Many of us are troubled by things that have happened to us. In some cases we hold deep secrets about these things, so awful that even our close loved ones are unaware of our pain.

Yet even while these are hidden in the recesses of our minds, we seek ways to release ourselves from the past.

As one who had a violent marriage to a heroin addict, I was such a person. I would have given everything I had to someone who could have helped me transcend my own trauma. But shedding it looked impossible to me. For a long time I could not count a single day when I was not terrified.

Being in that wilderness without an exit was the lowest point in my life.  As time passed I had good days when I forgot about it all. I had fewer bad days. I longed for, but wasn't quite able to find what I really wanted: my complete freedom.  

Then the way to freedom showed itself. Not in a blaze of light, but a small parting of a curtain. And as I persisted in finding out what was behind that curtain I found my own way.  

Sydney Banks, a great teacher of kindness wrote "The Missing Link" and in it he said:

There is no way to guarantee a trouble-free life.

Life is like any other contact sport. 
You may encounter hardships of one sort or another.

Wise people find happiness 
not in the absence of such hardships,
but in their ability to understand 
them when they occur.
The "ability to understand" is they key I was looking for.  I spent a lot of time rummaging in the drawers of the past looking for my answer, my freedom, but didn't find it until I found out something deeper about myself and my true nature. 

To me, Syd is suggesting we all allow our own deeper nature to show us the way forward through love and understanding.  He is inviting us to look away from the searing pain and toward the spiritual, formless side of life -- not to ignore what is happening now -- but to look behind it.  To look to something more.

During the time I looked for my answers, I read many spiritual books. Among them, "A Course In Miracles." I even worked helping to translate the Course in the very early years before any translations had yet been published. The Course has been in my life for 30 years now, off and on, and I must admit it has both comforted me and confounded me. 

I came across this on page 591 today:
You need no healing to be healed.

The miracle comes quietly into the mind that stops an instant and is still.
I almost missed the great importance of this.  I wished I had really seen this those many years ago when I was struggling to let go of all the painful memories I carried with me.  

It comforts me to know that these messages of help are everywhere, although we may miss them or not understand them. But even more than this, what truly helps me today is to know that there is a spiritual, or formless life that is me, and remains unchanged regardless of what happens to me.

How can we turn to the remembrance of what we are, within the formless nature of life itself, and know that it is inviolate? 

How can we be in acknowledgement of the events and yet separate and untouched by their consequences?

It seems impossible. Yet, it is not.  That is all I know. For so it has been for me.  

More books that have helped me on my way.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.  
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.  
The dark will be your womb
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.  
You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in...
(David Whyte, Excerpt from Sweet Darkness)

As I write this I am preparing the last live broadcast of my show "A New Way To Handle Absolutely Everything" on Contact Talk Radio (iTunes podcasts will continue)  What lies ahead, I'm not entirely sure. 

I must admit, I have always been a great big know-it-all. And a planner. I like to think I have a future, some influence over it, and that I know something.

The truth is, I don't.

Only the other day I was about to state one of my opinions as "fact" when I  caught myself.  As I pulled back I noticed I quieted down inside and settled into  the nicest feeling of not being a somebody.  I remembered how important it used to be to me to know (or to not look like I didn't) and to be seen as having authority.  It's amazing, isn't it, how life is hard enough and yet on top of that we have the full time job of managing our image of ourselves!

I've learned so much about this and have relaxed much more into my authentic self in recent years.

In "101 New Pairs of Glasses" I included quite a few chapters on releasing this kind of strain and my favorite is the chapter on mystery. In it I advocate for the art of not-knowing. I'd like to remind myself of this message today

How do we listen and just let it become clear as we go?

Are we able to just rest in the fresh scent of the unknown and see what happens?

I'd like to share this piece from the chapter on mystery, mainly as a reminder to myself how valuable it is for me allow mystery to be here as I take each step...

"The desire to know, or worse, the desire to look like we know is a modern plague. In one fell swoop it destroys listening, understanding, cooperation and learning.  It undermines peace of mind and peace amongst nations.

Consumed by our desire to know, or not admit that we don't, we finish other people's sentences, we hate people we have never met, and we cling to things we have long outgrown.

Living in the world of familiarity our lives are choked off by the smallness of our ideas.  Crowded in by the known we become selectors instead of creators. The death of curiosity is surely the birth of the ego, as children give up on being explorers of wild imaginings and doodads without names and become regurgitators of facts. 

Our lack of curiosity leads directly to our unwillingness to fail and spreads from there to our unwillingness to try - because we already know.  We know too much. And what we know isn't worth learning.

To allow wonder and mystery into your life is to suddenly find yourself in weightless spaciousness.  We work so hard to fuel personal creativity, business and product innovation, but we would automatically have all of these if we added just an extra dash of curiosity to our daily vitamin supplements.

Imagine not knowing your boss, not knowing your children, not knowing yourself - being totally open.  You'd listen closely. You would see new and amazing things. You'd discover the people you live with are people you've never met before. In the freshness of the moment you would unable to locate that familiar feeling of disconnection.

You would see into how your world is constructed. You'd gasp to realize you are much bigger than you ever imagined. 

You'd lose your fear."

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 "Before enlightenment I was depressed, after enlightenment I continue to be depressed"  -- Anthony de Mello

One of my clients once asked me, "If I'm so spiritually evolved, why am I having a bad day?"

Don't we all have this question in various forms?   

"I'm a coach, why am I having difficulty with this issue?"
"I'm a therapist, why are my own relationships in trouble?"
"I've been doing self-development for years, why am I still getting angry?"

Or perhaps you've had the question tossed at you... 

"If you teach this to people, why don't you go practice it yourself!"  

We tend to see these questions as pointing toward some issue within us; something we need to clean up or some way in which we are inauthentic or out of integrity.

Not so.

... unless the purpose of self-development (or spiritual growth) is to never have a bad day again.

It's not that I think becoming issue-free is unrealistic or impossible.  Perhaps it is.  But what interests me more is this:  Do we study, have our spiritual practices, or hire someone to help us 'get better' in order to never ever feel bad again?

If we make our self-improvement all about becoming a perfect human being with a perfect life, we are in for trouble.  There is no greater suffering than striving to be a flawless human.  It is an endless moving runway with a carrot dangling -- always -- just out of reach.   You make improvements in one area and soon you are noticing all the ways that you are lacking in another and then you are right back on the treadmill. 

It's very easy when we read spiritual masters, reflect, meditate, study or hire someone to work with us, to fall into the trap of believing that a sign of enlightenment (or progress) is that we will stop having strong negative emotions.  Just look at how shocked we are when a one of our icons admits to feeling depression, gets mad at a being stuck in traffic, gets a divorce or declares bankruptcy!  

No matter how much 'work' you do on yourself, you cannot get rid of your emotions -- because you cannot get rid of the fact that you are a thinking being.  The two go together, hand in glove. We always feel whatever we think. 

Thoughts themselves are a kaleidoscope of infinite colors and shapes, many of which are not all that pretty.  We define the bad, uncomfortable, unworthy and wrong ones and then set about trying to extract them as if they were cavities. How would you do that, really?  And more importantly, why would you want to?  You are by definition as 'sentient being'.

'Bad thinking' isn't something to rip out and replace with positivity.  Maybe life would be better if we could do this; but have you ever actually succeeded? Are you sure that's purpose of personal growth? 

For me it proved stressful, and ultimately unsuccessful! 

A turning point for me was when I noticed that I actually do not take EVERY thought seriously.  I've had thoughts of punching someone, and not followed through. I realized I am actually already naturally and effortlessly ignoring all kinds of thoughts. You probably do too, within the last hour perhaps.  

You know how they say "the thought crossed my mind"?  It's true. Thoughts do cross your mind.  AND if you notice, you might also find that, you too have plenty of experience in not taking them seriously. Thoughts themselves cannot compel action from us.  Thoughts are not us. So the types of thoughts you have do not define the kind of person you are.

Seeing this, we can relax. We can understand that thinking is not problematic. It just happens.  It's not who we are, but it happens in us.   

I have given up on trying to change and get rid of certain thoughts.  My life is the better for it.

Last week I was teaching at our CSC Retreat by the Sea and for the 9 hours driving up and back to Santa Cruz from San Diego, I was listening to Anthony de Mello's Wake Up To Life lectures (which I highly recommend!).  He asserts,  

"Do you know it's possible to be anxious, yet not troubled?  Do you realize that you can be happy in your anxiety and in your depression?  The only reason you don't is because you don't understand what happiness is. You think happiness is 'thrills'. It's not..."

Most of us are trying to be happy without knowing and without inquiring into what happiness is.  When we define it as 'never having a bad day' or 'never being upset' no wonder we are never happy! 

I am wondering if perhaps the purpose of life is not to get happiness or even to be happy, but to understand what happiness really is.   

Only then, does happiness have a chance to unfold within us and be recognized.