Undoing the Ego

How to Deal with Your Worst Moments, Especially When They Seem to Go On Forever

What makes a “worst moment”?  It boils down to pain.  Pain can be physical (sensation), emotional (loss, helplessness, despair), or psychological (fear).  Much more common than a “worst moment” is the dread of a worst moment.  I call this “futurizing.”

When pain is unbearable we pass out (literally black out, go unconscious) or check out (this ranges from not hearing people talking to us to having a psychotic break — losing touch with worldly reality).  This level of pain is rare, and this reaction is relatively rare.  When you relentlessly worry about and imagine upcoming pain, you’re futurizing.  You’re not living – you’re holding your breath, walking on eggshells, and dreading what the future will bring even though it is highly unlikely.

“The worst thing you’ll ever have to face in life is a thought, a sensation, a feeling, a sound, a smell, happening in THIS moment,” says spiritual teacher Jeff  Foster.

When you actually take a look at your pain, rather than avoid it or try to deaden it, pain breaks out into thoughts, sensations, feelings, sounds, smells, tastes, sights–anything the five senses have to offer.

Is your pain unbearable right now?  If it was, you couldn’t be reading this essay.

Moment by moment, pain, be it physical, emotional, or psychological, is not only bearable, but potentially the moment when your perception shifts and you realize what seemed to be “the worst” was actually the opening you had been waiting for.

Peace comes when you realize that you’ve been making yourself god by taking your fears seriously.  Fears that the pain you have now will never stop, fears that you’ll never meet someone and have a family, fears that you’ll never get a good job (or you’ll lose the job you have), fears that you won’t be able to pay the bills, fears that you’ll never realize your potential, fears that your health will fail and you won’t be able to take care of yourself and those you love, fears that you’ll be at the mercy of unkind people, or people who are incompetent, fears that you can’t overcome your addictions.  Fears, fears, fears.  It’s best to get well-acquainted with your own, so that you can stop futurizing and choose to enter the present moment.

This moment, now, is where peace is.

There’s an opening, a holy instant, where time dissolves into timelessness, and the “you” you thought you were melts away.  Here lies freedom.  And this moment is available right now.  Feel it?  There’s no time like the present to recognize what you really are.  Turn your attention to Truth.  You don’t have to know how.  You don’t have to do anything.  Just stop playing god, and instead, “… spend a quiet moment opening your mind to His correction, and His love”* now.

You may also find The Challenge of Physical Pain and Disability a useful read.

*A Course in Miracles, Workbook for Students, Lesson 126

Copyright © 2013 Amy Torres.  All rights reserved worldwide.

Ask Amy: How Does God Know What’s Best for Us If He Doesn’t Even Know We’re Here?

Guy QuestionQ:  I think I’m having a little crisis.  How does God know what is best for us if he doesn’t even know we are here?  How can I have trust/faith with this notion?  Another ACIM teacher told me “But the Holy Spirit knows you are here.”  What do you think, Amy?

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAA:  It is true that A Course in Miracles explains that God doesn’t know we’re here.  Many ACIM students find this scary and even devastating.  It begins to make sense, and actually feel comforting and liberating, when we realize that God doesn’t know we’re “here” because we’re not “here” — we’re with Him in Heaven.

Heaven is a metaphor for being eternally alive and unified in the formless Mind of God.  We are God’s Creation, and we are always joined together in a Limitless Life of Creating and Being Love.

Remember, the metaphysics of the Course teach us that this world, our bodies and belief that we are separate people with personal lives is only a dream!  Once we accept that we are dreaming (and, in fact, that we are the dreamer of this dream) then it makes sense that God doesn’t know we’re here because we’ve never left Him.  Just because we dream that we have separated from the Wholeness of His Mind, doesn’t make it so.

“You are at home in God, dreaming of exile but perfectly capable of awakening to reality.  Is it your decision to do so?” (T-10.I.2:1)

God’s Holy Spirit lives within us as a memory of our True Self.  The Holy Spirit can be visualized as Light, like a lighthouse illuminating the way Home.  When we decide to awaken to reality, we feel motivated to look towards the Holy Spirit’s Light more and more.  Following His Loving guidance strengthens our trust and faith.

Lesson 26 puts it like this, “My home awaits me.  I will hasten there.  If I so choose, I can depart this world entirely.  It is not death which makes this possible, but it is change of mind about the purpose of the world.  If I believe it has a value as I see it now, so will it still remain for me.  But if I see no value in the world as I behold it, nothing that I want to keep as mine or search for as a goal, it will depart from me.  For I have not sought for illusions to replace the truth.

Father, my home awaits my glad return.  Your Arms are open and I hear Your Voice.  What need have I to linger in a place of vain desires and of shattered dreams, when Heaven can so easily be mine?”

This Q&A appears in the Ask Amy column from the July-Aug 2013 issue of Miracles magazine.  Miracles is a well-loved  staple in the ACIM community.  To get a subscription, email Jon@miraclesmagazine.org or call 845-496-9089.  To ask Amy a question, email miracles (at) amytorresacim (dot) com

Special Relationships

blue hands“Everyone on earth has formed special relationships, and although this is not so in Heaven, the Holy Spirit knows how to bring a touch of Heaven to them here.” (T-15.V.8:1)

A Course in Miracles students are often very afraid that their special relationships will be torn from them if they put ACIM principles into practice.  Or they mistakenly believe they are supposed to stop having special relationships and, finding this impossible, beat themselves up for continuing to relate to certain people in their lives as special and more important than others.  Rest assured that Jesus will neither tear away your special relationships, nor expect you to give them up.  All he asks is that we give our belief in special relationships to the Holy Spirit.

“Bring, then, all forms of suffering to Him Who knows that every one is like the rest.  He sees no differences where none exists, and He will teach you how each one is caused.” (T-27.VIII.12:1-2)

When we unconsciously believe in specialness, which is the source of the “life” we lead, we project that belief outward, and are convinced there are people in a world ruled by a cruel ego-god.  Even if we have a poor opinion of ourselves, even if we are atheists, even if we are obviously the innocent victims of other people’s viciousness, we are still unconsciously subscribing to the tiny, mad idea that we are special–different from God and from our brothers.

“Specialness is the idea of sin* made real.”  (T-24.II.3:1)

orb web spider eating its webWe start on the personal level, looking within the ego self we think we are, working with what seems to be our individual sense of sin and guilt (even if it seems the “other guy” is guilty–not us).  Little by little, as we learn to practice forgiveness, and clear the guilt from our personal relationships, we discover there is nothing personal to forgive.  First it seems as though we draw our projections back into our personal selves, like a spider devouring its own web.  This leads to a miraculous shift in perception and we realize that “I” is one ego mind, all-inclusive of every single brother in the whole wide world.

“And you will understand that miracles reflect this simple statement, ‘I have done this thing, and it is this I would undo.’” (T-27.VIII.11:6)

This “I” is the original thought of separation itself–what we now call “ego.”  The “undoing” is a  change of mind from believing in specialness (that we could leave God’s Mind to be “my self”) to a gentle laugh at the absurdity of such an impossible idea.  And here are all special relationships left behind, not with grief and mourning, but with joy and liberation from a false identity that bred only war, slaughter, and revenge.

“We had a wish that God would fail to have the Son whom He created for Himself.  We wanted God to change Himself, and be what we would make of Him.  And we believed that our insane desires were the truth.  Now we are glad that this is all undone, and we no longer think illusions true.  The memory of God is shimmering across the wide horizons of our minds.  A moment more, and it will rise again.  A moment more, and we who are God’s Sons are safely home, where He would have us be.” (W-pII.Intro.9:1-7)

heaven horizon

* “Sin” in A Course in Miracles means the belief in separation and serves the ego brilliantly in that the ego views sin as an unforgiveable crime to be punished. The Holy Spirit disarms the ego’s purpose for sin by reframing sin as a mistake, a mere error to be corrected and healed with unconditional Love.  Thus, we release the ego’s plan for salvation (sin, guilt and fear; kill or be killed) and embrace God’s plan for salvation instead (Sameness, Innocence and Unity; Love and Be Loved).

Copyright © 2013 Amy Torres.  All rights reserved worldwide.

Death Is Just A Belief

starlit skyAs a child, I felt terrified at the idea of death. No one had spoken with me about death, and no one close to me had died. Yet there was a picture in my mind of my body floating in an endless night sky, surrounded by stars, completely helpless, painfully alone, and frozen with terror.

This fear affected my entire early childhood. It was more important to play it safe, than learn to ride a bicycle, swim, or meet new friends. I was shy, and spent most of my time reading books. As I grew older, there was an uneasy feeling inside me that I was a coward. I admired people in stories I read, who would throw themselves in front of a bus to save another, and I sensed that I was not one of them.

It became crucial that I overcome my fear of death–but I no longer remembered that it was death of which I was afraid. I was now wrestling with the shame of calling myself a “coward.” This was my dirty little secret–I was yellow.cowardlylion

And cowardice infected my whole life. First, I was afraid of sports, then dogs, then water, then other kids, then summer camp, on and on. In order to feel safe, I had to withdraw from life. Safety came at a high price-loneliness and a great longing to play and participate; but instead I stayed in my room.

Although this was my plight as a child and young adult, paradoxically, I was not alone. Many people suffer from this kind of withdrawal. Lonely, terrified people are probably the majority of human beings. I found this out because eventually I went into psychotherapy–first as a client, and then when the therapy worked, as a professional. And I discovered that every client that walked through my door was lonely and terrified. Even when, externally, their lives appeared successful.

swirly omAs I faced my fear of death, spiritual wisdom came my way. Rather than comforting myself reading novels about lonely people, I started reading mystical literature. “If there is any death, it is that of death itself, for life will not die,” said the great Sufi teacher, Hazrat Inayat Khan. Such elegant logic. How can life die?

A Course in Miracles (ACIM) explains, “The ‘reality’ of death is firmly rooted in the belief that God’s Son is a body. And if God created bodies, death would indeed be real. But God would not be loving.” Again, impeccable logiclaverne-ross-while-adam-slept. If God is Loving, how could He create death? But what did “if God created bodies” mean? Where did bodies come from, if not God?

According to Advaita Vedanta, also known as non-dualism, this world and the bodies in it are an illusion, maya, the play of consciousness. As ACIM puts it, “What is seen in dreams seems to be very real. Yet the Bible says that a deep sleep fell upon Adam, and nowhere is there reference to his waking up.”

What? I read that over and over again, and then checked the Bible. I could not find a passage about Adam awakening. Could this all simply be, as the song goes, “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.”?

dreaming aboriginalAustralian Aboriginals believe in “dreamtime,” an infinite spiritual belief about the time of creation. The “Dreaming” is eternal and life exists before a person is born and after the individual person ends.

Quantum physics has theories about non-linear and simultaneous time. There is no past and future. Time is a limited and limiting concept made up by humans. There cannot be death without the grim reaper, Father Time. Yet if God is understood as formless, infinite and eternal, there can be no death at all. It turns out death is just a belief.

“It is not you dying. It is what you are not that is dying. In fact, you are never going to die! Death is a myth. This body, you have to give it up. But you must come to know, while you have the body, that you are eternal,” says Mooji, a contemporary mystic, who teaches self-inquiry.

As I began to understand that I am not a body, and the reality that seems so real to all of us is merely a dream, the fear of death dissolved. The real me-and you–can never die. The spiritual Self in which we are all One prevails. This is the truth that Jesus said would set us free. This is the Truth that dissolves all fear, including the fear of death.om sky

Death Is Just A Belief is an essay in my ongoing series, How to Use the Body While You Think It’s You.  If you liked this, you may also enjoy “Gatita Sparkles,” “Gatita’s Metamorphosis,”Body Health Is Not a Measurement of Spiritual Unfolding,” “How to Take Yourself Less Personally”,Flossing and Feldenkrais,” and “I Am Not My Hair”     Also, be sure to watch Webinar #10, The Purpose of the Body on YouTube :)   And you may be interested in my Facebook page devoted to body issues: http://facebook.com/acimbodyimage

Copyright © 2013 Amy Torres.  All rights reserved worldwide.

Body Health Is Not a Measurement of Spiritual Unfolding

sick teddy bearIt is a common misinterpretation of the Course to believe that body illness is an indication of giving in to the ego.*

Jesus is very clear in ACIM that the only illness is mental illness and that illness is believing we could separate from God and the guilt that perpetuates this mistaken belief.

There are places in A Course in Miracles that could be misinterpreted when read at a superficial level, but go deeper and it is clear: the only use for the body is to serve the Holy Spirit’s purpose of forgiveness. The form this takes is not for us to judge.

Physical “maladies” are of no consequence when we have peace of Mind. The body is a vessel for the Holy Spirit to send miracles through us. Miracles are mind-healing.

Mind-healing gives us peace of Mind. Taking care of the body is common sense and an outcome of Love, but simply the way we would maintenance the car or any other device we are using for a while. You are not your body. You are God’s Child, the Formless, Timeless Self which also goes by many other names, such as, Awareness and Presence.

It can seem very unfair to have an illness like COPD when, for instance, you were never a smoker.  Certainly, it could be linked to repressed emotions, but that’s only one of many possibilities. The ego’s world represents an insane thought system, so there are many reasons from an earthly point of view to account for illness. Don’t blame yourself, but do be accountable and look at your health situation with the Holy Spirit.

In my case, I was guided to do lots of work releasing deep feelings in psychotherapy. It’s a great way to open up, flow, and release hidden shame, guilt, anger, hatred, grief, aggression, etc.  It helps us come out of denial.  The work was so liberating for me, that I became a psychotherapist myself, and assisted many people in this same process.

However, as a Course student, it is missing the point if we only work on the body level.  And to use body health as a measurement of spiritual unfolding is to disregard everything Jesus is teaching us. There is so much confusion around this, I started http://facebook.com/acimbodyimage. Visit there for more on this subject.  Also, watch this video from Mooji, which points “beyond the body” (as ACIM says) to Eternal Life:  Mooji on Eternal Life

* “Giving in to the ego” is a blatant indication that we believe we have to fight the ego, which is exactly what the ego wants. That would “make the error real”– to engage with the ego is to operate as if the ego exists, when the real solution is to give our fears to the Holy Spirit. Request to recognize What you already are, and remind yourself that you could “see Peace instead of this” (the seeming problem).  Open your mind and guidance will come in a form that serves you well at this point in time in your dream — that form might even be physical illness.  Remember, as Jesus tells us over and over again in ACIM:  we don’t know anything and we cannot judge anything.

If you liked “Body Health Is Not a Measurement of Spiritual Unfolding,” you may enjoy other essays in my ongoing series, How to Use the Body While You Think It’s You, including, “The Purpose of the Body,” “How to Take Yourself Less Personally,” “Death Is Just a Belief,” and “Flossing and Feldenkrais.”   Be sure to watch Webinar #10: The Purpose of the Body on YouTube 🙂  And check out my Facebook page devoted to body issues: http://facebook.com/acimbodyimage


How To Find God Through Percussion

More than one student has commented on my measured reading of A Course in Miracles. They say it’s soothing, or grounding, or helps them slow down; they say the reading is unhurried and steady.  I attribute that to my dance background. I’ve always had a great love of rhythm and percussion. The melody was always secondary to the beat when it came to my enjoyment of music. Back in the days when I first started attending kirtans,* I heard someone say, “God is in the space between the notes.” Another way of putting it is, “God is in the space between the thoughts.”Is&Amy check

The ego mind uses “splitting” to keep us unaware of God. (Splitting is a psychological term that means dissociating from what’s real because it is too painful or disturbing to tolerate. A Course in Miracles explains that the ego mind uses this device of splitting and dissociating from God to believe it is autonomous–although that is impossible.)  Along with splitting comes a racing sensation. In yoga they speak of “monkey mind” which is a ceaseless chatter that keeps us unaware of God’s Stillness which is ever-present.

Many spiritual paths teach that the ego is using the past and future to keep us out of the present moment which is where God resides. The ego seduces us with guilt, fear and worry based on past experience (or even without experience– cautionary stories we’ve been told and swallowed) and projects those fears onto the future nimbly bypassing the present.

A Course in Miracles explains that the ego is actually reviewing the past, which is over and never even happened–the past is actually a delusional state of mind. That’s a juicy subject for another day. For now, suffice it to say, speeding up is a ploy for keeping us from our natural Stillness.

We each have an internal rhythm of our own. My Sufi teachers, Puran and Susanna Bair, say the heart is our signature rhythm, akin to our fingerprint–wholly unique to each of us. When we are able to slow down and focus on ourselves internally, we discover our signature rhythm. Once we’ve done this, we can honor our rhythm by connecting our voice and our breath and our movement to our organic flow.

The more we are loyal and true to our own flow, the calmer life gets. Phones and cars and cyberspace can zip and zoom around and we can remain unshaken. This provides the opening to recognize Spirit.

22178_1229352977280_1332755229_30579231_4122325_nAs a yoga teacher, I find this important because it keeps students centered and calm, and keeps the practice balanced as we hold a pose on the right side of the body, and then switch to the left. Many yoga teachers hurry a little and the second side gets short shrift.

Puran Bair taught me to have more impact on the world than the world has on me. He demonstrated the potential in this when he participated in an experiment where he placed his arm in ice while being monitored on medical equipment. Normally the body rejects the arm to save its life. Puran connected with his heart and mindfully sent warmth to his arm–eventually he melted the ice. Pretty impressive. But more important than this sort of feat is the practical application in everyday life of remaining connected with our own internal rhythm so we can be open receptors for God’s Stillness.

Many people believe that God’s Stillness is boring. And that it means doing nothing. But think about it–isn’t music riveting in the moment when all sound stops–just before it kicks in again? Don’t we hold our breath with pleasurable anticipation during that musical pause? Stillness is the Absolute–absolute Peace, Love and Joy … Unified Oneness. As long as we believe we are human, we can choose to apply the wisdom of rhythm to experience the space between the notes.

Musicians might experience this as a unified oneness while they jam. Dancers feel a seamless communion as they dance with a partner, a group, or God Itself, whether the movement is improvisational or choreographed. When doing the Sufi turn (the dance Rumi discovered to heal himself of a broken heart from losing his spiritual teacher, Shams), I feel the Oneness and the Joy of Cosmic Self. Union is natural and reveals itself between the beats–we become One with the Universal Heart.

A Course in Miracles tells me I can change my mind and experience a shift in perception called a “miracle.” One way of making this happen is, like any good percussionist, plugging in to a solid pulse and holding that beat no matter how many other sounds and distractions are around me. I practice this until I can stay the course, hold the rhythm, become constant. In this way I become an open conduit for God’s Rhythm. When that happens, I recognize what I’ve always been–the Source of percussion Itself. zmarmay2013_506_w435_h580

*In Sanskrit, “kirtan” means “to repeat” and is used in devotional services. Live musicians play the harmonium, tamboura and other instruments, and lead chants or mantras (repetition of sacred sounds to facilitate direct connection with God–Om Namah Shivaya is a classic) in a call and response format. Krishna Das is a well-known contemporary Westerner who has embraced this genre, performs regularly, and has recorded many CDs.  ACIM Lesson 183. “I call upon God’s Name and on my own” in the reading below, expresses something similar.

Copyright © 2011 Amy Torres.  All rights reserved worldwide. 

Amy Torres is an established spiritual teacher, as well as a Gestalt psychotherapist, interfaith minister, and yoga instructor. A Course in Miracles is the foundation of all her work.  To contact her, call 212-340-1201 or email: miracles@amytorresacim.com

Oneness Is Simply the Idea God Is

Yogini by Mooji

Yogini by Mooji

Oneness “returns the mind into the endless present, where the past and future cannot be conceived.  It [Oneness] lies beyond salvation; past all thought of time, forgiveness and the holy face of Christ.  The Son of God has merely disappeared into his Father, as his Father has in him.  The world has never been at all.  Eternity remains a constant state.”  This we are told in Lesson 169 of A Course in Miracles.  It goes on, “We say ‘God is,’ and then we cease to speak, for in that knowledge words are meaningless.  There are no lips to speak them, and no part of mind sufficiently distinct to feel that it is now aware of something not itself.  It has united with its Source.  And like its Source, it merely is.”

For me, the contemporary mystic, beloved Mooji, is the living Christ.  He tells the following story:

A great Yogini was deep in meditation. Suddenly, beautiful and melodious sounds could be heard, appearing as if from nowhere and everywhere simultaneously. It was like nothing she has ever heard. She felt: this music is truly wonderful but it cannot be what I am for I am here to hear it. The music faded away.

Next appeared the most exquisite colours, like no painter could paint; nor could any flower display it for it was not of this earthly realm. She thought, ‘this is, indeed, astonishingly beautiful. However, it cannot be who I am nor can it be real for it cannot appear if I were not here to perceive it.’ This phenomenon, too, she ignored.

Shortly afterwards, it also vanished in the presence of her deep and unmoving silence. Shortly after this, there appeared several beings shaped as if from pure light, floating through space and smiling lovingly at her in a welcoming manner. She felt profoundly touched and filled with loving emotions but inwardly, she somehow, kept her composure. “How profound,” she felt, “but this also cannot be what Is the unchanging reality, for, were I not here, who would see them?”

As soon as this insight occurred, the figures vanished. Her mind entered her heart and could no more produce any effects. A deep silence prevailed as her mind merged inside her indivisible, unconquerable and essential being–a state known to the Yogis as Nirvikalpa Samadhi.

Thank you, dearest Mooji, for your most eloquent teaching of what A Course in Miracles calls “true perception” and for pointing us to what lies beyond this dream world.   And for your inspired painting, Yogini, which transports the mind into Stillness.

Ask Amy: Does God Want Me To Be Happy With Very Little?

Guy QuestionQ:  I stopped doing ACIM and have just come back to it.  One thing I am having such a hard time with is “letting go” to God because I am afraid that if I “give up” and “surrender” to God that means that He may want me to have a mediocre life and just be happy with very little.  I was raised Catholic and have sort of gotten stuck on this notion that to be good in God’s eyes, you have to be willing to be treated badly/take what life gives you and not be wealthy AND (this is the kicker) be happy about all those things!  If you have any thoughts on that, I’d appreciate it.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAA:  Your question is relevant to many people.  It is a common fear that surrendering to God means to be happy with very little, and glad of it!  Many Course students are afraid that surrendering to the Holy Spirit’s guidance will result in being stripped of our creature comforts, and the people and places we love.

But most of us are not called to lead a life of austerity like Mother Teresa.  It is typical of the ego to expect deprivation and scarcity, because is exactly what the ego feeds on.  Let’s replace “surrender” with “open,” and “give up” with “give.”  In ACIM, Jesus advises you to give all of your fears to the Holy Spirit and open your mind to spiritual guidance.

Spiritual guidance is abundant, limitless Love.  As you give your fears to Spirit, it is like cleaning out a closet — you empty out all the extra junk you’ve been hoarding, and in the clearing a clean space is revealed.  As you empty your mind to Spirit, you become aware of a Loving Light shining within you.  You become more “you” than ever before — the Course says you become a happy learner, dreaming a happy dream as you transition into full awareness of your true Identity.

Your true Identity is Limitlessly Abundant.  In Chapter 1, we’re told, “Truth is always abundant.  Those who perceive and acknowledge that they have everything have no needs of any kind.  The purpose of the Atonement is to restore everything to you; or rather, to restore it to your awareness.  You were given everything when you were created, just as everyone was.”

As you accept Truth, you become more peaceful, filled with a sense of purpose, and truly happier (not in a forced, “I’m supposed to be happy with this scarcity because that’s noble” way).  The circumstances of your life won’t be as important, as you shift, miraculously, into your abundantly loving Inner Life.

This Q&A appears in the Ask Amy column from the May-June 2013 issue of Miracles magazine.  Miracles is a well-loved  staple in the ACIM community.  To get a subscription, email Jon@miraclesmagazine.org or call 845-496-9089.  To ask Amy a question, email miracles (at) amytorresacim (dot) com

How I Rose with Dignity, After Falling on My Face

This is a story about me actually, literally, falling on my face.  I was crossing Broadway at a very crowded intersection in New York City, when the toe of my shoe caught in the leg of my pants, and down I went!  Flat on my face, kissing the black asphalt, and an army of cars about to roll right over me.  Luckily, the light was red.  Unluckily, my body remained unmoving.  The light turned green, and taxi, SUV and garbage truck drivers pressed their gas pedals and commenced in my direction.  Did they see me laying on my stomach in their path?

traffic congestionDespite impending danger, I felt devoid of fear and quiet of mind.  Glancing up, I saw several people headed toward me.  I was aware that in the past, I would have felt mortified at being so clumsy, disruptive, and in need of help.  My style of perfectionism was to remain unnoticed, and a smooth quick death under the wheels of oncoming traffic would have almost been preferable to being noticed and helped.  At this moment, however, their approach produced a warm feeling in me.  There was the merest twinkle of embarrassment and then it evaporated as a thought arose, “It’s my turn.”

The rhythm of the traffic responded to my predicament–the lively allegro of pressured drivers switched to an unhurried adagio, allowing fearless pedestrians to intercede on my behalf.  Hands reached out to me, and lifted me gently to my feet.  I was disoriented, but it was a relaxed and pleasant sensation–if it was a sensation at all.

Mooji gentle smileOne face in particular came close to mine and asked, “Are you okay?”  “I don’t know,” I replied honestly, rather than stoically brushing him off and finding out later whether I was, indeed, okay.  “Would you like me to stay with you a bit?” he offered.  “Yes, please,” I replied.  The circle of people which had gathered around me melted away as he took over.  I had felt their love as they gathered, and I felt their love as they dispersed.   Everyone and everything felt caring.  The world was at my disposal–I was Loved.

The “stranger”* who was staying with me for a bit, looked into my eyes.  I gazed back into his.  A timeless love flowed between us.  There was no hurry.  And despite being on a very busy, crowded street corner in Manhattan, neither of us felt jostled or as if we were a nuisance to others.  We were Together.

Many times I had been the one to hold out my hand to another who was in need.  Many times I had assured people there was no need to be embarrassed and it was good to accept help.  Now it was my turn.  I accepted the Invitation to be Rumi lisa dietrichwith what was happening exactly as it was.  I fell down.  I lay there.  I judged not.  I assigned no interpretation.  I held no opinions.  Thoughts stopped.  And the whole world, in concert, came to my rescue.

Every person and every driver was my savior.  The Dance choreographed Itself around me, and then lifted me Up and safely set me Down totally in Love with the players who joined me in a portion of the dream.  I wasn’t rescued from bodily harm.  I was rescued from believing in bodily harm.  I wasn’t rescued from losing my “life”.  I was rescued from feeling the shame that keeps us believing in a false life which perpetuates a silly dream the ego insists is real.

What a blessing to fall on my face and uncover the dignity and grace that abides beneath the disguise of human frailty.

*I used a photograph of Mooji, a contemporary mystic, to represent the stranger who helped me, because the look in his eyes captures the steady calm and unconditional generosity I felt from that person.  And I put quotation marks around the word stranger to denote there are no strangers.  “God is not a stranger to His Sons, and His Sons are not strangers to each other.”  ~A Course in Miracles, T-3.III.6:3

Copyright © 2013 Amy Torres.  All rights reserved worldwide.

Developing Great Listening Skills

listen notHave you ever been talking to someone who is looking around the room while you speak? Or who interrupts you to say something on a completely different subject? Maybe you were confiding in a friend who seemed distracted and when you accused her of not listening, she said indignantly, “I was listening!” and to prove it she parroted back the last phrase you had spoken.

There is a difference between listening and technically hearing what is said. Hearing what is said takes short term memory–it only indicates that on a surface level you took in their words but didn’t join emotionally with the person speaking to you.

Men tend to be better listeners than women because generally they can tolerate silence better. Women are better listeners than men in that they are more comfortable sharing emotions. Men need to learn how to be more emotionally available and responsive. Women need to learn how to be supportive through their presence rather than talking too much.

Becoming a better listener means becoming a better person because it cultivates emotional maturity and generosity. Is it possible to become a great listener? Yes it is. Let’s look at 8 ways you can develop great listening skills.

1. Be interested. Many people think listening means keeping quiet until it is their turn to talk. But true listening is a selfless act. Listening means giving your thoughtful attention to another person. This attention is non-judgmental, open-minded, respectful and interested.

2. Listening is receiving. We are receiving the trust and vulnerability of another person. To be a receiver, let yourself be a blank canvas for the other person. Allow your friend to toss out ideas, feelings, contradictory thoughts, and whatever else is coming up. Let her be upset or illogical.

3. Indicate you’re listening with subtle cues. Let the person know that you’re interested by nodding your head, murmuring “mmm hmmm,” and softly echoing a word or short phrase here and there.

4. Attuning and matching. A good listener usually makes eye contact, but might also sit companionably side by side and gaze straight ahead, allowing the talker privacy and intimacy at the same time. Attune yourself to the person talking todog listening you by noticing the degree of eye contact they are making with you and match them. For instance, if the person seems self-conscious and looks down or away a lot, drop your gaze as well from time to time. This way she will feel accepted rather than scrutinized. If she is animated and leaning towards you, lean towards her. Pick up on her rhythm, her body language. Psychological research has found that people feel understood when we use the same gestures they use. This helps them to feel safe and relaxed.

5. Wait for an organic pause. Try not to interrupt–it’s an amazing gift to provide enough space for someone to let it all out. When there is a lull, and the person seems to have unburdened themselves, that will be the time to speak. When I was a student in Gestalt psychotherapy training, I would eagerly jump in while clients were still talking and a fellow student told me that I wasn’t waiting for the “organic pause”–that natural breath between spoken thoughts that opens the door to another voice chiming in. I came from a cultural background where we were used to interrupting each other’s interruptions, and it wasn’t unusual for five conversations to be going on at the same time. Even if this is acceptable socially, it doesn’t work when someone really needs a shoulder to cry on, or in a work situation, if a colleague needs to resolve professional issues,  or any situation which calls for real listening.

6. Acknowledge and empathize. Good listening is not complete silence. When the time comes to speak, briefly reiterate to the person what you heard them say. For example, “It sounds like you’re really upset with your boyfriend for having lunch with his ex. If I were you I’d feel the same way.” or “I know you really wanted that promotion and I don’t blame you for feeling it was unfair that the new guy got it.” By reflecting back to the person what they said in their own words, you are acknowledging you heard them accurately. And by saying you might feel the same way, you are putting your foot in their shoe and empathizing with them. The emotional tone of what you say should be responsive rather than reactive. In other words, while you’re listening, take note of what’s coming up for you and put it on a back shelf. Sort out what is useful for the person who is confiding in you and, for now, keep your own emotions and opinions to yourself.

7. Don’t give unasked for advice. Most of us have not been listened to in the way I’m describing, so we’re not used to listening to someone else this way. We may consider ourselves very nice people and have all kinds of good ideas for the person speaking to us about their problem. What we don’t realize is that offering solutions before a person has expressed their upset feelings doesn’t work. Do you want to be told what to do while you’re venting?

8. Make an offering. After acknowledging and empathizing, you have the option of offering something more. It can be something simple like, “How can I help?” or “Would you like some feedback from me?” Chances are your friend feels relieved and solutions are starting to form within her now that she’s cleared a space inside herself. Don’t be surprised if your good listening facilitates her having a revelation about herself or the situation. She may tell you that you’ve done more than enough already! If she does want feedback, this is your opportunity to share your experience and offer advice. Timing is everything-wait until you’re invited.

good listener ribbonWhat’s in it for you? Great listeners are receivers-they receive trust, they are in an honored position in that way. They help people sort out their thoughts and feelings. Listeners offer solace and consolation. They celebrate and appreciate good news or achievements. And in the process, listeners receive the gratification of being there for someone else. Listeners have cultivated patience to wait until another person has talked themselves out-and have discovered that people often find their own answers to their struggles. So listening develops faith in us that people have an inner intelligence and we don’t have to be mini-Gods and fix everyone’s problems by jumping in and talking too much or too soon. By developing great listening skills, we provide a mirror that reflects back to the person speaking what is inside of them, and that is powerfully rewarding for both of us.


Copyright © 2011 Amy Torres.  All rights reserved worldwide.