The End of Seeking
Our Awakened Brain
Today is January 1st, 2023. I love being on a threshold of an ending and a beginning …it feels fresh and new. Thank you for supporting my work. I appreciate you more than you’ll ever know, and I’m imagining you reading as I write. In my next post I’ll be answering reader questions so please don’t be shy if there is anything on your mind or heart, send me a message or comment below and I’ll do my best to respond from my own experience as best I can.
David F. Wallace addressed a graduating class in 2005 with a speech that became famous that began with this clever parable:
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
In the speech, which became one of his most read pieces, he struck a nerve when he pointed to something that many of us were feeling at the time and perhaps still are about “unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost some infinite thing”.
At Kenyon College, Wallace elaborated on his water parable:
The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about....The fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance.
And, nearing the end of his speech:
The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death. It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:
This is water.
I love that piece.
Time and space are pretty much all most of us can relate to most of the day. Matter. What’s solid and right in front of us…. Our bodies. Our homes, our families, and our pets. We mostly seem to juggle our schedules and separate experiences of life working, children’s schools and programs, getting a nutritious dinner on the table, squeezing in a run not to mention solving life’s little mysteries. Like lost socks…where DO they go?
It’s so compelling for all of us to just keep on living at the surface of things totally unaware of what is ultimate or to become aware of the water we are swimming in and at the same time, it seems as though we’ve become nonconversant about matters of spirituality.
I know this may seem a bit abstract to use a math grid, but I find it helpful to have some kind of image in mind. I guess if we were to invent an ideal scenario, and this is something I’m just making up for fun, we’d find ourselves in the very middle where the two lines intersect. In the present moment. Both in the world, grounded in this physical dimension AND deeply connected of the depth or vertical dimension available to help guide us through our lives.
The horizontal “X-axis” represents our daily physical reality and is mostly transactional in nature. Doing life and experiencing all the ups and downs of living as human beings on earth. The majority of us spend most of our time here. If we get caught up in anxious thoughts of the future we are leaning too far to the right, and if we get caught up in thoughts of the past, we tend to fall off balance by leaning too far to the left and have a tendency towards feeling depressed.
The vertical or “Y-axis” is transcendent and represents the depth of our being or our relationship with a higher power of our understanding which if forgotten or not in our conscious awareness can also cause us to suffer. We all spend some time here when we dream and it’s always there to help us, even if we’re unaware of it just waiting for us to ask. We have free will and can see it on our own time or not at all. It’s totally up to us and there’s no rush. Important note: we also suffer by being too high up on our y-axis and not grounded enough in our x, disconnected from human experience.
Since we’re all pretty familiar with the x-axis, let’s do a bit of a deeper dive into this Y-axis and why you might want to tap into this amazing part of you.
Religion can certainly be one helpful way for us to support the development of this Y axis or the other half of us, but some of us have had a bad experience or even a trauma at church and have understandably turned away from it altogether. It’s not necessary. Our y-axis is available to all of us. Secular awakenings happen every day.
There may be some spiritual or silent influences in our lives growing up. For instance in our home when I became a yoga instructor there were spiritual books strewn around and a meditation cushion sitting in our living room. There were other times when maybe my absence could be felt if I went to a Sunday morning service at our local church. My family loved and supported my seeking ways, and of course, they teased me about it too, but on some level, they were aware that I was interested in this depth dimension so they had some exposure to it.
Some of us have experiences we can’t really explain. They seem otherworldly. At the time I was only 16 and had a car full of girlfriends and narrowly missed crashing weaving in and out of oncoming traffic. Impossible to have negotiated as a new driver on black ice and yet not a scratch on any of us. I can remember bright light filled the car and time slowed down. It felt like slow motion. What the? That was a y-axis experience for me.
100% of people in a study done at Yale that didn’t consider themselves spiritual also experienced similar experiences, so consciously connected or not, our y-axis is there for all of us. Most of us at the very least have experienced synchronicities and helpful coincidences or have had a vivid or helpful dream.
One of my teachers shared his personal experience of not getting onto a flight that he really needed to be on for work to close a deal, it didn’t make any rational sense, but a profound feeling or intuition that he listened to saved his life. It was September 11th and everyone on his flight perished that day. His whole life changed. He experienced this inner shift and began to listen. He lost over 200 lbs which he had struggled with for decades and had a deep inner shift from that moment on in his life.
I once found a bible beside one of the boys’ beds while cleaning up one day so I know they were curious at some point. We didn’t even really speak about it, at this stage they had already swallowed the cultural zeitgeist, so we more or less raised our own children in a secular or agnostic environment. Like our own parents, we hoped they’d just find something that worked for them. Looking back, I do wonder if sometimes the social media and gaming culture they grew up in more or less took over as their primary source of inspiration. Or life lessons in anime like Naruto. I’m not sure we did a very good job helping them develop their y-axis, other than by being loving and kind. I wish I had known better, it may have helped them through some of their darker times in their teenage years to make better sense of things. It seems critical for us to feel loved, and connected, it helps us find meaning and answers to life’s deepest questions. The Y axis puts us in touch with higher guidance, buoyancy, and our connection to all of life. Especially when we are leaving them with a world that feels a bit like it’s in shambles. I think that cracks are being made and change is on the horizon.
We’ve all become so well-adapted to a maladaptive transactional world on our x-axis that it feels just like “normal” life to us to be anxious, depressed, or addicted.
Innate health is our inheritance.
I can’t help but think that if we knew that there was a better way, a way that even science is now showing can reduce our chances of becoming addicted by 80% and lowers the chance of suicide by 60% I think more of us would open our minds and get out of our own way to consciously bring this y-axis into play.
That’s what my work as a Metaphysical Minister is all about.
Meditation and being mindful is helpful, and an amazing way to clear our minds and help us be more present, but it’s just the first step. It seems what is ultimate is the honoring of our own direct spiritual experiences.
Asking or sitting with simple, compassionate questions in quiet moments and allowing ourselves to be shown the answers can help us connect.
Questions like maybe…“What is life showing me now?”
Any way you slice it, connecting with our awakened brain is foundational to our well-being. There is a seeking or a transcendent hunt in all of us happening whether we are aware of it or not.
When we don’t develop this part of our brain in adolescence we’ll go shopping for it in darker places, make false connections and often find temporary relief in substances. Yes, that donut-sized hole that I tried to fill with food, is a real thing. Our deep craving for connection, love and spiritual hunger won’t be ignored.
For thousands of years we’ve had rituals to support our youth through their adolescence in every religion, wisdom tradition, and in indigenous cultures, but with our secular culture and our narration of separation, our youth has been left willy-nilly to fend or seek for themselves and so have many of us that were raised without any kind of spiritual education.
When physical changes occur around puberty for most of us, we begin to have an augmented spiritual awareness and questions about the nature of reality. Without a tether to something bigger, young adults are on a hunt for Truth and transcendence in social media, drugs, and alcohol, and our existential questions have gone unanswered.
The fact that the number one threat to our adolescent children's lives is suicide is probably all the evidence we need at this stage that this is a real issue. They push us away when they need us more than ever, but many of us are at a loss and don’t know what to do.
I can remember being at a taping of the Oprah show with a friend the week after the school shooting at Columbine sitting and watching her interview the families of the kids that had been killed and it was one of the saddest hours of my life. The grief in the room was palpable. I still can’t help but wonder what kind of loneliness and pain a child must be feeling to want to do something so devastating. Sadly since then, there have been 300 more shootings so this is not going away.
Our kids are feeling disconnected and so are we.
The good news is that no matter where we fall on the spectrum of our y-axis in our faith or spirituality we can reconcile our hearts and minds. The amazing research being done today has uncovered that it doesn’t even matter what our belief systems are… whether it’s God, Allah, Jesus, the Universe, a deeper presence, Budha, or the Great Creator. All of them light up an area of our brains on MRIs that otherwise absent is similar to the indicators of a depressed brain.
We need to know that we matter. It’s foundational to our mental health. If we don’t our existential angst can be carried with us into adulthood. We can’t medicate it to feel better. The spiritual path is guided and filled with potentialities BY spirit, not matter or other human beings. It’s transcendent.
We participate in it, by being open to it.
Epidemiologists are showing us that any form of spiritual awakening and awareness has a huge impact on our health and well-being. Dr. Lisa Miller’s work and the research at Yale and other universities today are showing that the ventral attention networks in our brain are where we can see and perceive that the world is alive and communicating back with us in every moment. The frontal temporal network is where we feel the warm loving embrace of others and feel held by life itself, and the parietal lobe is where we know we matter, we belong, and are never alone.
We are hard-wired for this.
Maybe the way it’s perceived or taught is the problem, but it seems like a hard thing for us to grasp. The recognition of what is beyond our physical reality…something invisible but so all-encompassing and intrinsic to our lives.
I will be the first to admit that I have definitely been caught up mostly in my x-axis, making resolutions and I’ve truly tangled myself in the self-improvement net over the years. External success has felt more ultimate to me. I think that’s normal and probably impossible to not think that having things is better than not having them. Or looking good. We want to be loved, to be accepted, to feel safe. To manifest our desires and yes I’ve enjoyed the experiences and all of the things I’ve intentionally manifested, but I also have a deep knowing that nothing of this world, as bright and shiny as it may be will ever fully satisfy any of us for long.
Why is it so compelling for us to try so hard to change ourselves from the outside in?
What we probably need most in our western culture is a big spoonful of humility. Clearly, our ego desires and intellectual arrogance have always been and will likely still be the driving forces that dominate most of the waking time and resources that we spend our time on. That is, as long as we are deeply convicted that we are just three-dimensional beings on an x-axis, a veritable meat suit or worm food as my kids like to joke. So of course we need to focus on being stronger, faster, more successful, thinner, better at our jobs, look younger, more attractive, or could do all we can to live a bit longer.
Abraham Maslow published his famous hierarchy of needs in the late 1950s which was foundational in modern Psychology and is still used today with our basic needs being met at the bottom and then layered upwards and topped off with the highest point of the pyramid originally identified as “self-actualization”. I’m guessing that probably influenced the “becoming our best self” movement as soon after the self-help section was born.
With a little bit of digging online, I discovered that 10 years later, he realized his mistake or oversight he tried to amend that before his death in 1970, and he clarified that it wasn’t self-actualization that was the ultimate human need, it’s transcendence. (Interesting side note: After picking up one of our sons from university and chatting about it with friends I found out that they still teaching the original hierarchy of needs in first-year psychology classes in Universities today. It feels like our egos are just psyched to get our own personal needs met, rather than transcending them. Or “me, me, me, me” as my kids like to joke when one of us is being selfish around the house.)
On the other hand, the most famous spiritual texts are clearly telling us NOT to be tempted to idolize material things. Biblically we’re asked to simply have faith. Not to have a care about what we wear or eat and that all of our needs will be met the way they are in nature for every other living creature and thing on earth. At least the ones whose habitats haven’t been destroyed by us.
The other hard metaphysical pill for us to swallow is that planning is fear in disguise. Our egos have a hard time with that, we love our day-timers and we can’t be convinced that we are enough as we are so we’ll probably keep being busy and buying stuff and storage rather than entertain the possibility that it may be true for us too.
The idea that this is an abundant Universe and all our needs are met is a natural occurrence and not something that needs to be forced or planned ahead for is maybe not be something we’re all ready for quite yet, but maybe it’s where we’re heading as we grow spiritually and our level of consciousness rises.
I’m not sure.
I am doubtful that we will ever solve the problems we’re facing on this X-axis or on a human material level from the level of consciousness created by them. I think Einstein was definitely onto something. The Y axis inside of all us can be our best guide.
Interestingly the word religion means “to bind”, and the word yoga means to “yoke”…they are just two very practical human ways to help us develop this vertical dimension and help us connect to the Divine.
There was an incredible turning point for me in my own life once my own two axes intersected. My entire world shifted and so did my perception of everything. Feeling this “something infinite” and ultimate that we’ve totally lost touch with is hands down the best thing that’s ever happened in my life.
How do we know it’s ultimate?
It’s a fair question and probably an impossible one to answer well, but I once heard John O’Donahue one of my favorite Irish authors use the example of how you could be on any given day, busy with a million important things to do and places to be the next day for a work project, and then the phone rings at 2 am and you receive the kind of news that someone you love is dying. Everything else falls away immediately. There is nothing that you had planned could hold a candle to what feels critical or ultimate at that moment and it’s being with the person you love.
In a single moment, everything changes.
Our brains are hardwired for awakening, and it’s love, not our rational minds that renders everything in our lives sublime. It may be beyond our intellectual capacity to understand, but we know that we have in our brains a series of circuits that allows us to see and experience this deeper nature of life that is buoyant.
It’s a field of consciousness where we feel loved, held, guided, and never alone.
We have a knowing that we are perfect as we are when we are plugged into it.
Calm. Equipped with everything we need to be truly at peace.
We feel fulfilled and satisfied with ourselves as we are.
Fear falls away like the illusion or “False Evidence Appearing Real” it always was and all that’s left is love. There would have been a time not so long ago that I would have rolled my eyes and rejected this idea faster than Red Bull F1 driver Max Verstappen in Barcelona but I know it’s true because I’ve experienced it for myself.
Without the counterbalance of a developed depth dimension or “y-axis”, we only have our narrow-minded egos to lean on which at the moment are mistakenly driven by fear and lack and a narrative of separation.
Not by love.
What I know for sure, is that there are cracks in our armor and we’re slowly but surely waking up to our true nature one person at a time. No matter what you may be going through in the dark corners of your mind or life, or how lost you feel, you’re never alone. We are inter-beings as Thich Nat Hahn called us, connected and swimming in this ultimate unnamable something together whether we are aware of it, or not.
Happy New Year, but if it’s not as happy as you hoped, that’s okay too. As Abraham Lincoln famously once said: “I fell to my knees because there was nowhere left to go”. Our painful, unhappy transitions can help lead us to finally surrender and transcend.
2023 can be the year of our enlightenment.
ps. If you’ve never read any of his work, the late Irish poet John O'Donohue is someone you may want to experience. He died when he was my own age, 52, and I think the best way to end this essay and honor his life and work is with his own words in a prayer:
“May I waste my heart on fear no longer. ” John O’Donahue