I was the consummate self-help fanatic attending numerous workshops and trainings to improve myself. Years ago on one of these five-day trainings, on the last day when everyone was completely blissed out, I decided to share. But I didn’t share my gratitude for everything I had experienced or for the greater freedom I was feeling. I did experience those things, but instead, I moved swiftly on to the next problem I could see. My thinking was, “Yeah, that’s really nice inner peace, freedom, true nature whatever, but I still have this problem. My relationship is still a problem. I am hurting in this area. This needs to be fixed. Can you fix it for me in these last five minutes of the program?” I was a real Debbie Downer.
Patiently, one of the teachers shared with me a metaphor. They said it was like I was living in this beautiful expansive garden and all I could see was a patch of weeds. I couldn’t enjoy the garden because all I was focusing on was this tiny patch of weeds.
When this was shared with me I felt shame. I knew in some way I was being scolded. I felt like I had got it wrong and this was revealed in public, but I had no clue as to what the metaphor was pointing to.
I came to the understanding of the Principles with this same attitude of focusing on my psychological weeds. The first time I attended a training with George and Linda Pransky in person, I had a conversation with George about my “problème du jour”. At that time I was experiencing anxiety. I had never experienced a persistent heightened state of anxiety previously and it was really bothering me. I didn’t like not being able to sleep, waking up with anxiety, and having feelings of dread come up during the day. It was not like me.
What was going on at the time was Angus and I were buying a house for the first time. Our house purchase wasn’t straightforward and run of the mill and the bank had lots of unusual requests that needed to be approved to get the mortgage. We were on a roller coaster for about three months going from thinking we had everything worked out to then getting a new seemingly impossible request from the bank and feeling like everything was lost. It was during this time that I felt anxious. I knew rationally that there really wasn’t anything to lose if the mortgage fell through, but my experience was that my self-worth was in question. Experientially, it felt like if we didn’t get the house it would mean that I wasn’t good enough. It was all very irrational, but I couldn’t shake it. So I went to George with my problem.
I thought he would definitely be able to stop me from suffering from my anxiety. But I was really disappointed. First of all, I was confused because it was clear to me when I spoke with George that what looked like a problem to me didn’t look like a problem to George. This was unsettling. He didn’t seem to think it was a big deal to experience anxiety. “What!?” The main feedback I heard was that I just happened to be tuning into the channel of anxiety in my mind, but at some point, I would stop doing that and switch to the channel of wellbeing. Nothing to worry about here.
I had no appreciation for what George was pointing to in me. He was reminding me that I am resilient and my innate tendency is to come back into balance. He was saying there was nothing wrong with me. There was no problem if I stopped judging my experience and accepted it for what it was, knowing it was not always going to stay that way. I didn’t hear any of that.
What I heard was there wasn’t anything I could do to fix my problem.
And of course, George was absolutely right. I eventually settled down and came back to myself and the anxiety disappeared without me doing anything about it.
About a year or so later, I had the opportunity of doing an intensive with Linda Pransky. I had been in the conversation of the understanding for just over a year and was feeling lighter and more peaceful. I still saw myself as having issues I would like to resolve, but they were less bothersome to me. They weren’t quite front and center in my awareness the way my anxiety had been when I spoke to George.
However, I was still feeling the need to improve myself so the intensive felt like a good idea. I thought self-improvement was the path to having more of the peace and inner freedom I was starting to experience. I believed that fixing my psychology was a requirement. Little did I know that was actually the bottleneck.
When we started the intensive Linda asked me about what I had already seen that was helpful to me. I immediately replied that recognizing my feelings were coming from my thoughts rather than from outside of me had been really helpful. I felt less like a victim. I didn’t see at the time that I had just switched my victimization from outside to inside and was now feeling victimized by my own thoughts. With this logic, it looked to me that I needed to find a way to not have the thoughts that created the feelings I didn’t like. My logic was, if I could get rid of my insecure, anxious, unworthy thinking then I would not suffer and life would be better.
Well in one conversation Linda blew up that belief. I will give myself credit for being a good listener. I had learned enough to be quiet and have an open mind about what she was sharing with me.
What I heard in this conversation was that my experience wasn’t a problem. My feelings of discomfort weren’t actually coming from the content of my thinking they were actually coming from my reaction to the content of my thinking and my resistance to my experience. Not only that but also my reaction to the content of my thinking and my experience was not a problem because I would naturally stabilize. That is simply the design of human psychology when left alone. Linda was pointing to the same thing George had pointed me to over a year ago, but I heard it more deeply this time.
I realized that I was not broken. I was simply having experience and that is a normal part of the human condition. We all have experiences that come and go. There was nothing to fix in that. And beyond my experience, there is the unchanging truth of wellbeing. My experience of it comes and goes, but the fact of it remains true.
I had completely dismissed this fact. I had ignored this mind-blowing truth about fundamental reality in favor of focusing on having a better experience. This is like buying a delicious dessert and throwing it away and looking for satisfaction from the empty plate. Maybe not the best metaphor, but I do love a delicious dessert.
I had completely missed the impact of what George was pointing to. I am and we all are fundamentally okay, and we have an experience of wellbeing that comes and goes. Our experience always changes. And, we can be on the learning curve of having more inner freedom and peace of mind no matter what our experience. All experience is normal. There is no problem to fix and no experience to resist. Experience is not the problem, judging it as wrong and trying to change it makes it feel like a problem. But, the problem is made up. And, eventually, our experience reflects that truth until we forget and make up another problem.
So back to the garden metaphor, what I see now is there is no patch or patches of weeds in my metaphorical garden. There is just the beauty of what is appearing and disappearing, all part of the innate harmony. And this is what I see in life. There is my experience that comes and goes and that is part of the harmony of the intelligence behind life. There is nothing to fix there. That is real freedom. Freedom is not found in trying to have certain kinds of experiences and not others. There is no freedom in that. It is impossible so it just leads to constant disappointment. The freedom is in knowing I’m okay no matter what experience shows up, in the experience of not feeling okay.
And the irony is, I tend to have far more experiences of peace, love, and understanding when I just let my experience be what it is. In my seeking more of those experiences by trying to change my experience, I got far less.
What you focus on grows. And as Jung said, “What you resist persists.”
Being with “what is” opens you up to appreciate what is true, real and unchanging. That is the direction to look in. That is the direction I used to not have an appreciation for. I looked at what was changing to try and control it to suit my preferences. But now have tremendous gratitude for the impersonal resilience that is behind it all that is universal to every single one of us.
So your relationship problems, or whatever you think your patch of weeds is, doesn’t exist when you see the real problem is simply resistance to what your experience is. When you are simply with what is, you fall into wellbeing and peace of mind. That doesn’t mean you won’t take action, but you won’t need to fix a problem. You simply do what makes sense in the moment. You won’t be compelled to try and take action from suffering and reactivity. You will simply do what you need to do in that moment.
My most profound experience of this was when I was wrongfully detained at the US border. I spent the night in INS jail and was told I would be deported the following day. I wasn’t allowed to call Angus. I felt completely powerless. Fortunately, I was allowed to make one call to my immigration attorney.
That night in jail, I cried and cried! I was felt so scared and alone. I was completely resistant to the situation and imagined all kinds of worst-case scenarios. But in the midst of my inner turmoil, it occurred to me to relax. From one moment to the next I went from fighting with what is to simply accepting my circumstances and my feelings of distress. In the letting go, I felt a wave of peace envelop me. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I knew with certainty that I would be okay. Right after that, I fell asleep and slept soundly for the rest of the night.
I was woken in the morning by the guards coming into my room. They all looked very stern and told me to get up right away. I was confused because I wasn’t supposed to be deported until that evening. As I got up and started getting ready they all burst out laughing and started beaming. They were so happy for me because I was being released. They had never seen that happen before. They were overjoyed to be able to let me out.
It turns out my attorney was able to call a decision-maker at LAX immigration. He spoke with the officer and said he wasn’t calling as an attorney. He was calling as a friend. Couldn’t they see they had a mistake? I had a valid visa. I had the paperwork with me. I had just used a different passport than they were expecting because I have dual citizenship. It was my attorney’s humanity that shifted things. He was not angry or adversarial. He just spoke to them human to human and helped them see what was common sense.
This experience went from becoming one of the low points of my life to one of the high points where guards and prisoners could have fun and laugh together. Where attorneys and border enforcement could work together. Where the common humanity would prevail and differences could be put aside. And for the purposes of this post, the point is that my problem ended in the middle of the night before any of this got resolved. I stopped having a problem as soon as I stopped resisting my experience. I truly had no problem locked up in INS jail not knowing when I would see my husband again or if I would ever be allowed to return to where we had created our life at the time. And in that, I was filled up with knowing I am okay no matter what the outcome. I share this with you so you can see this unfold in your life. Watch your problems disappear as you relax into what is and then take action from that space of knowing and resilience inside.
Rohini Ross is passionate about helping people wake up to their full potential. She is a transformative coach, leadership consultant, a regular blogger for Thrive Global, and author of the short-read Marriage (The Soul-Centered Series Book 1) available on Amazon. You can get her free eBook Relationships here. Rohini has an international coaching and consulting practice based in Los Angeles helping individuals, couples, and professionals embrace all of who they are so they can experience greater levels of well-being, resiliency, and success. She is also the founder of The Soul-Centered Series: Psychology, Spirituality, and the Teachings of Sydney Banks. You can follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and watch her Vlogs with her husband. To learn more about her work go to her website, rohiniross.com.