Transcript from a meeting with Jim Eaton on 20 September, 2020
Q: What’s emerging for me right now is not pain or contraction, but it’s joy. I was just having a conversation with someone and sharing some old memories. A few years back I used to be a professional soldier. I served in Egypt on a peacekeeping mission for one year, and of course there were some difficult parts, but I was sharing about how much joy there was. We had a small beach in the military camp and after I finished my night duty, without any sleep, I would go there and swim in the sea and then lay down in the sand and have a few hours of sleep in the searing hot desert sun. It was just so amazing, even the food, there was so much variety: sometimes a big bowl of raspberries, sometimes five different kinds of meat.
As I was sharing these stories I realised how life can be so beautiful; and at the same time there were other soldiers there who spent one year in the same camp, and never swam in the sea once, and were always complaining about this and that. Now I just feel this gratitude that I was able to experience all that.
It sounds silly, but there in the military camp I had a place to sleep, I had food to eat, I had the sun shining on me, I had everything basically, and the whole of life is just like that. We have everything here on Earth, and we can either choose suffering as a mental process, or we can choose joy as a mental process.
Jim: Yeah, I love what you’re saying there about the gratitude, and appreciating the wonder of what’s here-now, absolutely. The problem comes with the belief that we can simply choose joy instead of suffering. You hear it everywhere these days, people encouraging us to ‘stay positive’, and ‘write a gratitude list’; and of course that’s all great if the gratitude is authentic.
But what about when you’re not feeling ‘positive’, or grateful? What about when you’re stuck in sadness, or anger, or you’re stressed, or deeply depressed, or in despair? Then to try and pull yourself out of it by struggling to ‘stay positive’ or write a gratitude list can make you feel even sadder, or even angrier; perhaps adding a sense of inadequacy into the mix, for your failure to ‘choose joy’; and shame too for being so ‘selfish’, ‘self-pitying’ and ‘UNgrateful’.
The real invitation is always to acknowledge what’s here-now, exactly as it is.
Sometimes I actually encourage people to write an INgratitude list! Write down everything you feel sad, angry or frustrated about. You’d be amazed at how inspired you suddenly become! What a huge relief to not have to be grateful, but be allowed to acknowledge what you’re actually feeling!
So, yes we can experience the gratitude, the bliss, and weep in wonder at the exquisite beauty of life; AND we can also acknowledge the reality of heartbreak, loss, pain and despair; and maybe even see the beauty in them too. That’s what unconditional love means—without conditions. If we’re trying to cut life in half and only experience the ‘joyful’ side, then that requires us to resist and supress the other ‘unwanted’ half. It’s that very resistance that creates contraction in the physical body, and the psyche, that in turn enhances our sense of separation and alienation. In short: we suffer even more.
And not only that, but by continually deflecting away from and suppressing our legitimate, sincere feelings, we are continually depriving ourself of the true doorway into real transformation.
So again, the invitation is to be open to everything that’s here, just as it is. We’re not trying to get rid of it, we’re not trying to change it, or manipulate it. It’s in that unconditional openess that we start to sense a deeper kind of joy—a deeper joy that’s here in the midst of unhappiness; a deeper peace that’s here in the midst of chaos. We don’t cultivate or attain that deeper wonder, it’s only ever revealed in the relaxation of the striving for things to be different.
It’s really so important that we keep on turning it around. Rather than investing our identity in the ‘me’ that’s striving to get ‘there’, we simply recognise the striving pattern appearing. In that simple noticing, we’re naturally dis-identifying from the pattern, whilst allowing it to still have a place; and at the same time we’re reclaiming our true, rightful place as the presence, the clarity—as who we really are.
It’s so tricky, because there is a whole market of self-improvement out there which is all based around trying to become ‘happier’ or more ‘successful’ by learning to do the things that ‘happy’ or ‘successful’ people do. And of course there’s nothing wrong with that—like any kind of training it can be very effective at improving performance in certain areas of life—but as long as we’re still identifying ourself as the ‘me’ that’s doing the self-improving, then we will still be longing for that deeper joy, that deeper wonder of being.
Q: I just wanted to add that, just as we internalize these ‘new age’ ideas and tell ourself, “I shouldn’t be upset. I should be grateful,” that same internal voice can also be telling us the opposite too: “Don’t look on the bright side. Don’t look at the beautiful things.”
Jim: Yeah. Many of us have a pattern that we’re not allowed to be too happy either! If we start to feel ‘too happy’ then we worry that people aren’t going to like us, that they’ll think we’re arrogant or showing off, or that we think we’re better than them, and so we’d better reign it in or we’ll be rejected.
Q: That is exactly what I had to overcome when I asked to share today, because I thought: “Can I be joyful here? I feel so good right now that it’s probably too much. I should sit back in my corner, and when I have some really deep sadness coming up, then it’s more appropriate to share!” (Both laughing)
Jim: Yeah, I love it. So we can celebrate the joy and the wonder, the gratitude and the bliss, and at the same time not try to cling to it, as we know that sooner or later it will become something else; because the nature of experience is that it is always changing, like the weather systems—sometimes it’s a clear blue sky, sometimes it’s a heavy storm.
It’s in that unconditional openess, that deep acceptance, that we discover the deeper bliss that is unchanging. That’s the ‘ananda’ in the Sanskrit phrase ‘satchitananda’. That deeper bliss is like knowing you’re the sky that’s always here, whatever the weather.
So, yes we can have the ecstasy, the wild, joyful wonder, absolutely; and we include the agony, the sorrow and the heartache too—nothing is excluded. It’s like our heart expands wider and wider to include more and more of what it is to experience a human life. This is why the great playwrights, like Shakespeare, are so incredible; because their plays explore that wide, wide spectrum of human experience—from the most ecstatic, to the deeply tragic—it’s all in there.
Just take a moment and see what’s here now . . .
Q: I’m noticing how, even in this group, where there’s so much acceptance, I’m still trying to kind of market myself.
Jim: Yeah, good catch. In simply noticing the pattern you’re naturally dis-identifying from it. That’s the work we’re doing here. And now something new can emerge, that’s not born from the pattern of ‘trying to market yourself’, to try to get the love, get the approval, be seen as worthy. Something can emerge that’s unconstrained by any of those old coping stategies. That’s the magic place, the clear space that we’re talking about.
And that’s not to make anything that isn’t that wrong, right?! Do you see the trickiness? As soon as I open my mouth then immediately there’s the possibility of the mind drawing conclusions from things that are said, and those conclusions then becoming new goals to focus on, for ‘me’ to try to attain. But hey, that’s just the way it has to be, because it can also be useful and joyful to share this rather than just remaining silent!
So, we’re including and welcoming everything in—the joy, the bliss, the wonder, the heartache, the sadness, the despair—and showing up fully for this incredible human adventure. Feeling life more deeply than ever before.
Q: I’m used to staying in this inner witness mode, observing the patterns and characters, when the problems and blockages are there; but when the joy comes, and I’m feeling ok, then I tend to forget about all this. Probably that’s something for me to focus on.
Jim: I hear what you’re saying, but if you’re happy, and you’re living fully—flowing with life, as life—that’s great, right? No problem!
The only reason this ‘teaching’ emerges is because in this human experience, ‘we’, as wholeness, as presence, become identified with being exclusively this small figure—the human body—that moves through an outside world full of objects and ‘others’, that we then imagine we are fundamentally divided off from. As soon as we take on that belief we feel isolated and alienated. There is a deep grief for that sense of alienation and loss, plus the rationalisation that we must have done something wrong to experience such suffering, and so we feel shame and guilt too for our supposed ‘mistake’.
If we then add on top of that all the self-beliefs and coping patterns we develop growing up—in order to earn love and approval and not be rejected by those around us—then by the time we’re adults, almost our whole life is being run from these patterns and beliefs. And they leave their mark in the physical body too, in the form of tensions and contractions—a tightness in the breathing, a restlessness in the nervous system. It’s this sense of restlessness and isolation that creates a longing in us all, and the subsequent search to rediscover wholeness.
This work is about a deep and sensitive listening, that notices when these constraining and distorting patterns and beliefs are taking over. In that noticing, rather than being lost inside the pattern, we take our place again as this loving presence that unconditionally includes it.
Then the ‘teaching’ has served its purpose and can be let go of; until the next time we get caught in identification, and the teaching emerges again.
As a quick analogy, if you cut your finger it hurts, right? The pain is saying, “Pay attention to this cut in the finger!” So we listen to the pain, attend to the cut, and then it can heal so that no further damage is done. But if there isn’t any pain, you don’t need to keep checking your finger all the time to make sure it isn’t cut!
Just as our physical pain is the cue for the listening and attending to the physical wound to emerge, so our ‘psychological pain’ is the cue for the listening and attending to the psychological wound to emerge.
Q: So you’re saying that if I feel joy, bliss and enthusiasm then I can just live it and share it with my environment, with whoever I am with?
Jim: Do you see how the mind listens to what I’m saying and then tries to make it into a new truth, a new rule to live by? When you live freely, authentically, then rather than being governed by your mind rules and conclusions, you don’t know in advance how you’ll act, right? For example, in a particular situation the intelligence might recognise that, even though we feel joy, it might not be appropriate to be bouncing around the room expressing it. There are no fixed rules.
Q: I guess it’s difficult to distinguish sometimes, because it might be authentic, and coming from love, to not be jumping around with joy; but it might also be an inhibiting pattern saying, “Oh, no, I shouldn’t be like that.”
Jim: Yeah. So let’s go back to the analogy again. If you’re getting caught in a pattern then, just like your finger being cut, you’ll feel it. You’ll feel it as constriction in the breathing, a tightening in the body, an agitation in the nervous system. Then the teaching comes in, and you start to listen to the body, listen to the mind, and notice the pattern that’s governing your action in the moment.
With the acknowledgement of what’s there, you start to take your place again as the clear space, that can then welcome in the part of you that’s feeling compromised—maybe it’s a very young part that’s feeling like it’s not good enough, or that it needs to do the ‘right thing’ to be loved and approved of. Then you’re back with the authenticity again, and something can emerge freely, that’s optimally suited to the situation.
Of course this is all easier said then done! Sometimes you’ll get sucked in—that’s what happens. But, like we always say, if that does happen then, once you realise, the most important thing is to be kind with yourself, and not judge yourself for having got lost—otherwise you’re straightaway lost again!
Q: Like, for example, right now there is a ‘cut’: “Oh, I regret that I said all those things at the beginning. It was not appropriate.”
Jim: Yeah, exactly. So you meet that part of yourself that says, “I did it wrong, and now they’re all going to judge me, and they’re not going to like me.” You bring it close, “It’s okay. It’s okay, I understand. You feel like you’re not good enough and that nobody’s going to like you.” You feel love for that part of you, and you can do it instantaneously, it’s amazing. As you get to know the parts of you so well, you can meet them, right in the midst of something happening. It’s like there’s a scared little child there, and as they build trust they come a bit closer, and maybe at some point they let you hold them and comfort them, and you say: “It’s okay. It’s all right.” And slowly you reclaim them; they merge into you. That’s integration. That’s wholeness.
It’s a beautiful, loving unraveling, because when you feel that connection with these parts of yourself, it’s love, it’s Self-love, capital S. Love is at the heart of all of it.
Q: What I notice now is that with this intellectual thinking, with the rational mind, I can understand all this; but what I’m not very good at is really going there and feeling and embracing that little child, to soothe that wound, and probably that’s what I should do better.
Jim: I hear you. We can have this theoretical understanding that we resonate with deeply, but we’re still not doing it, right? We’re still just talking about it and we’re not actually doing it. So, it’s always bringing it back to this-here-now, feeling the feet . . . the sitting bones on the chair . . . noticing the breath . . . and sensing what’s happening in this moment . .
Yeah, going into that vulnerability, again and again, that’s the doorway, the doorway into really living, real aliveness. We know this, and yet we fear it too, because it’s so vulnerable, because we don’t have our rational-mind-defence-system up. And yet, when we’re here together in the not-knowing, then there’s the joy again . . . the uncaused joy . . . joy for no reason. Nobody told a good joke! It’s just joy.
Q: This idea comes up: I don’t know if my life is a great success, or if I suck and it’s all a big mess, but right here and now I’m enjoying it!
Jim: Yeah. Enjoy!