Living Deeply makes the case that one-time transformative experiences and over-time transformative practices both cause and are the result of radical shifts in our perspectives. If those shifts in perspective are integrated into our sense of ourselves, they catalyze and sustain a radically new way of being.
Even the chapter titles in Living Deeply, which explores what facilitates and what inhibits the mechanisms of transformation, suggest a common ground, a common pathway of transformation drawn from many, many diverse traditions and disciplines that, even if we fall back into our old ruts at first, even for long stretches of time, eventually steady into a new consciousness of being and doing that we do not turn back from.
Ch. 1 Seeing with New Eyes [leads to radical shifts]
Ch. 2 Doorways to Transformation [triggers and catalysts]
Ch. 3 Preparing the Soil [setting the stage]
Ch. 4 Paths and Practices [what works]
Ch. 5 Why Practice? [if we want change to last]
Ch. 6 Life as Practice [sustainable change]
Ch. 7 From “I” to “We” [web of inter-connection]
Ch. 8 Everything is Sacred [mundane-sorrowful, too]
Ch. 9 No More Floating Clouds [practical and productive]
Highlights from the research:
Chapter 1 Seeing with New Eyes
The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
– Marcel Proust
The art of living deeply springs from a radical shift in perspective, a transformative shift in awareness, an inner shift in “knowing” that catalyzes long-lasting change. A fuller discovery of who we truly are, independent of social roles and cultural conditioning that shaped our previous sense of self and former ways of relating to others and the world.
Even a subtle shift in awareness potentiates life-altering changes in views and behaviors. One of my personal favorites is the magic of seeing sunlight sparkle on water – the beauty of a world captured in a dew drop on a leaf or the diamond sparkles on a clear and swift flowing stream. And the physics: that flash of sunlight travelled 93 million miles in 8.3 seconds to register on the retina of my personal eye in that instant. That moment of delight and awe blows my mind wide open right into a felt sense of mystery and sacredness. And when I let those moments register over and over in my consciousness, I come to care deeply about clear water and the effect of acid rain on my leaf and my stream, and from a deeper knowing of how connected all of existence is to itself, I’m moved to act on behalf of clean air and clean water, and I do. (We learn ways to catalyze these shifts in chapter 2.)
When we see with new eyes, our relationship to what we see changes. As our self-awareness and view of reality expand, we have to accommodate new information we can’t ignore into our old constructs – which requires a re-organization of these constructs.
Not only do we view an experience differently, we begin to dramatically and permanently view ourselves and the meaning of events in the world, even the nature of reality, differently. It is this profound re-definition of our identity, our core values, our meaning and purpose, a radical broadening of our world view, that is transformative. This shift in world view requires that we focus our attention and our intention differently from now on. It changes how we filter and ascribe meaning to reality from now on.
Transformation really means a change in the way you see the world – and a shift in how you see yourself. It’s not simply a change in your point of view, but rather a whole different perception of what’s possible. It’s the capacity to expand your worldview so that you can appreciate different perspectives, so that you can hold multiple perspectives simultaneously. You’re not just moving around from one point of view to another; you’re really expanding your awareness to encompass more possibilities.
– Frances Vaughan
The power to do this in a sustained way come partly from the power of a noetic experience itself. A deeply felt inner knowing of a direct subjective experience carries an inner authority, an inner truth sense, even if ineffable, when we tap into the innate wisdom of our deeper nature. Whether the shift in values and meaning comes in a sudden quantum leap of an epiphany, or in a gradual incremental clearing of the fog, a cumulative shift in the seemingly mundane, there is a sense of no going back. The path unfolds before us as we walk it. We bow to the layers of living that brought us here, but we move – forward – from here.
Living Deeply makes abundantly clear by chapter 7, the deep innate wisdom of transformative experiences and practices opens our eyes to the reality that we are a part of a larger whole, to the inter-connection of all of existence. We are not separate or alone. We belong, and we are responsible. In living deeply, we invariably become more loving, more kind, more compassionate, more altruistic, even more dedicated to creating a more just, sustainable, peaceful world for us all.
Chapter 2 Doorways to Transformation
…and the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. – Anais Nin
Living Deeply defines consciousness transformation as a profound shift in perspective resulting in long-lasting, life-enhancing changes in the way we experience and relate to ourselves, others, and the world. This chapter explores how to stimulate and sustain these radical shifts in consciousness, in world view.
The authors of Living Deeply readily acknowledge the potential for such shifts to go radically negative. In their very broad view of consciousness even troubling experiences of injustice and misguided malice have the potential to “hit bottom” and come out the other side into positive transformation when broadly framed in the long view, even in the very midst.
[Sidebar: Kim Rosen shared an article at the retreat on “Poetry in Buchenwald” about concentration camp inmates sharing poetry, reciting poems from childhood, being moved to tears hearing poems even in a foreign language, moments of light and hope in the deep despair of the Holocaust.]
Peak experiences can be transformative, but won’t be unless we allow them to register in our consciousness and change our previous perceptions of ourselves and our world. Living Deeply strongly suggest that living deeply isn’t about seeking one 4th of July fireworks kind of experience after another, as though those experiences are the answer to “Who am I?” and “What am I capable of becoming?” Peak experiences, mystical experiences, big dreams, breakthroughs to the numinous or divine still must re-organize our view of ourselves and the world into a new direction deeply aligned with the nature of who we truly are.
That’s why half the respondents in the IONS interviews, focus groups, and surveys reported pain, loss, tragedies as the catalysts of their transformations. (See Stories to Learn from) Tragedy can shatter a lifetimes of coping strategies. Pain can be the portal to having to have a revised view of reality.
Crisis, suffering, loss, the unexpected encounter with the unknown – all of this has the potential to initiate a shift in perspective. A way of seeing the familiar with new eyes, a way of seeing the self in a completely new way. The experience that I have in watching people with cancer is that the more overwhelmed someone is at the beginning, the more profound the transformation that they undergo. There’s a moment when the individual steps away from the former life and the former identity and is completely out of control and completely surrenders, and then is reborn with a larger, expanded identity.
– Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.
Every happiness is the child of a separation it did not think it could survive.
– Ranier Maria Rilke
There are many tools of transformation on a “middle path” as well – dream work, breath work, music, poetry, art, dance, gardening and its rich metaphors of growth, nature, wilderness and the quiet time there to drop into the mystery of being, loving our children, loving our partners, loving ourselves, meditation, yoga.
Whether the path to transformation is peak or pain or plain, whether breakdown or breakthrough, the process does require developing the capacity to observe and reflect on what’s happening. Mindfulness – the consciousness that is the sky that the birds move through – is an essential doorway to transformation because, whether the object of our mindfulness is a peak experience or a painful one or a plain one, it’s what new experiences, new views of self and reality that the paying attention leads us to that is important. Mindfulness allows us to recognize the deeper meaning inherent in the sunlight on the water, in a baby grabbing our finger, in a smooth golf swing, in a chance meeting of the eyes of a stranger in the grocery store.
Transformative experiences and paying attention to them primes our mind/psyche to perceive more of them. (By the time we get to the steady adeptness of chapter 8, there’s nothing that’s not potentially an agent of transformation.)
On the one hand we come to have more trust in noetic intelligence – intuition, insight, revelation at the cellular level, in the mystical experiences of awe and wonder, of divine grace and numinosity, that carry us into realms of consciousness far beyond what we believed was possible. We experience moments that transcend an ordinary sense of limitation, requiring us to broaden our framework. Our vision of being opens up, horizons become limitless. We experience as the deepest truth communion, harmony and sacred inter-connection of life.
And, the authors of Living Deeply acknowledge, transformation is not all a walk in the park either. The caterpillar liquefies in the process of metamorphosing into a butterfly.
In Impossible Darkness
Do you know how
Do you remember
inside a cocoon?
There in the thick black
of your self-spun womb
void as the moon before waxing,…
in impossible darkness
– Kim Rosen
Transforming our consciousness can be a death-re-birth of identity.
So long as you have not experienced this:
To die and so to grow
You are only a troubled guest
On the dark earth.
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
That’s why there’s an essential role for teachers, guides, community on the journey – experienced True Others who can reflect back to us our emerging True Self.
The question is, what do you do with the epiphany? The teaching that I have received is that all great moments of insight, all great epiphanies are ephemeral, and fade very, very quickly. It’s like a wonderful moment of intense love. You are filled completely with affection for another human being and then get irritated by the way they burp after dinner. It’s still the same person, the relationship is there, so what has happened?
The technique of the spiritual life is to cultivate what we call the reshimu – the subtle imprint that is left after the great opening. There is an opening in which we see all, the doors of perception are cleansed, then it’s over. How does one retain the imprints of a moment of overwhelming love for another human being? What is there the next morning? Something is there. That is the essence of the work. The experiences themselves are almost meaningless. Or even dangerous – as when they become commodities, and the spiritual life becomes a quest for the next experience.
– Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Man
Any of these doorways lead to experiences that radically shift our awareness, but even sudden shifts in awareness can take a lifetime to grow into We need to shed old habits, re-calibrate deeply worn grooves, even re-condition our neurochemistry. Our body/minds need to catch up with our expanded worldviews and re-shuffled priorities as new experiences are integrated as the ongoing principles of a new way of being/living.
Chapter 3 Prepare the Soil
The gardening metaphor is so useful in exploring how we create conditions for transformation – we prepare the soil, we plant seeds and water them, we fertilize, we pull weeds. It’s all right there, isn’t it? And we can’t make the plants grow. Transformation happens when we prepare the conditions to evoke and receive it, and that’s what we can do.
We show up, we engage life with curiosity and inquiry, with creativity and imagination, with the deep listening of introspection, to allow transformation to occur and to recognize it when it does. We prime our brains to see new possibilities, new connections.
Then we still need to “cultivate the subtle imprint left after the great opening” rather than closing back down and falling asleep again, as though nothing happened. The conscious choices we make after a transformative experience are what nurture it into lasting change.
The first thing we can do is mindfully monitor whether we allow new experiences, new information, new views, to change our fundamental organizing principles, our core values, or not. Living Deeply describes the difference between Jean Piaget’s assimilation – incorporating new experiences into an ongoing belief system – and accommodation – new experiences changing the existing cognitive structure. They offer the delightfully simple example of a young child seeing a zebra and assimilating that new animal into the category of horse until there’s enough cognitive dissonance that the mind has to create a new category to accommodate zebra.
Some transformative experiences require us to stretch our current belief systems far beyond accommodating the new reality of zebras. When we can’t assimilate something new into our ongoing belief structures, we may be forced to accommodate a new way of thinking that can then include the new reality. “Bad things happen to good people” is a classic example. But if we can’t accommodate, if we can’t bend of flex that much, we will rigidly force the new to fit the old, greatly resisting and restricting any possibility of change, or the new information will trigger distress and trauma rather than transformation.
Mindfulness is again essential. Teachers, scholars, practitioners in all traditions agree some capacity is required to step back, self-reflect, meta-reflect, and realize that old beliefs are in fact outdated and must be updated. Mindfulness creates the deep listening, the spacious consciousness, that can recognize a new reality must be accommodated so we don’t become blindly rejecting of the new. (Compassion and equanimity practice are essential here, too, so we don’t shut down or run away from the challenges of our new, clear seeing.) And the “don’t know” mind, the Zen “beginner’s mind”, allows us to tolerate uncertainty; it “lubricates” the transformative process rather than our returning to old habits automatically.
When we prepare the ground of transformation with curiosity, inquiry, creativity, deep listening, and when we’ re open to accommodating rather than rejecting new “truth”, the wisdom of our noetic inner knowing seems to arise naturally. We didn’t make it happen; we allowed it to happen. And we recognize that something significant has happened. Then some quiet time of inward focus allows us to integrate the subtle imprint into long-term, sustainable growth and change.
Chapter 4 Paths and Practices
We need to know how to sustain change beyond the moment of awakening; what resources and tools help us stay balanced while creating our own individual path to transformation and wholeness and channeling new awareness into compassionate service to our fellow human beings and the planet. (See Resources for Living Deeply DVD of transformative practices taught by master teachers interviewed for the book.)
Whether transformative practices were traditional or alternative, formal or informal, guided or teacherless, Living Deeply found that fully 2/3 of their research subjects relied on some form of meditation or prayer to steady the new ways of seeing and knowing into new ways of being. Which makes intuitive sense – that an intentional focus of attention would “gel” and reinforce insights gained through the “gardening” of a transformative experience.
Living Deeply did find four other elements essential to consolidating transformative experiences into transformative practices.
* intention – to become a conscious collaborator in our own evolution (and to further see our own individual growth as part of a larger collective evolution of consciousness itself.)
* attention – we apply our mindfulness – our witness awareness – to what is now possible that wasn’t possible before. Mindfulness allows us to become aware of self-limited habits, to see any old patterns of perception as patterns; to break the automaticity of reflexively reacting to life events from those patterns; we can easily see there is more than one pattern possible, and choose to re-focus our attention on the “new” way of thinking.
* repetition – repeated focus, repeated practice, of course re-wires the neural circuitry in the brain and allows us to reinforce the new habits of being.
* guidance – having access to the wisdom and support of teachers, of community, helps us mindfully monitor and modify what we’re doing, and accelerates the learning of what works.
With intention, attention, repetition and guidance, even challenges and difficulties become opportunities for healing, even adventure.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest-house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness come
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you
out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Chapter 5 Why Practice?
We practice to:
* reinforce the insights we’ve gained in our transformative experiences. We being to see more clearly the truth of our situation; we become aware of our limits and our strengths, we begin to see more clearly the causes of problems and how to remove blocks to change and growth.
* re-balance the needs of the ongoing personal (ego) self with the expanded authentic (soul) self. We still function in the day to day, and we inform that functioning with the intelligence of all aspects of our feeling, thinking, intuiting, creative wise self. We can recognize and even transcend limitations of even the most skillful and mature ego function. Any limits from our previous conditioning not in alignment with our true nature we review and re-invent.
* remove blocks to embodying and expressing our authentic self, anything not in alignment with our deeper nature. (Removing the soot and grit from the lantern so the radiance of the inner light can shine through.)
* live increasingly in the moment, experiencing the consciousness that is always present, the ease and well-being of who we truly are that is always available.
* surrender to the mystery. We have worked hard to create the conditions that foster options and possibilities; now we drop into the deep listening to the deeper current of life’s wisdom to make our decisions, to answer the deeper calling of how we are meant to live more fully, more deeply.
A true process of transformation sheds layers of previous perceptual filters to reveal the true nature of our being-ness underneath all the layers of or society’s and culture’s conditioning and our personal identity. We move from limited self to whole self and apparent self to true self. This process of revelation can carry a spiritual or mystical flavor, and spiritual traditions can provide a great deal of guidance for its development and integration. What’s important for living deeply is the “felt sense” of the inner knowing, of coming into alignment with our true nature so that anything incongruent with that deep truth sense falls away.
Chapter 6 Life as Practice, Practice as Life
Transformative practices are not meant to remain compartmentalized in the meditation hall or in an art studio or on the trail to Yosemite Falls. The benefits of transformative practice are meant to move our new found states of mind to steady traits of being, to seamlessly infuse our life, our way of life, our way of living.
Community provides an invaluable service as both sanctuary and crucible in this process of grounding our transformations into significant long-term change. Community provides a mirror for how we’re doing in the present moment and scaffolding for evolving into unfolding moments. Community fosters the essential movement from “me” to “I” to “we” so that the web of inter-connections becomes the natural ground of our being.
Chapter 7 From “I” to “We”
Transformative practices reliably carry our awareness of experience beyond our experience of personal self to experiencing ourselves as part of a larger whole.
“We are all connected to everyone and everything in the universe. Therefore, everything one does as an individual affects the whole. All thoughts, words, images, prayers, blessings, and deeds are listened to by all that is.”
– Serge Kahlil King
Western psychology does help us heal from any traumas and tragedies of our growing up into a healthy solid sense of personal self, appreciating the unique flavor of that self among six billion other selves. Transformative practices move us beyond the limitations of that egoic self to a profound sense of “we”. Our consciousness sees the reality of connection rather than the appearance of separation, boundaries become more transparent. Our authentic self feels comfortable, safe, open in that “we-ness” and from there, can comfortably dissolve into a sense of Oneness – that we are an integral part of all of existence.
A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.
– Albert Einstein
As our consciousness shifts from personal to collective or dynamic systems consciousness to transpersonal consciousness, the sense of belonging and connection fosters more a altruistic perspective of self and other. The empathic, compassionate “we-ness” is the basis of a full-on, sometimes tender, sometimes fierce action on behalf of our expanded tribe, our kin, our fellow human beings and forests, oceans, microbes, the rocks and minerals of our planetary family and home.
Daily mind/body practices, a supportive community, and the wellspring of shared consciousness gives us the inner stability we need to regulate the distress that can accompany our increased awareness, so that we are not overwhelmed and immobilized by the suffering we choose to address head on.
And inclusion within the “we” is an embracing of diversity of views, of truths, or social norms, of transformational practices, anchoring in common ground, celebrating the “more than one hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground” of Rumi.
Chapter 8 Everything is Sacred
Our occasional glimpses into the numinous, the mystery, eventually become an awe-filled humbling realization of the underlying sacredness of everything, including ourselves. The nature of reality is not so much changed as revealed – that everything is inter-connected and that everything is filled with the presence of the divine. Hence the traditional Hindu greeting of Namaste – the divine within me honors the divine within you.
This consciousness brings us into more intimate connection with every detail of life, and can change every detail of our lives, as everything in our awareness is found worthy of reverence and a deep unconditional love. Our practice brings us into direct contact with the sacred and this inter-connected sacredness becomes a cornerstone of practice and a way of being. That includes conscious responses to senseless loss, deep despondence, bitter despair. There is a broadened vision large enough to hold the anguished complexities of the unknowns and unwanteds of life. Our heart breaks open and the world rushes in as we awaken to and deepen into the wonder, awe and mystery of knowing, deeply, who we are as an integral part of the universe expressing itself.
This reverence for the sanctity of life becomes the moral imperative for all social-political action. Out of our love for life we are called to act for environmental sustainability, the end of poverty, racism, militarism, oppression.
Even if I was certain the earth would end tomorrow, I would plant a tree today.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
When our mind is open, our attention trained, our perception clear and broad, our intention pure and strong, we can follow the openings to transformation that happen every day. There is abundant meaning in every moment of everyday life. Every second, every breath has purpose and possibility.
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
Or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
– Mary Oliver
Chapter 9 No More Floating Clouds
The Navajos have a wonderful term for a great realization or insight that is not sustained: they call it a floating cloud. It’s just there. It’s beautiful in its shape and we describe it and we talk about it – and then it dissipates because it hasn’t been mobilized or grounded or sustained. We’re generating lots of floating clouds. We need to ground our ideas so that they can change the world. Nothing changes unless it’s grounded and it’s manifested.
– Angeles Arrien
Transformative practices do provide expansion and upliftment. They radically shift our world view, our values, our priorities. They also need to provide practical expressions of our new wise intentions, so we don’t forget and fall asleep again (even less than a month into the new year.)
Living Deeply authors elegantly review their “map: of transformation in Chapter 9. (Please do read this book!) What I’ll highlight there is:
*Having a conceptual framework such as they’ve presented in Living Deeply does help us stay open to knowing that long-lasting shifts in our behaviors and our being are possible.
*The more we express our new values in everyday life, the more they are synergistically reinforced in the neural circuitry of our brains, allowing us to stay open to even newer changes down the road.
*The wise effort to transform our own consciousness is what will transform the consciousness of the world, whether we are manifesting that consciousness in spiritual practice, in business, in the military, in the PTA.
* Being the change we seek will bring world consciousness to a tipping point where collective world views can shift in a moment.
The world we are experiencing today is the result of our collective consciousness, and if we want a new world, each of us must start taking responsibility for helping create it.
– Rosemary Fillmore Rhea