In these pages you will find answers to the most frequently asked questions around the following topics: Personality, Inner Child, Awareness Intensives and Spirituality in general. These answers are by no means exhaustive nor are they to be taken for granted. They are simply pointers for those who are on the Way.
Practice, experiment and see for yourself whether your own experience matches the proposed answers.
For ease of readability, these questions & answers are grouped together by topic.
The personality as used in this context is a collection (an arrangement) of our beliefs systems, our emotional states and our behaviour patterns centered on the identification with the reference to ‘me’ or ‘I’.
A baby has no personality whatsoever. The personality arises when the child starts to recognize himself and it develops all along childhood according to the specific characteristics of the environment in which the child is immersed.
The personality is essentially built around the relationship with others and the way others perceive us as well as from pleasant or unpleasant experienced situations. The personality is an undefined and multiform paste up who imposes its control and domination upon the reality that we intrinsically are. The words ‘ego’ or ‘me’ or ‘I’ are simply the core labels of the personality.
Imagine that you are feeling hungry; will reading a book about a succulent recipe satisfy your hunger? No of course not. To satisfy your hunger you will need to eat real food.
The same goes with changing our personality or behaviour patterns, you’ll need to practice what is being taught in the book, only reading it won’t do. Besides, books are usually made for general public, they do not necessarily apply to your case and this can mislead you in some undesirable direction.
Moreover, wanting to change personality or behaviour patterns can be tricky because it sounds like: “Well… I don’t like this pattern of mine, I want to get rid of it and get another one, a better one, one that I will feel good with, comfortable with.”
Of course you can do this and many people do take this approach and start behaving according to what they’ve read or heard but does something really change in them or will they simply have taken on another behaviour pattern which seems to fit better in their eyes?
Inner growth is not about changing a pattern for another one, it is about transformation, about bringing harmony into something that is recognized and felt as dis-harmonious.
Reading books or listening to talks can be a good incentive for change, yet you’ll have to walk the way.
Intellectual understanding is not transformative, that’s why reading books is of no real help. True understanding or heart understanding is by nature transformative.
When you only understand something intellectually, nothing really changes; this is also why some people report that: “I’ve been to many workshops and read many books but nothing has changed for me, what went wrong?”
What went wrong is that they have only intellectually understood what was being said or offered in the workshop, their heart was not involved.
Nothing will change with only intellectual understanding. Intellectual understanding is a needed and necessary step and can be, yet not necessarily, the opening door to a more profound understanding, a heart understanding, the only one that truly counts.
True transformation happens when we open our heart and are willing to face what is real rather than what we would like, when we let go of our expectations and desires to be different than whom we are. There need to be a willingness to face, admit and embrace what is usually referred to as: ‘one’s negativity’ or’ one’s dark sides’. Acceptance is the key for a true transformation to take place.
They certainly can if we accept that it is not about swapping one coat for another one but to go through a transformation process.
Many workshops on the ‘spiritual growth market’ offer to change behaviour patterns by thinking differently, by applying ‘positive thinking’ or positive behaviourism. This is simply swapping coats. It has no effect whatsoever on the root cause of the behaviour pattern and moreover it requires a great deal of efforts.
Only a transformative process can and will change the personality effortlessly. Yet most of the time transformation is not taking place because we cling to a ‘me’ that we identify as being who we are. We feel secure with this ‘me’, whilst for transformation to take place questioning our beliefs and preconceived ideas is required. It is about opening a door to the unknown and this can be felt scary, overwhelming even. Insecurity, doubt, not knowing and vulnerability will be triggered, quite the opposite of the intellectual and controlling mind that always goes for security, for knowledge.
So yes we can transform our personalities in order to live a more harmonious life within our life environment.
One thing to remember though is that changing or transforming our personalities is not the end, it is only one aspect of inner growth because we are much more than our personality; our personality is indeed a fictitious reality, helpful to go about in life, yet fictitious nonetheless.
Inner growth is about going beyond the personality, beyond this ‘me’ that we identify with. But to go beyond something one has to be clear about what this something is, otherwise one is groping in darkness; so working on the personality is a useful and needed step on any ‘spiritual path’. As someone mentioned, working on the personality is the bridge to being-ness.
When such a question as: ‘how to fix this problem?’ is raised, it tends to imply that the questioner has a difficulty to look at the issue directly and that he is trying to avoid facing what is truly going on for him. This becomes the main barrier to solving the issue because then the root cause of the issue will remain in some unconscious part of the psyche and keep being active and creating trouble for the person.
So the first thing is: never try to change, solve or fix any behaviour pattern but always look in term of transforming and for transformation to take place a few steps are needed.
The first step is to become more aware, more conscious of what it happening, generalizing only creates confusion. Saying: ‘I always adjourn any action’ is too general; one needs to start with one specific situation that occurs in one’s life.
Take one situation and go through it step by step. Doing so will bring clarity to what is exactly happening and with this clarity some understanding will take place. The understanding that: I am acting like this, in this case: postponing, because I fear to face something.
Which will bring the next question: what is it that I fear to face?
Maybe be this is not known at first and that’s Ok; what is important is to recognize that the drive for my postponing attitude is fear.
Then there is a possibility to work further by taking this fear into account, by accepting that: ‘yes I am afraid’ or ‘yes I fear something’. Admitting that ‘I fear something’ is a crucial step because it is a yes to the inner reality at play. Without this yes, no transformation is possible. To complete the process one more step will be needed and that is expressing. Expressing what needs to be express in relation with the situation.
Expressing will help create a discharge of the stuck energy and this expressing can take different forms, not only emotional release as many people think. Verbal sharing, writing, painting, dancing can be used as well as different bodywork techniques.
To summarize, rather than trying to fix the issue use the transformative trilogy below:
• Recognize (what is)
• Accept (that this is the case)
• Express (what needs to be expressed)
And see how things change for you.
You cannot drop fear. Yes you can override fear by pretending to have courage, by pulling yourself together as the expression goes; but in reality fear will still be there, simply pushed away in some unknown corners of the psyche.
Facing fear is the only way out.
Facing fear is not an easy affair as fear covers such a vast range of origins and is often itself feared. Yet what is important is to realize that: ‘I am afraid or I have a fear’. And with this realization fear is not pushed away, it is being recognized and to some degree, accepted.
Sensing or putting one’s attention on how this fear manifests in the body will enable some confidence to arise and with this confidence it will be possible to allow the thoughts and the feelings that are associated with the fear to surface. These thoughts and feelings will of course be different for each person according to the root cause of the fear but it does not matter, what matters is to regain the ability to be with the fear, to live the fear and with it, express whatever sensation, feelings or emotion that call to be expressed.
It is not about dropping the fear but more a process of moving with the fear and what is associated with it so that fear melts or drops by itself.
Jealousy is an overriding fire that only wishes to destroy anyone and anything that stands in his way. It comes because of comparison. Jealousy arises because we consider ourselves lower than others, because we carry negative judgments on ourselves. It is the belief that we are not good enough, not beautiful enough, not worthy enough, not lovable that gives rise to jealousy. Letting go of the belief is the only way out of jealousy. Recognizing our own qualities, our own worthiness, our own potential will put an end to jealousy.
A desire is actually an unfulfilled need and desire originate mainly from unfulfilled basic needs, such as the need to be seen or recognized, the need to be accepted, to be supported, in a broader sense, the need to be loved.
Our basic needs which are most crucial and vital for our growth are seldom fulfilled during our childhood years. We are not loved properly, so we grow up with ‘holes’ within us and then our life is spent trying to fill these holes, these needs.
Desires are simply the other side of needs, they go hand in hand, that’s also the reason why it is pointless to try to fulfil our desires or to try to eliminate desires and be desire less.
A better option is to look at the need. Recognizing the need at play within us and taking care of it. Yet not by trying to fulfil the need which would then become a desire, but by bringing love and understanding to this need. Facing and expressing the pain that this unfulfilled needs generates is a more mature option.
That’s where working on the personality comes handy; it helps recognizing the unfulfilled needs and becomes a support for fulfilment and contentment. A hungry person is not interested in meditation, in True Nature; her priority is finding food first and then once the hunger is satisfied she may want to sit and meditate or ponder on what True Nature is. Similarly, many people in search of enlightenment are in fact searching to fulfil a need for love that is the reason why on any spiritual path, whether eastern or western, this is addressed first.
The full question is: « In our culture, sex is something covert, taboo and we are all shy to talk about it. Actually our hearts would be more open and free if we could break these restrictive concepts about sex, so, how can we do that? »
You are right; your hearts would be more open and free without these restrictive concepts. It is in the hands of each individual to free himself from any taboo, especially around sex and sexuality and to live a life of enjoyment and playfulness in all directions.
To break free from these restrictive concepts, you first need to turn your attention towards yourself and see how these concepts are impeding your life. Although these concepts are common to most people, the way they obstruct a person is specific to that individual and linked with his or her personal upbringing. In that sense there is no ‘general how to’.
One of the main reasons why this topic remains restrictive is simply because it is not talked about openly. The shyness or the shame needs to be overcome first, that’s why sharing with someone we can trust can be a good start and highly beneficial.
Going further, recognizing, exposing and expressing whatever is linked with this issue within a safe environment is of major importance for transformation to take place and this can be done within a group structure or with individual sessions.
Some paths, like Tantra are more specifically oriented towards uprooting restrictive concepts around sexuality. This sexual deconditioning can also be done within any structure that favours a sincere expression of oneself together with being received without judgment.
Sincere expression and being received without judgement are the two major components to undo these restrictive ideas around sexuality and, since we are not just a mind but a whole body-mind system, the verbal expression can be favourably sustained with bodywork to unblock the muscle tensions generated by these restrictive ideas. In the same way, activities like dancing, painting, sculpting or writing can also be used as a support to let the heart break free.
This question seems to imply that you consider your personality as something dirty that needs cleaning. There is not such a thing as a dirty, unworthy or unlovable person, only judgements imposed on the person by others. Yet, as a child we intrinsically carry a need to be accepted, loved, so we buy into these judgments and make them ours which gives us a distorted image of ourselves with the consequence that most of the time, if not all the time, we are not living according to our potential but more according to what others have made us believe we are or should be.
We have forgotten the pure space that we are and all meditation techniques are geared to take us to this pure inner space beyond the conditioned mind. They are not geared to deal with the personality and behaviour patterns even if, to a certain extent, they do help becoming more conscious about them.
Understanding and gaining clarity on how we function in life, what our needs and desires are, what beliefs we took on is a needed step towards letting go of these unhealthy conditionings and in that sense ‘clean’ the personality and this can be done on the side of practicing a meditation technique. Both are needed for anyone who wishes to access his true nature.
There is none and there is one. It all depends from what perspective we are looking from.
From the perspective of True Nature there is no distinction because duality does not exist, everything is whole, everything is one, not two.
The distinction only comes from the perspective of the personality. The personality lives in the realm of duality. There is ‘me’ and ‘something other than me’.
• ‘me’ and ‘you’
• ‘me’ and ‘my body’
• ‘me’ and ‘my mind’
• ‘me’ and ‘my feelings/emotions’, etc.
From the personality perspective, which is centered on the thinking and objective mind there is a distinction. There is our incarnation, there is our body-mind system with all its ups and downs, there is life in its different forms and there is even something else that some people call: ‘True Nature’. From the personality perspective there is a multitude of ‘other than me’ mostly because our whole world revolves around the identification with the personality.
Identification means separation and the sole purpose of ‘spirituality’ or ‘meditation’ is to put an end to this identification.
Taking part in awareness intensives enables a clearer understanding of oneself and above all it enables the reconnection with our essence or true nature.
Most of those who come to participate in such retreats do so because they are on a personal development path and want to know who they are. Some aspire to open to life by moving out of their usual conditionings and become true living beings. Others come simply by sheer curiosity or because they want to challenge themselves with something intense.
Motives for taking part in awareness intensives are probably as many as they are individuals, yet it will always be a fruitful encounter with oneself as well as a meeting with what is beyond the person and its personality.
No. Awareness intensives do not belong to any organization or promote any particular spiritual path. Nor are they presided over by any authority figure, not even Charles Berner, the originator of this self-enquiry method.
Self-discovery is a personal affair, thus awareness intensives function independently of any philosophical, psychological or spiritual teacher or organization. Participants are never required or expected to adhere to any belief system or ideology.
Such a format helps moving out from our habitual everyday life patterns by minimizing the distractions we usually indulge in. Maintaining silence and isolation (no physical contact and no possibilities of distractions) over a stretch of time supports our contemplation towards direct knowing.
It is a form of self-enquiry with partner which is used to open to this direct knowing. It requires focusing on a unique question such as ‘who am I?’ throughout the retreat and to support this focusing a structured communication format is used. This format, unique to the awareness intensives, always starts with: ‘Tell me…’ to enable self-enquiry and a communication process to take place.
This format helps the participant to stay focus on his question as well as communicating to his partner whatever occurred for him as a result of his intention to directly experience himself in the present moment.
Added to the specific format of the intensive, the use of a single pointed instruction such as “who am I?” within a structured communication format with a partner is the key principle that accelerates the process of direct knowing and the live interaction between two human beings within the dyad helps keep each one at the task of being in the present moment.
Communicating fully to our partner what arose out of our intention to directly experience ourselves clears mental confusion and generates a favourable momentum for awakening.
Awareness grows when we honestly present ourselves to another, when we are open to what is rather than what we think should be; when we are open to the new, to the unknown. The more we are able to open to ideas and/or beliefs that we are identified with and honestly communicating them to another, the more true communication can take place.
No. Statistically, on a typical three-day intensive, about 35-40% of participants will experience themselves directly. Sometimes there are more, sometimes there is none at all. There is no way of predicting and…. no way to force direct knowing to happen.
However, not doing the proposed technique is one way to guarantee that you will not experience yourself directly! It is more your determination and the firmness of your commitment to the task at hand that is the determining factor.
If you are directly experiencing yourself during the intensive, then the facilitator will encourage you to communicate this state of conscious presence to your partners; not so much the story about what happened for you but more communicating from this state of conscious presence. By doing so, you will support grounding yourself in this state which will also be beneficent for your partners and will help integrating it in your daily life.
Expressing the truth of what we are is an essential part of the process of assimilating an awakening experience. However, there is definitely no prize-giving ceremony!
Well… this all depends on you and only on you! It depends greatly on how much you are able to open to the experience, open to let 'you' disappear.
In most cases, you will return to a so-called ‘normal’ state of being in life, as identification will creep in again. Yet your life will not be the same, you will not see things from the same standpoint as you used to before you had the awakening experience.
There is a before and after. It will not be possible to completely return to a state of unconsciousness. If it is your own estimation that this direct knowing is what being alive is all about, then you will find ways to keep a live contact with it and support its growth.
It is of importance that whatever has been experienced during the intensive does not remain as a pleasant memory but gets integrated with the participant’s daily life. That’s why at the end of the intensive, integration dyads are proposed. A specific instruction helps better integrate and anchor the experiences lived during the intensive into one’s daily life.
As awareness intensives are not part of any organization and are not embedded in any long-term system of personal or spiritual growth; it is part of the facilitator's responsibility to be available for post-retreat support to answer questions that may arise or simply take part in a more casual sharing. This can be done physically, by email or via whatever means that fits best the situation.
Steven, Ontario - Canada
“A total mind-blowing experience!”
Landy, Shenzhen - China
“I could connect with something in me that felt more real, truer. I got clearer around my problems and about the excuses that I give myself in life for not being who I am. The explanation given and the energetic contact with other participants really helped me into gaining more self-awareness, helped me coming back to myself and discovering my own feelings and my multiple identities.”
John, Reno - Usa
“In the beginning when I was asking myself: ‘who is in?’ so many things came up; parts of me that I knew and other parts of me that I didn’t know. I was surprised as I thought I knew myself well. I stayed with the question and by the end of the process I felt that in reality I was no one because each time I was someone else. I feel like I found the key to 'who I am'. I am no one but made up of so many faces.”
Read more in: Their Experience
One could define self-enquiry as a doubting approach, a negative approach. It is about discarding all the beliefs, the concepts that we have upon ourselves and the world in order to reach the very source of what we are, our True Nature. It is about practicing what Hakuin, a famous Japanese Zen Master (1686-1769), called ‘the great doubt’. « At the bottom of great doubt lies great awakening. If you doubt fully, you will awaken fully. ».
In the Indian tradition it is referred to as: ‘Neti Neti’, not this, not this.
It is possible to practice self-enquiry alone by repeatedly questioning one’s own beliefs or feelings using a question format such as: ‘Is it true? For example: I think or I believe that I am weak/strong/intelligent/stupid/etc. ⇒ is this true? Questioning our beliefs and preconceived ideas can certainly bring more clarity and authenticity in our lives, yet one can go further by using the format suggested by Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) to most of his disciples when they were asking him a question: ‘who is asking this question?’ A questioning that can be extended to: who is thinking, who is breathing, who is feelings, who is doing whatever you are doing?
However, practicing self-enquiry alone is not an easy endeavour and requires a great deal of stamina. In the Japanese Rinzaï Zen monastery, where self-enquiry is commonly used, practicing monks have the logistic support of their monastery environment as well as the compassionate support of their master.
The same goes within the awareness intensive retreats, where everything is organized to support the participant’s enquiry into his true nature. The use of a structured communication format is of tremendous help for the enquirer. This format makes it easier for the enquirer to stay focus on his question as well as communicating to his partner whatever occurred for him as a result of his intention to directly experience what his true nature is.
Whatever self-enquiry format is used, it is always about reflecting on the true nature of whatever is being enquired.
To awaken is to have recognized in oneself one’s original nature, to experience oneself as awareness. We all have this potential to awaken to our true nature, even you who are reading these words, since we are all born out of this unique original nature (awareness).
Yet, as we grow up and enter the world of identification, the world of 'me', we lose the connection with our true nature and find ourselves entangled in the realms of the mind, in duality. However, a longing for oneness remains and this longing that can become a drive to end this state of separation, of duality.
Bringing an end to this separation, awakening, is often described in various traditions as a long and arduous path and over time, hundreds of techniques and disciplines have been developed to return to our true nature, yet none is as direct and fast as the one proposed with the awareness intensive.
There is really only one, identification; the identification with something that we usually refer to as ‘me’. This identification is like a diamond, it has many facets and each facet acts like a bright light for a moth. We are drawn towards it, hypnotized by it.
That’s why very often it does take time to understand that we are caught in an illusion.
In many traditions, it is referred to as ‘the pursuit of desires’, the desire to possess, to have something, the desire to attain somewhere, the desire to be someone special. It can take many forms, even the form of the search for this True Nature or the desire to be enlightened.
It is all a mind game really.
Ha... the past life question!
The idea of past lives or reincarnation is only a concept and past lives or reincarnation do not exist outside of this concept. Like many concepts invented by man it has a certain utility and can help quieten the mind for a while around aspects of ourselves that we are not yet ready to face. It can support those on a path towards True Nature as a mean to better understand issues which are still not clearly conscious and help deal with unfulfilled needs.
Yet like all concepts, it keeps the person in a dual system; me and my past life or past lives. From the point of view of True Nature, since no individual me is to be found, there cannot be any past life; whose past life would it be?
Just like the rainbow that appears after a storm is only a play of light between the sun and the rain and has no intrinsic existence; this form that we identify with is as illusory. It appears and disappears when the time has come; only a continuum of awareness or witnessing is taking place beyond this appearing and disappearing. Our incarnation as human beings is nothing more than a dance of chemical reactions which lasts not even a flick of a second on the universe’ scale yet we cling to this life, the past and futures ones because we fear connecting with the void that this immensity of awareness or witnessing is.
Taking on this belief about reincarnation, past and future lives help avoid the reality of our precariousness. It gives us a sense of security with the idea that we live on throughout the ages.
Facing life, its precariousness and the challenges and opportunities that it brings us in order to grow, to mature, is a sane way of being directly in contact with what is alive.
Awareness is the ability that we all have to turn our focus towards awareness itself and thus enter a state of being that includes everything and does not exclude anything, no judgment of any sort since no thinking process is involved. Advaïta or Zen calls it ‘witnessing’.
Awareness is not something that we need to learn or obtain from outside, we are it already, it is our essence and we only need to tune in to it. Being this ‘witnessing’, is to be in awareness, directly knowing,
Witnessing differs from being self-conscious, which is a subtle form of control.
« The ultimate experience is not an experience because the one who experiences has disappeared. And when the one who experiences has disappeared, what can you say? Who could talk about it? Who could describe this experience? When there is no subject the object disappears, the banks of the river withdraw and only remains the flow. »
Osho, excerpted from: The Heart Sutra, chapter 1
A direct experience or direct knowing refers to a conscious, direct experience of the truth, of what we are, of our true nature. When this fundamental truth (our true nature) is experienced directly, it is referred to as ‘awakening’, a no-mind experience, an enlightenment experience, a state of conscious presence. It is always an experience in the present moment, where all separation has disappeared, where no sense of ‘me’ can be found.
Strictly speaking it is not an ‘experience’ since there is no-one to experience anything but only experiencing occurring and ‘experiencing’ is de facto direct, so it seems to be closer to reality to use the wording: ‘experiencing directly’ or ‘directly knowing’.
Direct knowing is direct knowing; there are no degrees in it. Yet one can be in it for a few minutes, a few hours, a few days or for a lifetime. That is what makes the difference, its briefness versus a constant abiding.
It is the coming back of identification to this ‘me’ that we believe we are which by and by veils our capacity to be in this state of direct knowing. Even after being only temporarily lived, this state of direct knowing or conscious presence is always there since it is our true nature. What fades away is our ability to be in this state, yet this ability to tune in can be cultivated, can be enhanced. All that is needed is to continue the de-identification process until a full abiding is achieved.
Each awakening experience is unique and expresses itself in a unique way according to the one who lives it.
The full question is: I’ve participated in some courses about cleaning the earth environment; we will invite angels to help us to work together. If there is no angel, then does it mean that it is meaningless to clean the earth? What is the law of the Universe?
Cleaning the earth and our environment is certainly a worthy idea and seeing the degree of pollution it is certainly a needed thing to take on. But why would you need angels to help out? Just do it by yourself, for yourself, for the simple sake of not spoiling this planet that gives us life. Moreover, it is always best to start with ourselves first. Our hearts are often polluted, filled with negatives ideas, resentment, anger, hate… so taking care of these negative aspects of us will certainly go in the direction of making this earth a little cleaner. The law of the universe is that nothing is permanent, everything that comes to life will one day die and this earth too will die at some point. This does not mean that we should not do anything to keep it clean and in good order. It is more about connecting with a space of sacredness within us; then our relating with the earth will take a different turn.