YOU ARE NOT BROKEN
(how to connect with truth of who you are)
A TALK BY YOGACHARYA ERIC WALRABENSTEIN
click to play. scroll to read.
RUN TIME 27.53
"Let come what comes, let go what goes and see what remains."
Welcome to this perfect moment, a podcast dedicated to helping you use ancient wisdom to unlock your life of radical happiness, connection and meaning right here, right now. I'm your host Eric Walrabenstein, and I'm glad you're here.
I used to think that I was broken. Somehow, somewhere along the line I had come to believe that I didn't measure up. I struggled with traumatic stress that seeped into every corner of my life and for a long time I felt like I was an outsider peering through the window at everyone else's successful life.
And they told me this was okay. They told me that everyone was broken in some way. They told me that in our brokenness we could actually become stronger if we used it.
Limiting beliefs like the ones that chide you'll never make it, or the ones that say you're not good enough, or the ones that try to convince you that you don't matter. "These could all be rewritten and leave us stronger," they said.
The deep wounds and traumas from the past, from things like abuse or neglect or worse, "these could be healed and make us more resilient," they said.
And even the damage from the ever-increasing pressures and stresses and overwhelm of daily life could be neutralized and actually leave us better off, they said.
And a part of me found hope and solace in this, but I'll also admit to feeling overwhelmed and to some degree, doubtful. Healing in this way sounded like a lot of work, a monumental and crushing amount of work. And it left me wondering if I could do it, if I'd ever really be free.
And that all changed when I was told perhaps the most important thing of all. You see it was true, there was indeed brokenness and on a number of fronts, but what they had never told me, and what I finally learned was that the thing that was broken, well, it wasn't me at all.
Here's the truth. No one is broken, not a one of us. And that's even true of those who clearly appear to be the most broken of all. The quote I shared at the beginning of the episode contains a hint to why this is true. "Let come what comes, let go what goes and see what remains." See what remains.
These are the words of Ramana Maharshi, and this was one of his prime instructions to help his students stumble upon the reality of who they were beyond the brokenness.
Here's what I mean. Imagine yourself sitting on a beautiful white sand beach. You're relaxing under an umbrella, gazing over the glassy-still seascape, and way out in the distance, right where the sky meets the horizon, a gleaming white cruise ship begins to peak up from where the sky meets the sea. You watch the ship as it fully appears and then steams along from left to right, and then after 20 minutes or so, the cruise ship begins to slowly dip behind the horizon until it is once again out of sight.
Now, here's the question, and I'll warn you, it's a little strange, but stick with me because it illustrates a crucial point.
First, I'm going to ask you to forget everything you've ever known or have come to believe about who you are. Forget your name, forget your age, forget your gender, your history, forget even that you're a human with a body. And in this thick cloud of forgetting, where you have suspended all knowledge of who or what you are completely, answer this question: of all of the things in the universe that you could possibly be, how do you know, sitting there on that beach, definitively that you are not the cruise ship?
Now be careful-don't lose that cloud of forgetting because if you say, "Well, it's obvious that I'm not a cruise ship," then I'd ask "in what way is it obvious? What is your evidence?"
And if you say "it's preposterous that I could be a cruise ship", then I'd argue you're leaning on some knowledge or beliefs that you haven't quite fully suspended.
So again, forget everything you've come to know or believe about who or what you are. And from there, from that place of unknowing, how do you know you're not the cruise ship?
I'll give you just a moment to contemplate before sharing the answer.
So, here it is. The reason you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are not that cruise ship, even without any prior knowledge, memory, or belief about what you might possibly be, the reason you know you're not that is this:
You were there before the cruise ship arose.
You were there while the cruise ship was there.
And you were there after the cruise ship was gone.
Translation: if you were there and the cruise ship was not, then the cruise ship cannot be you.
To paraphrase another of Ramana Maharshi's teachings, "If it comes and goes, it's not you."
So, who cares? And why is this important? Well, it's because this exercise is not really about helping you to see that you're not a cruise ship and I'm hoping you're already well aware of that. Rather it's to see clearly that if anything comes and goes, it's not you. It simply can't be.
It might help to remind ourselves that our experience is made up only of six things: things seen, things heard, things felt, things smelled, things tasted, and things thought.
Now I'm fully aware that in our day to day lives, it doesn't necessarily seem like things are that simple with all the dramas and challenges and wonder and excitement of life, but when we look closely and honestly, we'll see that everything, everything you've ever experienced is some sort of an amalgam or construct created only from these six things. Emotions are things felt. Beliefs are things thought. Preferences are thought and felt. Your identity is composed of thoughts and even your so-called intuition is simply something that is felt.
The truth is there is nothing, and I offer this for your consideration, not your belief, that you ever experienced outside of these six categories--and all of these things come and go.
We've all had moments of an experience where nothing is seen. We've all had moments of an experience of nothing being heard. And we've all had moments of an experience of nothing being felt or tasted or smelled. And while they may be fleeting moments, sometimes maybe only like the blink of an eye, we've also had brief moments of nothing being thought.
Now I invite you to contemplate this deeply because it's important, because if you are aware of something's absence, it means it cannot be you and because you have been aware at one time or another of the absence of all of these things, none of them can be you.
And this is proof that you are not the body which is felt and seen, and you're not the mind which is thought and felt, and you are not the story you've come to tell yourself you are.
You are something else, but what?
The fact is there is a part of you that is always already free of any brokenness. It's always already free of any drama, of any pain, of any stress. In fact, it's always already free from everything.
Some traditions would call this thing your spirit or your soul, though I prefer to call it your awareness. That is to say the most essential part of you, the entity that is aware.
Now before you go off running around looking for it or asking if this is such an essential part of me, how come I can't see it? I'll ask you to simply pause and look. Right now, are you aware of the sound of my voice? And right now, are you aware of thoughts in your mind? And right now, are you aware of sensations in your body?
The truth is right now you are aware and always have been, so there's no need to be looking for it. In fact, the more that we look for it, the more elusive it can seem. It's a little bit like looking around the room for your eyeballs. In the words of another great master, Saint Francis of Assisi, "What you are seeking is what is seeking."
Now I said that the awareness is an entity and that's probably not the best descriptor. Your awareness is more like an aware space. If you look down at your hand, you'll see right now that your hand is inside your awareness. It's in your awareness. In the same way that my voice is in your awareness.
So, this awareness is the space for the experience of this body. And years ago, it was the space for the experience of a different body. If I go back half a century or so, in my awareness was a cute little blonde boy. A blonde boy that I, at the time, called me.
But here's the scientific fact, not one single cell molecule or atom from that boy is here in this body today. All of his thoughts are different, his beliefs are different, his emotions are different. Nothing here is left of him and yet I continue to tell myself that that was me and this here today is me when they are completely different entities. It defies logic really, but it's something that we all do.
But if we slow down enough to really get clear, we'll see that the only thing that remains, the only commonality in the experience of that little boy and the experience of this body mind now is my awareness, my sense of I that witnesses, but is not the little boy or the grizzled old one speaking to you now.
Again, to Ramana Maharshi's words: "Let come what comes... (thoughts, feelings, images, sounds, smells, tastes), let go what goes (thoughts, feelings, images, sounds, smells, tastes) and see what remains."
When we look we will see that what remains is awareness, the witness, the watcher, the real you.
It's all lie after lie after lie.
You were not anxious because anxiousness comes and goes. You are aware of the feelings you have come to call anxiety. Similarly, you are not worried because worry comes and goes. You are simply aware of the thoughts and feelings you have learned to call worry. And you are not traumatic memories as memories, too, come and go. Rather you are simply aware of the arising of the memories as you are aware of their passing.
You are aware. You are awareness.
Now this thing that you are, this thing we're calling awareness, is really quite remarkable. As I said, it's less of a thing or an entity and more of a space, an aware space. It has no shape but it is ready to contain any shape. It has no color for it is pure readiness to reflect any color. And it has no sound for it is the clear open space that is ready to allow any sound.
We might think of awareness, we might think of ourselves as a kind of blank canvas-or maybe better- a movie screen. A screen where the movie of your life is projected. And like a movie screen, it can never be permanently damaged or broken by what is projected upon it.
While it may be true the screen can reflect images of blood and bedlam of the latest horror movie, but then in the next showing it is also perfectly free from those images and ready to reflect When Harry Met Sally or some other romantic comedy and so it goes with you-with awareness.
You are the space in which your life arises and within that space can arise the greatest of dramas, but once the drama has passed, your awareness-ness is free and ready for laughter and joy.
Never are you, never is awareness, stained or broken by anything that arises within it.
I mean think of the worst pain you had in your life. For me, it was a wrestling match with a nasty kidney stone. Brutal, agonizing pain that had me writhing and quite literally banging my head against the side of the hospital gurney.
At the time the pain was all consuming. My whole being seemed to be filled by, no, it seemed to be nothing but pain. And now? Gone. No evidence of it whatsoever. Just a little story in my mind that exists to remind me to drink more water.
You see, this is what we miss. We are already free. Right here, right now. And this single realization is the thing that can change everything for us.
Now, none of this is to suggest that the brokenness doesn't matter or that it doesn't exist or that it doesn't have an effect because it does. The thoughts and memories, the emotions and reactions, they are real. They do matter and too, they can be healed and transformed, but no matter what state of healing or transformation they may exist in, we need to be clear--they are not you.
This may seem like a small distinction or even a game of semantics. What difference does it make if I believe myself to be my thoughts? Or if I believe myself to be my emotions, my worries or my anxieties? I mean whether I believe myself to be them or I don't, I'm still experiencing them, so what does it matter, really?
Well, it's a fair point, but this is what is also true. I know in my experience, this seemingly small distinction has changed everything and to be clear, when I say distinction, I'm not suggesting a mere mental shift, but rather an experiential one. A shift that is created by a curious investigation into this thing we call "I" this thing we call "awareness".
Because the truth is when I was able to see that I was simultaneously experiencing emotion and at the very same time, free of that emotion. It let me move from the experience of I am anxious to the experience of I am aware of the sensations of anxiety; from I am stressed to I am aware of the sensations of stress and from I am impatient to hey look, the sensations of impatience are paying a visit. It was a kind of objectivity that gave me room to breathe, room to maneuver, room to heal the brokenness that I never was.
So, it's here that the invitation becomes to let come what comes, like the afternoon thunderclouds rolling in over the horizon and let go what goes, like the big old burnt orange sun dipping below the evening's horizon and see what remains: the spacious sky-like awareness, your pure capacity for the beauty and the wonder of life.
Well that's all the time we have for today and as always, I so appreciate you for listening. Keep your comments and questions coming by dropping me a note from my website at ericwall.com.
Also, do me a favor and help me spread the word about the life changing power of these ancient teachings by sharing the podcast with anyone who is sincerely interested in living happier. And don't forget to hit subscribe so you don't miss out on future episodes.
Thanks again and remember, I'm grateful for you. So, if there's anything I can do, please don't hesitate to get in touch.
I'm wishing you a fabulous week and I'll see you next time.
And in my little 25 year old brain it seemed to make sense. And for me at the time, my spiritual development education, evolution, whatever you want to call it, was the most important thing for me, so I dove into my studies at Zen Center.
I dove into my yoga practices. I was taking a yoga teacher training program and a whole bunch of other things as well.
I even shared this teaching with some friends of mine who were not really in the orbit of Zen Center. One of which was David. Some of you may know him. Probably nobody knows him, but you never know. And he was involved with building this business so he could take care of his family.
And another friend of mine, Jane, was involved with a nonprofit and she was trying to help the homeless.
And so the most important thing, we had three different flavors of it. This spiritual path and this business path and this nonprofit societal benefit path. Altruistic path, that's the word I was looking for.
We all embraced this and dove into our respective most important things with reckless abandon.
Now, while there was some incremental benefit to be had, it certainly didn't measure up to the promises that were shared with me by my teacher. And it wasn't until a number of years later that I realized why I wasn't getting the results that I was promised. Dammit.
And also, maybe more importantly, what was meant by Suzuki Roshi when he would offer this suggestion.
For me, it boiled down to the fact that I, and my friends, were confusing the means with the end.
And the fact of the matter was that I was not interested in my spiritual evolution; and David was not interested in building a business; and Jane was not interested in helping homeless people. Even though from outward appearances it seemed like that was absolutely the truth.
The truth was that we all wanted the same thing--and it's the same thing that all of you want. And in fact everybody on the planet, no matter what we're chasing.
There are several different words we could use for that, but I'm going to use the word relief.
Relief from inner turmoil.
And that inner turmoil, interestingly enough, comes in lots of different flavors.
It could be the inner turmoil of loneliness.
It could be the inner turmoil of anxiety.
It could be the inner turmoil of craving.
It could be the inner turmoil of feeling not really good enough.
And I could go on and on and on.
This seems to be the core of the human quest and we've somehow become confused.
Again the means, whether it's a spiritual path, or making money, or distracting ourselves with fun things, or have a relationship, or saving the homeless people, or a pod of save whales or whatever you'd like to save. Not recognizing that the real payoff in all of those things is that this nagging, uncomfortable, miserable feeling goes away.
And I invite you all not to believe a word of this but to look to your own life and you'll see that you go on all sorts of quests, it could be a quest for a cup of coffee, a quest to a vacation, a quest to a perfect relationship, quest for the new job, quest for the corner office, and you'll notice that when you get what you want there is a momentary sense of relief.
That relief is the most important thing.
And understanding this--that that's what we are after--is the most important thing. Because otherwise, you may have been party to one of these, we tend to go on wild goose chases. Chasing belongings or chasing careers or chasing relationships. And there's nothing against any of those and all of those are part and parcel of a rich life and so I'm not suggesting that anyone cease and desist.
But wouldn't it be nice if we could find the relief that we crave all along the way?
You can still go to a vacation. You can still get the new car. You can still have the nice relationship. But without the sense of lack or desperation or anxiety if it's ever going to happen for me.
This was a big ah-ha for me. And maybe even bigger was when I realized what the obstacle was between me and that relief.
Because I mean for me, if it was a sense of anxiety or a sense of worry, or a feeling of anger or a feeling of lack that I was trying to get rid of through all of these machinations in the external world. It seems to reason, that if I wanted to get rid of those feelings, it might make sense to understand where they're coming from.
And for a long time, I believed that my impatience was coming from the blue-haired old lady in the front of the line of Starbucks writing a check. And my irritation came from the pimply face behind the counter at Circle K who has no manners. And my anxiety came from the fact that my bank account was getting smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller.
But none of that is really true.
Because this is something that the ancient yoga and meditation masters realized long, long ago.
In every moment of your life, your brain is taking the raw materials of your circumstances and using those raw materials, the things that you see, the things that you hear, the things that you smell, and manufacturing thoughts and feelings.
And that manufacturing process is either your greatest asset or your greatest enemy.
And again, this is one of these moments where I'll ask you to reference your own experience; there's probably no one in this room who hasn't been on a beautiful beach, on a beautiful vacation, surrounded by people who love you, and who you love--miserable.
And again, we have to ask why.
Because if it's really coming from out there, then that doesn't add up. Why sometimes does one thing make me feel good and at other times the same thing, not so good?
It's because of this manufacturing process.
The thing that, and I don't know why, but nobody seems to be talking about, there's a colossal difference between your life circumstance and your life experience.
Your life circumstance is the thing that's observable, the thing that everybody can see, that you can see. The stuff you can put your hands on. The bank account balance. The health status. The car you drive. The house that you live in. The relationships you have. That's your life circumstance.
Your life experience is how you feel in the midst of all those things. And that's the only thing that counts.
It doesn't matter how beautiful the surroundings, if you feel like shit. And somehow in this culture that we've come to believe that if we can just fix the circumstance the experience will come along. But it doesn't work.
Because that manufacturing process, the brain and the nervous system, is using your circumstance as raw materials to create feelings and thoughts. And I use that word raw materials very specifically because a raw material can be anything.
You can use steel to make an assault rifle, or you could use that same steel to make a plow to plant crops and feed people. And you can use these colors and shapes to create uplifting thoughts and feelings, or you can use these colors and shapes to create feelings of lack and dread and anxiety and worry.
And when I say you can use, that's probably an unfair way to put it.
Better said, the brain can use. And the truth is is that most of these processes, the manufacturing process that is making us feel the way that we feel, making us think the way that we think, is not particularly conscious for most of us.
It's operating through little pieces of learned programming that we in the yoga business call samskaras.
But the good news is that these samskaras, this programing, these habits, they can be changed. And that's why strangely enough ... You know most people think of yoga as a spiritual discipline. It's really a set of tools and techniques that are designed to work on the nervous system.
The Yoga Sutra says, yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind. And the ancient yoga meditation masters long ago realized that if you really want to solve the problem, that's where you have to focus.
That's the most important thing: Somehow getting a handle on the dysfunctional patterns in our brains and nervous systems that are drowning us in internal turmoil of all kinds. Self defeating thoughts, irritations, impatience, and on and on it goes.
So not wanting to leave you on a downer. The good news is...
Well, let's start with the neutral news.
And it seems like it's getting warmer and warmer in here. I feel like a little frog in the thing. Karen, can you maybe just ... It's the right hand button and bring it down maybe 50 degrees or so. Thank you, that should ... There we go.
So, all of us have thousands upon thousands of samskaras, these tendencies in our brains. Some of them are serving us, some of them are not serving us. And you could spend a lifetime trying to sift and sort through all of these in order to try to make sense of what needs to be altered or changed or managed.
And that in and of itself could become ... Let's just say, unhelpful.
But the good news is, there's a handful of these samskaras that are common to all of us, that are creating arguably 80% of the misery in our lives. And if we begin to chip away at those we can make huge shifts. The same kind of shifts that were promised to me by my Zen teacher all those many years ago.
And I speak to you about those from my own experience, not just from some book. So I want to share one of them with you this evening. One of these tendencies that reliably produces a life experience of anxiety or misery or desperation or lack even though we may be living in a life circumstance of anything but.
And that samskara is something that psychologists call negativity bias.
And negativity bias is something that was actually programmed into your noggin by mother nature. And what it basically does is causes us to prioritize the negative things, or the threats in our environment over the blessings and the gifts in our lives.
And once upon a time, Og the caveman, all of that, it really served us well because if you're walking down the trail looking at the pretty flowers instead of the saber-toothed tiger that was coming at you, well, they had a name for you, that was dinner.
So, in that environment it was really critical for the nervous system to be constantly scanning and on edge and prioritizing all of these threats so that we could stay alive.
The trouble is that in this day and age, the nervous system still functions in the same way and it identifies a whole wide swath of things as threats that last a long time.
So, the boss not praising you is a threat, and the spouse not saying good morning is a threat, and the bank account is a threat. And any one of those is enough to lock attention in on that while it conveniently ignores the fact that you are in the top 1% of the population in terms of your wellness and your financial stability and the fact that you're living in this country with a roof over your house and you can come to places like this and on and on and on.
So all of us in this room have really, really high life circumstances but it doesn't feel like that all the time.
And one of the culprits is this thing that I'm calling negativity bias. Because it actually paints an experience marked with anxiety or frustration or despair.
I mean, and I'm a perfect example oftentimes when this happens to me. I live in a nice house. I have the best job in the world. I'm surrounded by beautiful people like you. I have enough to eat. I drive a pretty nice car. I have the best chihuahua in the world back there in the corner. My health is good. And yet, I can get hooked by one little thing.
Sometimes maybe it's a little financial hiccup. Sometimes it's maybe something somebody said about me. And all of my attention, and the nervous system's programmed to do this, it goes to the threat and everything else evaporates and I feel terrible.
And again, if nothing else get this, how you feel is the only thing that matters. It's the only thing that matters to you.
The brain will tell you otherwise, but you can get everything the brain wants, but if you don't feel good, it doesn't count.
So, the little gift I have for you is an exercise that helps to overcome negativity bias.
And it's in the form of a little journal, and we have some out front for you.
It's not suitable for framing, but it is suitable for photocopying if you would like to take advantage of it.
And it's a little ... On the right hand side is what you do in the morning and on the left hand side is what you do in the evening. And it's a little fill in the blank, super easy thing which asks you to demand something new of your neurology.
To take back control from this negativity bias that would have you laying awake thinking about stuff that you can't fix. And instead, use your will and your effort to train your brain to focus on something that lifts you up as opposed to something that pulls you down.
I will warn you that in the beginning this is back-breaking work. Because these samskaras, these mental habits, like any habit, have a tremendous amount of power when they've been engaged in for a long time. And every one of us in this room was born with negativity bias, so it's got a fair amount of horsepower.
But the way it works is that if you think of a samskara literally ... And this is the way that it's usually taught in traditional yoga settings. It's like a groove in the mind.
And every time you engage in that behavior or that thought pattern, it gets a little deeper and a little bit deeper and a little bit deeper.
And if you think of like a deep grove, it's got a lot of power to it as opposed to a little flat groove.
But the old groove that's so deep, every time you do the opposite, it makes a new groove. So instead of focusing on the negative, I'm going to focus on my friend Liz, and I'm grateful for her, and that creates a little groove. Now, this little groove doesn't have anywhere near the power of that big groove, but this old one just got a little shallower and this new one just got a little bit deeper.
And then in the next moment I'm going to be grateful for my chihuahua. And then that gets a little deeper. And because I didn't focus on the fact that he has kidney disease ... Oops I just did it.
But not focusing and focusing on the fact that he's here and that he's happy and that he's comfortable after almost 18 years, as opposed to the 47, and I'm being generous, things that are wrong with him. Then that one gets a little deeper, this one gets a little shallower and on and on it goes.
At a certain point, the tipping point, your default setting becomes to seek out the positive and it becomes effortless.
In this way, we're literally training our brains to manufacture thoughts and feelings that serve us as if on autopilot as opposed to what they oftentimes do now on autopilot.
So, if you would like to play along, these are out on the table on the way out. And like I said, they're a little fill-in-the-blank thing. But here's the other thing that I'll share with you, repetition is the key to all your success. All of it. Because when we're talking about re-patterning the nervous system it's all about repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition. Consistency over time.
But if you engage in that I promise you ... And there are other people in this room who can testify along with me. It will radically change things for you.
That seems to be all.
Eric Walrabenstein is a best-selling author, ordained Yogacharya, and nationally-renowned educator in the fields of yoga and mind-body wellness. His work focuses on helping people to practically apply the lesser-known aspects of yoga and mindfulness to solve some of the most urgent and immediate problems of our time.
He is the founder of Yoga Pura, one of Arizona’s largest yoga wellness centers, the creator of the BOOTSTRAP Yoga System developed for the U.S. military, and the creator of the BrightLife Method, a first-of-its-kind program to help heal addictions of every kind. Eric's work has been widely featured in the media including on ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, Success magazine, Yoga Journal, and beyond. Learn more at www.EricWal.com.