the other is all that we know, so we flip flop between the two sides. We are either bad or good. We remain in the duality and cannot step outside of that.
We all deal with this to varying degrees and often find ourselves in states of guilt, shame, or justification of our actions and feelings.
The most important spiritual practice we can learn is how to be present in order to observe both sides simultaneously. When there is actual presence, we can see the attachment. We can begin by struggling with these habitual automatic thoughts, not for the purpose of correcting the behavior, but to see more of ourselves through self-study. This will reveal something of its very nature. We can learn to observe false beliefs in a way that frees us of them.
Knowing the story of what we falsely believe won’t cut it.
I have heard many students in our meetings explain to me the why of their beliefs or actions. That explanation is usually the result of analysis of a situation and its cause, i.e. their upbringing, their trauma, their tragedies. They can explain the cause of unskillful behavior, habitual thoughts or feelings, but this does not stop it from happening because those beliefs are conditioned. Conditioned behavior means no one is at the wheel. It happens automatically as a result of having had to cope with said trauma/upbringing etc.
We simply experience the acquired coping mechanism as truth.
I then generally ask did you see this in action within yourself, conscious that it was happening at the time? They usually cannot give me a specific instance where they were right there aware that they were aware and seeing this within themselves. They explain that their understanding came after the fact that this was why they felt or believed what they did.
Unless we see it first hand in action from an objective perspective and are aware that that is happening, then the explanations are either from hindsight or a set story we have come to know. They are the go to story of why we do what we do and hinder our seeing anything objective about ourselves.
Tell me how knowing you have feelings of unworthiness has changed that? We can be in horrific states of self-loathing, so attached that we are suicidal, and we can know how much we hate ourselves, and we cannot see that it is attachment to the idea that we hate ourselves. It feels hopeless and that there is no way out.
Practicing presence allows us to see the angel and the devil for what they really are.
When we believe something is true (even if it is not), we are identified. Buddhists call this attachment. To see the untruth of a false belief at the same time that you believe it is to separate yourself from that state of identification. We stand outside of the duality and hold the yes and the no in front of us.
In a state of presence, it is possible to see that two conflicting beliefs are both real in us. Somewhere within we know we are worthy while simultaneously we believe we are worth nothing. Witnessing this from a state of presence dispels the attachment to both.
All of this requires a skilled practice of being present. We must first practice by observing small habits.
“So long as a man is governed by a particular habit, he does not observe it, but at the very first attempt, however feeble, to struggle against it, he feels it and notices it. Therefore in order to observe and study habits one must try to struggle against them. This opens up a practical method of self-observation.” P.D. Ouspensky
With this in place we can graduate to observing inner states that are in fact also quite habitual (no matter how much we think they are genuine). We must question what is going on inside of us.
If we can see both, we place ourselves outside of the duality and become free.
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