…if the aspiration is inside a human being to grow,
to find the truth, then (she) will find a way
and the way will find (her).
I just watched a video titled, 212 – The Extra Degree, (http://www.videosmotivational.com/best-clips/success/212-the-extra-degree/). It is a good promotional video that stresses the importance of the number “1”, beginning with the difference between water that is 211º and is hot, and water that is 212º and boils producing steam which is power enough to move a train or a boat. The video moves on to remember athletes that won gold medals by 1+ seconds, race-car drivers that beat the existing record by less than 1 second, etc. At some point it says that you too can make the difference in your life by, among other things, “having a simple, clearly defined goal that can capture the imagination and inspire passion”. Upon reading that my mind immediately said: Well, that’s that: you don’t have one, you don’t have a goal today and that is why you are not doing anything.
Now that is a stressful thought; it is a defeating thought; it is a thought that could push me to bury my head in a bowl of ice cream or slit my wrists with a cookie cutter. But, no sooner had I sat myself comfortably down to decide how I might extinguish this flickering flame of nothing, when I saw very clearly and perhaps for the first time that my life had had a definite direction: a direction that had begun forging itself from very early on.
I wanted to know what being a human being meant. I wanted to know who… no, what I was. To understand what it meant to be a human being through consciously –very consciously- being me, being my own living laboratory. I believe, nowadays, that that is called “living a conscious life” and if I look back, I probably took this decision upon hearing my grandmother, on her 75th birthday, lament that she had no idea where her life had gone. Suddenly, I understood that that was the tragedy: to awaken one morning with life spent without the vaguest idea of where or how one had spent it. Without putting it in so many words, I somehow understood then that if there were nothing else I did with my life, it would be worth living if I could totally embody that which I was supposed to be consciously and willingly. Obviously, that is easier said than done. But the Universe is kind and generous and if we have a desire which is absolutely true to our nature, even if we personally forget it, the Universe will not, so life saw to it that I would be consciously brought back to myself on every step of the way. Everything, every single thing I did from that moment on, pushed me forward on the path of understanding the human condition through my own experience as it unfolded. And just how did the Universe do this? It did it through a series of progressive crises that kept pushing me to wake up.
So I became a seeker, a searcher, a delver into anything that might give me a notion of what the heck was going on in my life. At 18 I dropped out of college and dove into Catholicism, believing that religion could give me an idea of who I was. When that didn’t happen, I exchanged the meanderings of “faith” for the meanderings of the mind and leapt into personal psychoanalysis. The possibility of understanding how my mind actually worked captured my imagination beyond anything else I had experience until that moment, and read every book I could lay my hands on about the human psyche while at the same time deciding to pursue my adolescent dream to become a writer. I studied literature in the University applying my psychological knowledge to literary analysis and learning in the process how language was not only shaping my own experience, but could be used to shape that of others. When I began to believe that I would never become a writer because of my social and cultural rootlessness, life organized for me to live my first novel. I was kidnapped and held hostage for 11 days, and what previously had only been thought in my imagination (that there was more to “me” than actually met the eye), I began experience physically. I split in two. There was the “me” that was living the events and suffering, and then there was something else that consciously watched how I reacted in each moment. It was as if something had separated, something that was not emotionally involved with happenings unfolding as I spent those eleven days blindfolded in the company of my five kidnappers. It was this part that allowed me to later write a novel based on my experience. When someone asked me why I had written the book, I thought about it and came to the conclusion that it was so I could understand what had happened. Thanks to psychoanalysis, my capacity to go inside and observe what was evolving, I got to see how the so-called “Stockholm Syndrome” was simply the response of a helpless creature overwhelmed with gratitude at being kept alive, sometimes even with kindness. I got to live closely with “criminals” and touch their humanity as they touched mine. But above all, I got to experience something that most people go their whole lives without knowing: I got to live in the present, anything else was pure torture: the past was out of reach and the future was unimaginable. There was nowhere to go in my little cell, so as best I could I remained in the Now. Little did I suspect then, that that was exactly where my path was leading me.
I was 36 when I wrote my first book. Later I produced another novel and two books of short stories. I had actually conceived the idea for my second novel way before the kidnapping, but 17 years passed between then and the actual writing. Whereas in Eleven Days I had written to understand what had happened, in The Astounding story of the Saint of Cabora I wrote of things I had not consciously experienced up to that moment, but would incredibly enough begin to experience in my own life after its publication. There were moments in its writing that I would have no idea where it was going and would have to allow the characters to carry the story forward, or that I would reread what had been written the previous day with no memory whatsoever of having written it and no understanding of where it had come from. It is much too long a story to go into here, but suffice it to say that when I wrote it, it was not an autobiographical story (although everything one writes is deep down autobiographical) but in the years following it has become autobiographical and paraphrasing Flaubert I can honestly say “Teresa Urrea is me”. As for my short stories, most were written during my feminist period and reflected or questioned the position of women in a patriarchal society. I became a feminist –speaking out for the evolution, not revolution, of my gender- and read extensively on the subject during the 70’s. I created a feminist study group so that I might share what I was learning and motivate other women to delve into the “feminine condition”. I analyzed the works, over all, of other women writers, created two anthologies having to do with the themes of virginity and the female life cycle. I published a book of essays of Women’s Literature, including an article arguing that woman’s literature had the right to be considered a body of work on its own and with its own history, without being compared to men’s literature and at best shoe-horned into male literary schools or, at worst, completely excluded from them.
I worked with and eventually directed a nature conservation association that introduced me to ecosystems and our part in them, and in destroying them. I learned about social imbalance and conflict resolution while working with industrialists and politicians on efforts to save endangered species and habitats. I fell in love with this Earth and all the creatures that live on it and I identified with the females of other species, especially sea turtles.
In the long run, I learned about addiction as what I had considered my birth right (to drink) turned into a death right and I was forced to find a way out. After a long, long journey through psychology, sociology, ecology, philosophy, anthropology and other areas of knowledge, I finally arrived at spirituality thanks to alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous. Up until that moment I had believed in the supremacy of the mind, I had paid homage to Reason as god. But reason and the mind, although they had given me a tremendous amount of knowledge and insight, but they hadn’t shown me how to live or answered the question of why I was here. AA invited me to begin looking for something greater than myself. Yes, they used the word “God”, but I was free to cross it out and use Universe, or Cosmos, or Higher Power… anything as long as it wasn’t my narrow little ego-mind. I was invited to not believe, but to make as if I believed and see what happened. What happened was that I began having experiences that couldn’t be explained by the reasonable mind. Not only that, but I realized that I had always had those experiences but, as my mind couldn’t explain them, it just pushed them aside. I began watching these events more closely. At the invitation of the Twelve Step program, I started to let go of my need to control my life and became an observer of it. The more I watched, the more extraordinary were the “coincidences” I observed. Suddenly, my life became a fascinating journey that I got to watch from the passenger seat.
But I didn’t stop there. The Twelve Steps brought me back to life and I used them to push myself up into every alternative psychological method or spiritual experiment that was available. I discovered Carl Jung and left Freud behind. I joined a group for dream interpretation led by a psychologist and began keeping a dream journal; later there was a group to study the application of the Tarot to personal psychology; I grazed about a while in astrology and had my astrological chart drawn up. While shuffling back and forth between Gestalt, Fischer-Hoffman, Family Constellations and plain old psychotherapy, I read dozens of self-help books; threw myself into the problem of female codependency, formed self-help groups for women and began sharing my own experience with others through sponsorship. I discovered Jiddu Krishnamurti and then Deepak Chopra, Erkhart Tolle and dozens of other spiritual leaders who were breaking new ground in the knowledge of what we might be; and I tried meditation.
Looking back, I can see today that what I was looking for is called “Enlightenment”. I didn’t know it back then. I didn’t even know that such a thing existed or that it could be something searched for outside of any religion. And then someone introduced me to The Work of Byron Katie. Katie (as she is called by all who know her) does not say anything that I had not read hundreds of times in those considered “teachers”. Even Mahatma Gandhi says that man is a product of his thoughts and becomes what he thinks. Anaïs Nin, way back when, offered that we don’t see reality as it is but as we think it is and all spiritual leaders tell us we are dreaming and that we have to “wake up”, but until that moment these ideas had been nothing but theory and it was all well and good to say that the way I thought determined the way I lived, but no one seemed to be able to offer a way out other than meditating for the rest of my life (and frankly I couldn’t see the use of being born a human being into a life full of experiences and then locking oneself away from all that to meditate, or in the case of religions, to pray). So what was it about Katie that was (is) different? Katie’s “Work” offered me the personal and physical experience of exactly how thought works to “run” my life, and when I saw that, when I experienced that, I was suddenly on my way to being free. Each physical and emotional experience of who I am when I believe a stressful thought compared to who I would be in the same situation without that thought brought me a step closer to freedom which, for me, is no more than living in reality as it is in each moment. One day I simply realized that my mind had become very quiet; the chatter had stopped: I was actually living in a meditation-like state without altering my everyday life. I was present perhaps for the first time. The experience was, as Katie says, mind-blowing.
So… am I enlightened? I love what Katie says: Enlightenment is a story of the past; it doesn’t exist except in the immediacy of the instant when I stop believing a thought: in that instant, I wake up but only in that instant. In the exact instant I say “I am awake” it is in the past, it is now a story that the mind would tell. As I came to experience this, I stopped searching, I stopped seeking (which does not mean I do not continue to learn and evolve; it just means I am present and any belief I have about my own “evolution” is just a pretty story that entertains no one but me).
So here I am at 70+, after having strived to reach a definite goal over the last 45 years, now armed with a simple instrument (4 questions and a turnaround) that can free me at each instant from the prison of my own mind, and I am about to begin chastising myself for not having a goal in life that can move me forward from here. Forward? Maybe I should ask just where it is I think I am going? So the joke is on me, for all those years that I actually thought I was going somewhere! You better believe it: today I understand that no one is more enlightened than my precious little dog, Salomé!