Letting Go of False Solidity, Michael Singer
(Chapter 14, The Untethered Soul)
The inside of one's psyche is a very complex, sophisticated place. It is full of conflicting forces that are constantly changing due to both internal and external stimuli. This results in wide variations of needs, fears, and desires over relatively short periods of time. Because of this, very few people have the clarity to understand what's going on in there. There's just too much happening at once to follow the cause and effect relationships between all of our different thoughts, emotions, and energy levels. As a result, we find ourselves struggling just to hold it all together. But everything keeps on changing-moods, desires, likes, dislikes, enthusiasm, lethargy. It's a fulltime task just to maintain the discipline necessary to create even the semblance of control and order in there.
When you're lost and struggling with all these psychological and energetic changes, you are suffering. While it may not seem to you that you're suffering, compared to what it can be, you are suffering. In truth, the very responsibility of having to hold it all together is itself a form of suffering. You notice this most when things start to fall apart outside. Your psyche goes into turmoil, and you have to struggle to hold your inner world together. But what exactly are you trying to hold onto? The only things in there are your thoughts, emotions, and movements of energy, none of which are solid. They are like clouds, simply coming and going through vast inner space. But you keep holding onto them, as though consistency can substitute for stability. The Buddhists have a term for this: "clinging." In the end, clinging is what the psyche is all about.
In order to understand clinging, we must first understand who clings. As you go deeper into yourself, you will naturally come to realize that there is an aspect of your being that is always there and never changes. This is your sense of awareness, your consciousness. It is this awareness that is aware of your thoughts, experiences the ebb and flow of your emotions, and receives your physical senses. This is the root of Self. You are not your thoughts; you are aware of your thoughts. You are not your emotions; you feel your emotions. You are not your body; you look at it in the mirror and experience this world through its eyes and ears. You are the conscious being who is aware that you are aware of all these inner and outer things.
If you explore consciousness, which is your pure sense of awareness, you will see that it really does not exist at any particular point in space. Rather, it is a field of awareness that focuses down to a point by concentrating on a particular set of objects. You can be aware of feeling just one finger, or you can be aware of feeling your entire body at once. You can be totally lost in a single thought, or you can be simultaneously aware of your thoughts, your emotions, your body, and your surroundings. Consciousness is a dynamic field of awareness that has the ability to either narrowly focus or broadly expand. When consciousness concentrates narrowly enough, it loses its broader sense of self. It no longer experiences itself as a field of pure consciousness; it begins to relate itself more to the objects it's focused upon. As we have seen, this is what happens when you get so absorbed in a movie that you completely lose the broader sense of sitting in a cold, dark theater. In this case, you have shifted from concentrating on your body and its surroundings to concentrating on the world of the movie. You literally get lost in the experience. This can be generalized to your entire experience of life. Your sense of self is determined by where you are focusing your consciousness.
But what determines where you focus your consciousness? At the most basic level, it is simply determined by anything that catches your awareness because it stands out from the rest. To understand this, imagine that your consciousness is simply observing vast, empty inner space. Now imagine that passing through this space is the gentle flow of random thought objects: a cat, a horse, a word, a color, or an abstract thought. They are sporadically floating right through your awareness. Now let one object stand out above the rest. It catches your attention and draws the focus of your awareness. You immediately realize that the more focused you become on the object, the slower it moves. Until, eventually, if you focus on it enough, it stops. The force of consciousness ends up holding the object stable simply by concentrating on it. Just as a fish can pass through water but not through ice, which is simply concentrated water, so mental and emotional energy patterns become fixed when they encounter concentrated consciousness. The very act of differentiating the amount of awareness focused on one particular object over any other creates clinging. And the result of clinging is that selective thoughts and emotions stay in one place long enough to become the building blocks of the psyche.
Clinging is one of the most primal acts. Because some objects remain in the consciousness while others pass through, your sense of awareness relates more to them. You use them as fixed points to create a sense of orientation, relationship, and security in the midst of constant inner change. And this need for orientation extends to the outside world. Although you are clinging to inner objects, you use them to orient and relate yourself to the multitude of physical objects that come in through your senses. You then create thoughts that tie all the objects together, and you cling to the entire structure. You actually end up relating so strongly to this inner structure that you build your entire sense of self around it. Because you cling to it, it stays fixed. And because it stays fixed, you relate to it above all else. This is the birth of the psyche. In the midst of the expanse of empty mind, by clinging to passing thought objects, you make an island of apparent solidity. Once you have a thought that stays, you can rest your head on it. Then, as you cling to more and more thoughts, you build an inner structure for consciousness to focus on. The more consciousness narrows its focus onto this mental structure, the greater the tendency to utilize it to define the concept of self. Clinging creates the bricks and mortar with which we build a conceptual self. In the midst of vast inner space, using nothing but the vapor of thoughts, you created a structure of apparent solidity to rest upon.
Who are you that is lost and trying to build a concept of yourself in order to be found? This question represents the essence of spirituality. You will never find yourself in what you have built to define yourself. You're the one who's doing the building. You may assemble the most amazing collection of thoughts and emotions; you may build a truly beautiful, unbelievable, interesting, and dynamic structure; but, obviously, it's not you. You are the one who did this. You are the one who was lost, scared, and confused because you focused your awareness away from your awareness of Self. In this panic, in this lost state, you learned to cling and hold onto the thoughts and emotions that were passing before you. You used them to build a personality, a persona, a self-concept that would allow you to define yourself. Awareness rested itself on the objects it was aware of and called it home. Because you have this model of who you are, it is easier to know how to act, how to make decisions, and how to relate to the outside world. If you dare to look, you will see that you live your entire life based on the model you built around yourself.
Let's get more specific. You try to hold a consistent set of thoughts and concepts in your mind, such as "I am a woman." Yes, even that is a thought, or a concept held in your mind. You, who are holding onto that, are neither male nor female. You are the awareness who hears the thought and sees a woman's body in the mirror. But you cling tightly to these concepts. You think, "I am a woman, I am of a certain age and I believe in one philosophy versus another." You literally define yourself based on what you believe: "I believe in God or I don't believe in God. I believe in peace and nonviolence, or I believe in survival of the fittest. I believe in capitalism, or I believe in neosocialism." You take a set of thoughts in the mind and you hold onto them. You make a highly complex relational structure out of them, and then present that package as who you are. But it is not who you are. It is just the thoughts you have pulled around yourself in an attempt to define yourself. You do this because you are lost inside. Basically, you attempt to create a sense of stability and steadiness inside. This generates a false, but welcomed, sense of security. You also want the people around you to have done the same thing. You want people to be steady enough so that you can predict their behavior. If they aren't, it disturbs you. This is because you have made your predictions of their behavior part of your inner model. This protective shield of beliefs and concepts regarding the outside world acts as insulation between you and the people you interact with. By having preconceived notions about other people's behavior, you feel safer and more in control. Imagine the fear you would feel if you let the entire wall down. Who have you ever allowed directly into your true inner self without the protection of your mental buffer? Nobody, not even yourself.
People just put facades out there. They even admit that one facade is a little more real than the other. You go to work and get lost in your professional facade, but then you say, "I'm going home to be with my family and friends where I can just be myself." So your work facade drops into the background, and your relaxed social facade comes forward. But what about you, the one who is holding the facade together? Nobody gets near that one. That's just too scary. That one is too far back there to deal with.
So we are all clinging and then building. Some of us are better at this than others. In most societies you are well rewarded for how good you are at clinging and building. If you get that model down absolutely right, and behave consistently every time, you have actually "created" someone. And if the someone you create is what others want and need, you can be very popular and successful. You are that person. It got engrained in you at a very young age, and you never deviated from it. You can get really good at this game of creating someone. And if the person you created is not receiving the popularity and success you expected, you can adjust your thoughts accordingly. It's not that there is anything wrong with this. Obviously, everybody does it. But who are you that's doing this, and why are you doing it?
It's important to realize that it's not just up to you what thoughts you cling to and what person you create. Society has a lot to say about this. There are acceptable and unacceptable social behaviors for almost everything-how to sit, how to walk, how to speak, how to dress, and how to feel about things. How does our society engrain these mental and emotional structures within us? When you do it well, you are rewarded with hugs and showered with positive accolades. When you don't do it well, you are punished, either physically, mentally, or emotionally. Just think about how nice you are to people when they behave in accordance with your expectations. Now think about how you close up and pull back from them when they don't. This is not to mention getting angry or even violent toward them. What are you doing? You are trying to change someone's behavior by leaving impressions on their mind. You are attempting to alter their collection of beliefs, thoughts, and emotions so that the next time they act it is in the manner you expect. In truth, we are all doing this to each other every day.
Why do we let this happen to us?
Why do we care so much whether other people accept the facade we put out there? It all comes down to understanding why we are clinging to our self-concept. If you stop clinging, you will see why the tendency to cling was there. If you let go of your facade, and don't try to trade it in for a new one, your thoughts and emotions will become unanchored and begin passing through you. It will be a very scary experience. You will feel panic deep inside, and you will be unable to get your bearings. This is what people feel when something very important outside does not fit their inner model. The facade ceases to work and begins to crumble. When it can no longer protect you, you experience great fear and panic. However, you'll find that if you're willing to face that sense of panic, there is a way to go past it. You can go further back into the consciousness that is experiencing it, and the panic will stop. Then there will be a great peace, like nothing you've ever felt.
That's the part very few people come to know: it can stop. The noise, the fear, the confusion, the constant changing of these inner energies-it can all stop. You thought you had to protect yourself, so you grabbed onto the things that were coming at you and used them to hide. You took what you could get your hands on, and you started to cling in order to build solidity. But you can let go of what you're clinging to and not play this game. You just have to take the risk of letting it all go and daring to face the fear that was driving you. Then you can pass through that part of you, and it will all be over. It will stop-no more struggling, just peace.
This journey is one of passing through exactly where you have been struggling not to go. As you pass through that state of turmoil, the consciousness itself is your only repose. You will just be aware that tremendous changes are taking place. You will be aware that there is no solidity and you will become comfortable with that. You will be aware that each moment of each day is unfolding and you neither have control, nor crave it. You have no concepts, no hopes, no dreams, no beliefs, and no security. You are no longer building mental models of what's going on, but life is going on anyway. You are perfectly comfortable just being aware of it. Here comes this moment, then the next moment, and then the next. But that's really what has always happened.
Moment after moment has been passing before your consciousness. The difference is that now you see it happening. You see that your emotions and your mind are reacting to these moments that are coming through, and you're doing nothing to stop it. You're doing nothing to control it. You're just letting life unfold, both outside and inside of you.
If you take this journey, you will get to the state in which you see exactly how the unfolding moments bring up a sense of fear. From this place of clarity, you will be able to experience the powerful tendency to protect yourself. This tendency exists because you truly have no control, and that is not comfortable to you. But if you really want to break through, you have to be willing to just watch the fear without protecting yourself from it. You must be willing to see that this need to protect yourself is where the entire personality comes from. It was created by building a mental and emotional structure to get away from that sense of fear. You are now standing face-to-face with the root of the psyche. If you go deep enough, you can watch the psyche being built. You will see that you are in the middle of nowhere, in empty infinite space, and all of these inner objects are flowing toward you. Thoughts, feelings, and the impressions of worldly experiences are all pouring into your consciousness. You will clearly see that the tendency is to protect yourself from this flow by bringing it under your control. There is an overwhelmingly strong tendency to lean forward and grab onto selective impressions of people, places, and things as they flow through. You will see that if you focus on these mental images, they become part of a complex structure where there was none. You will see events that took place when you were ten years old that you're still holding onto. You will see that you're literally taking all your memories, pulling them together in an orderly fashion, and saying that's who you are. But you are not the events; you're the one who experienced the events. How can you define yourself as the things that happened to you? You were aware of your existence before they happened. You are the one who is in there doing all this, seeing all this, and experiencing all this. You do not have to cling to your experiences in the name of building yourself. This is a false self you are building inside. It is just a concept of yourself that you hide behind. How long have you been hiding in there struggling to keep it all together?
Any time anything goes wrong in the protective model you built about yourself, you defend and rationalize in order to get it back together. Your mind does not stop struggling until you've processed the event or somehow made it go away. People feel their very existence is at stake, and they will fight and argue until they get control back. This is all because we have attempted to build solidity where there is none. Now we have to fight to keep it together. The problem is, there is no way out that way. There is no peace and there is no winning in that struggle. You were told not to build your house upon sand. Well, this is the ultimate sand. In fact, you built your house in empty space. If you continue to cling to what you built, you will have to continually and perpetually defend yourself. You will have to keep everybody and everything straight in order to reconcile your conceptual model with reality. It's a constant struggle to keep it together.
What it means to live spiritually is to not participate in this struggle. It means that the events that happen in the moment belong to the moment. They don't belong to you. They have nothing to do with you. You must stop defining yourself in relationship to them, and just let them come and go. Don't allow events to leave impressions inside of you. If you find yourself thinking about them later on, just let go. If an event happens that doesn't fit your conceptual model, and you see yourself struggling and rationalizing to make it fit, just notice what you're doing. An event in the universe didn't match your model and it's causing disturbance inside of you. If you will simply notice this, you will find that it is actually breaking up your model. You'll get to the point where you like this because you don't want to keep your model. You'll define this as good because you are no longer willing to put any energy into building and solidifying your faCade. Instead, you will actually permit the things that disturb your model to act as the dynamite to break it up and free you. This is what it means to live spiritually.
When you become truly spiritual, you are totally different from everybody else. That which everybody else wants, you don't want. That which everybody else resists, you totally accept. You want your model to break, and you honor the experience when something happens that can cause disturbance within you. Why should anything that anyone says or does cause you to get disturbed? You're just on a planet spinning around the middle of absolutely nowhere. You came here to visit for a handful of years and then you're going to leave. How can you live all stressed-out over everything? Don't do it. If anything can cause disturbance inside of you, it means it hit your model. It means it hit the false part of you that you built in order to control your own definition of reality. But if that model is reality, why didn't experiential reality fit? There's nothing you can make up inside your mind that can ever be considered reality.
You must learn to be comfortable with psychological disturbance. If your mind becomes hyperactive, just watch it. If your heart starts to heat up, let it go through what it must. Try to find the part of you that is capable of noticing that your mind is hyperactive and that your heart is heating up. That part is your way out. There is no way out through building this model of yours. The only way to inner freedom is through the one who watches: the Self. The Self simply notices that the mind and emotions are unraveling, and that nothing is struggling to hold them together.
Of course this will be painful. The reason you built the whole mental structure was to avoid pain. If you let it fall apart, you're going to feel the pain that you were avoiding when you built it. You must be willing to face this pain. If you were to lock yourself in a fortress because you were afraid to come out, you would have to face that fear if you ever wanted to experience a fuller existence. That fortress would not be protecting you; it would be imprisoning you. To be free, to truly experience life, you must come out. You have to let go and pass through the cleansing process that frees you from your psyche. You do this by simply watching the psyche be the psyche. The way out is through awareness. Stop defining the disturbed mind as a negative experience; just see if you can relax behind it. When your mind is disturbed, don't ask, "What do I do about this?" Instead ask, "Who am I that notices this?"
In time, you will come to realize that the center from which you watch disturbance cannot get disturbed. If it appears disturbed, just notice who is noticing that disturbance. Eventually it will stop. You will then be able to rest back into the depths of your being while watching your mind and heart create their last throes of turmoil. When you reach that point, you will understand what it means to be transcendent. Awareness transcends what it is aware of. It is as separate as light is from what it shines upon. You are consciousness, and you can free yourself from all of this by relaxing behind it.
If you want permanent peace, permanent joy, and permanent happiness, you have to get through to the other side of the inner turmoil. You can experience a life in which waves of love can rush up inside of you any time you want. It is the nature of your being. You simply have to go to the other side of the psyche. You do that by letting go of the tendency to cling. You do it by not using your mind to build false solidity. You just decide, once and for all, to take the journey by constantly letting go. At this point, the journey becomes very quick. You will go through the part of you that has always been scared to death, and you'll see how that part has always struggled to hold it all together. If you don't feed that part, if you just keep letting go and don't let it cling, eventually you will fall behind the false solidity. This is not something you do; it is something that happens to you. Your only way out is the witness. Just keep letting go by being aware that you are aware. If you pass through a period of darkness or depression, just ask, "Who is aware of the darkness?" That's how you pass through the different stages of your inner growth. You just keep letting go, and remain aware that you are still there. When you've let go of the dark psyche, and you've let go of the light psyche, and you're no longer clinging to anything, you will reach a point where it will all open up behind you. You are used to being aware of things in front of you. You now become aware of a universe behind your seat of consciousness. It didn't look like there was anything behind you. Because you were so focused on building your model out of the thoughts and emotions passing before you, there was no awareness of the vast expanse of space inside. Back behind, there is a whole universe. You're just not looking that way. If you're willing to let go, you'll fall back and it will open into an ocean of energy. You will become filled with light. You will become filled with a light that has no darkness, with a peace that passeth all understanding. You will then walk through every moment of your daily life with the flow of this inner force sustaining you, feeding you, and guiding you from deep within. You will still have thoughts, emotions, and a selfconcept floating around in inner space, but they will be just one small part of what you experience. You will not identify with anything outside the sense of Self.
Once you reach this state, you will never have to worry about anything ever again. The forces of creation will create creation, both inside and outside of you. You will float in peace, love, and compassion beyond it all, yet honoring it all. There is no need for false solidity when you are at peace with the universal expanse of your true Being.