I was flipping through Geneen Roth’s “Women Food and God” and was struck by a story she tells of running away. She was at a meditation retreat in the desert and couldn’t stand it and was frantically trying to rent a helicopter to get her out.
I fully resemble that story—a few years ago I was at a Vipassana meditation retreat, a ten-day, silent, simple-food, meditate-five-hours-a-day kind of thing. On the very first morning, in the very first meditation session, after less than three minutes, I wanted to bolt.
I didn’t have a car or I would have.
That was my first hint that something was off.
Why do we have so much trouble just being, just resting, sitting and closing our eyes? The only thing easier than that is to sleep. And yet most of us are not able to completely face ourselves.
If you look at your life, you will find many instances of running away from yourself.
Here’s a clear example: we think about food all the time, except when we actually eat. When we eat, we don’t eat food, we eat our past and sorrows and anger and fear and what we should have said or done.
Depression and anxiety come from running away. They come from turning emotions inward, rather than releasing or expressing them.
I had a difficult marriage for a long time, and then a difficult divorce. On the surface life was fine. I come from an Indian heritage, and if you know Indians, there’s a certain approach to life. I had a good education, check. I had a wife. Check. Two kids, check. Good money, a 401k account. Check. And so on.
The depression and anxiety attacks were a form of running away, or keeping myself from running away.
After the divorce, I had custody of the girls, one after the other, and that was good. It gave me focus. We had always been very close, the three of us. The girls are intelligent and mature. As the girls grew up and became independent, I began to realize how much of my life had been focused around them. In there absence, there was a feeling of emptiness for a long time.
In the five or six years following the divorce, I had an ego-maniacal sort of energy. I made good money, traveled, and went through a succession of women. I had married young and so the experience with women was new and exhilarating and validating. And a great distraction from having to face myself.
At the tail end of that mania, I had a relationship which I sort of think of as the fulcrum of change. That was a volatile relationship, because of me, because I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t faced myself yet. I remember an incident where she threw away my hand-written journals. And I remember not being too mad about it, because I deserved it. That’s how clumsy I was at that time with life and people.
The end of that relationship was painful, and the misery of that pain was what opened me up to awakening.
And after that there was the energy of the newly awakening—I traveled, I wrote, I explored, I stayed still. External life didn’t get easier—in fact it got more difficult, as I could not find a job, and got financially wiped out in this recession. I went through a time of very low-energy and isolation and insomnia and weight-gain. I would say it was depression, except it didn’t have the unhappiness and the black feeling of futility that often goes with depression.
Still, this was okay, because I saw it as yet another opportunity to awaken.
We run away in many different ways. We run away because of fear. Some people throw themselves in work, some in routine, some need a great deal of attention. Some drink. Some need drama. Some cling to particular beliefs. Some hate. Many of us struggle with food and weight and self-image. Many of us even run away by chasing spirituality.
Keep running—you will not stop because someone tells you to. You may not even stop when you realize you’re running.
But you can start seeing clearly slowly. It’s less effort than not seeing clearly. Be aware, observe. Allow. Love yourself. Fully inhabit your body, here and now. Watch. Witness.
And stuff will come up, and you won’t like it. That’s why releasing can be helpful.
And you’ll have to develop a gentle honesty with yourself. That kind of happens on its own, if you let it. Just know that we’re pretty good at fooling ourselves. Be patient, be gentle, and allow.
And if you do this, and face up to yourself, you may come upon a time when you realize that it’s all been about resistance, about running away, about running away because you are afraid. And then you may stop and look.
That’s a good time to ask: who am I?
There is no conclusion to that question. It’s about seeing you are not your mind, not your thoughts, not your emotions, not your beliefs. All this stuff that happens to “me” happens to an entity which doesn’t exist. It’s a phantom which exists only in thought and memory.