Self Care is Not the Antidote to Suffering

Question: Last year, I went through a bout with alcoholism after losing a job. Basically, I failed at my dream job and I took it pretty hard. I had never viewed myself as a failure before and didn’t know how to handle it. So I started going out to…

Michael Richardson-Borne: Sorry for the interruption, but please let me stop you there for a second. Why do you call yourself a “failure?”

Q: Because I failed at my job. I wanted to achieve something that didn’t come to fruition. I lost something I wanted to keep. I was given a job to do, and even though I gave it my all, I didn’t come through for the company. I failed.

MR-B: Ask yourself if a job, or a descriptor like failure, can possibly define who you are. If you believe it can, take a look right now and ask yourself what this job and descriptor are actually defining. If you look in the right direction and journey deeply enough, you may find there is nothing objective to which something like a job title can attach and give absolute definition. If you see through your life’s story, one that’s arisen without any effort, you will find it rests on an assumption of individual beingness that you have forgotten is impersonal. If you see this clearly, you will notice that believing in individual beingness is the beginning of concepts like failure. But, remember, this individual beingness can be questioned and seen through – and when it’s understood as an impersonal expression of the personal, life as an invitation to the remembrance of Non-separation will activate, which is what I call Applied Awakening.

Ask yourself, right now, if a job defines your body and mind. Can either of these entities be a job that was lost? Or do the body and mind define a job and construct a playing field for this job to happen to a person where personal victory and failure become either-or potentials? If it’s the former, then consciousness is inside of the body and mind and exists solely in a limited world of sensory experience. It’s life as a universal game of bumper cars slamming into one another as they move through an external world on their own accord. This experience is probably very familiar to you. If it’s the latter, consciousness is the body and the mind and the bumper cars are not slamming into one another as once imagined. Rather, a concept free consciousness is slamming into a concept free consciousness until Non-separation is slamming into nothing because there is nothing else in which to slam. When Non-separation slams into nothing, the job and its field for failure is a movement that means what it means without attachment and is understood to be moving your story in the only way it could possibly move. This brings impersonal experience, total acceptance, something that’s probably not very familiar to you.

Ultimately, in order to answer this question for yourself, you must have clarity on what the self actually is. You must understand that failure is a concept, a conditioned response to a series of preceding concepts and supposed outcomes that happen to an individual as an independent event manifested by a separate self’s personal behavior. Without understanding the intricacies of what I just said, you will continue to be a personal failure who lost a job by not performing in a way that satisfied a world outside of you. If you understand what I just said, you will easily drop the nonsense, including what I just said, and be free from descriptions and outcomes. Like Nisargadatta spoke, “You just do what needs to be done, and leave success and failure to the unknown.” The need expressed here is not the need of your personal agenda, it’s the way you are naturally lived into the moment, the way who you are is impersonally needed as the totality to, as the poet Mark Strand put it, “make things whole.”

Can you now comprehend that your world is turned inside out? That your body and mind have moved outside of their container so to speak – a container that contains the body and the mind even when there is a belief in being outside of it? Can you comprehend that life is not happening to you, you are happening to it? You are happening as it. Can you comprehend that failure is not your doing? The only true failure is not even failure. Why? Because missing out on the remembrance of Non-separation is not your doing either. We are all stories being lived into the moment, holding a place for one another to see through the confusion of separation. You are either lived to resist this truth, or you are granted a little grace and lived into a release of this resistance. The point is to stop putting the blame on a hologram and acting as if it has a life accurately defining itself in comparison to others. The point is to stop getting all strung out on outcomes you have no control over, stop getting hooked into a belief in personal deficiency.

Remaining locked in the belief in a separate self is what I call “carrying luggage that is not your own.” Right now, you don’t know you’re carrying a heavy bag in each hand – yet you wonder why walking through the world is such a struggle, why it feels so heavy, especially after a tough personal experience. One bag is called the separate self. The other is called a job and failure. All you have to do is set the damn suitcases down. But, instead, you continue walking through life bumping into everything, bogged down, not recognizing the ease of freeing yourself from the weight is to simply open your clenched fists that are wrapped around the bag’s conceptual handles. Realize these bags are not yours to carry – drop them, and observe what happens to failure.

Q: You are so relaxed about all of this compared to my support system. When I talk with my friends and family, why does all of this feel so stressful? It feels like the conversation is always tense and I’m pressured to keep on the straight and narrow to repair what is broken within myself. I’m always told that it’s in my best interest to practice what they call “self-care.” It winds up just getting on my nerves most of the time.

MR-B: With freedom comes relaxation. Seeing through the fictional sense of self-authorship brings freedom and relaxation. What do I mean by relaxation? First, I mean discovering the already existent space around the separate self so that the separate self becomes an object of awareness. Second, I mean the sudden absence of this space between the separate self and the totality, where the suddenness becomes eternal, complete. The first discovery is a partial relaxation, a gateway to the impersonal. The suddenness is a lightning strike that cracks the shell permanently. It may take time, it may not, for the fragments to fall off to greater and greater degrees until there is nothing there, Non-separation.

My guess is your support team engages with you from a perspective of separation. To your family and friends, you are an independent autonomous object – making what they perceive as a bad choice through your own volition. This assumption of separation bestows all of you with your own separate lives in a world where everyone is living independently. Then, as it’s reinforced by the group that all things are separate from the totality, it follows that a separated object can be personally broken – which means they can treat you as separate and broken and be deadly serious about it. They also expect you to respond using the same context of division, to respond using an array of separative concepts that make their separate selves into healthier versions who are “giving sound advice.”

They don’t understand that health cannot arise from a belief in a separate self. Un-breaking one’s self cannot arise from the brokenness of separation. When the crack of separation is there, any action meant to repair the crack is merely to sustain it. From this broken place of separation, the separate self is always stressed about something – as there is a body, mind, and world outside of the self to be worried about. What all of you don’t see is that who you are can never be broken. The breaking of who you are can only happen in your imagination, it can only be made real in the unreality of separation. Knowing this is the real solution to healing the fracture your entire ecosystem of relationships is dealing with – the confusion of assuming the separate self to be real. When Non-separation is realized, the traditional family dynamic can relax as a group of concerned technicians is no longer needed – the imagination has already been fixed.

My invitation here is to offer you your first real conversation. To spontaneously invite you into dialogue as a lived experience of your true being.

Q: What is a “real conversation?” And how are we not having one right now?

MR-B: An unreal conversation is one in which separate people speak about events that occur in an external social and physical geography – which they are divided from and participate in. A real conversation is one in which a verbal exchange between two or more parties (that are both objects within consciousness, and therefore one) exist as the perfect movement of watching what wants to happen. What this means is when the separate self is dropped, a conversation is no longer a mere back and forth, it’s no longer an unaware throwing of conceptual mud at a human wall and responding to what sticks. Instead, the conceptual mud is known to not stick to anything because there is nothing outside of it to which it could stick. Knowing this relieves the conversation of separative force, situating it in the power of the moment. No longer divorced from the totality, real conversations take their natural place as a flicker of consciousness – not between two people but as the glow of one movement.

As an example, take this moment. I don’t see you as a separate object trading signifiers with a separate object that is holding your personal attention. What is in front of me is not experienced as in front of me at all. It’s simply what is here, no more, no less. It’s experience itself revealing the way. That is all. The separative confusion is unregistered. When you know this you will find that you can’t be triggered by your family because there is nothing to personally take you from your impersonal center. There is nothing that isn’t being lived exactly as it should be according to its conditioning as the movement of Non-separation. Even though the support people think you need may still be offered, you will be under no illusion of anybody doing anything separate from the totality. You will be lived from this space as an invitation to Non-separation – making a real conversation always present.

Real conversations are the backbone of Applied Awakening. They rest in, and are, invitations to Non-separation – which is the only true offering of self-care.

Q: Speaking of which, you didn’t say much about self-care.

MR-B: When you say “self-care” what do you mean?

Q: I was told that my alcoholism was part of neglecting myself. Due to my situation at work, I no longer felt I was worthy of care. I felt like I was unworthy. I felt shame. Self-care is doing nice things for yourself that are positive rather than destructive behavior. Rather than self-loathing, you treat yourself to nice, relaxing, enjoyable things.

MR-B: I understand. From separation, self-care is considered something like treating yourself to a massage, an enjoyable meal or hobby, a hike, or meeting a friend for coffee. It’s doing things that make you feel good, feel happy. It’s commonplace for many in the spiritual communities to encourage healing in this way – by being gentle with the self, loving the self, nurturing the self, embracing the self. What they fail to let students know is that a lifetime of this kind of self-care will not lead you to the core of what is instigating your feelings of stress and suffering. In separative self-care, you are still being encouraged to cling to the self, the source of pain – just in a way that is perceived as healthy.

Don’t get me wrong, these experiences are nice enough. They just have nothing to do with self-care as understood from the perspective of Non-separation. You are not here with me to discuss how to be nice to a separate self so that this assumption can be accepted in a calmer state of mind. Living a lie is living a lie whether you’re happy or not. You are here to discover that you can only care for the self when you know the self.

Before I continue, again, I’m not saying these kinds of self-care activities are negative in any way. They will be lived or they won’t – and judging them is not what I’m advocating. I’m just inviting you to see what the self is that you’re attempting to care for. I’m inviting you to look at your underlying motivations for engaging these self-care activities. Are you just satiating the separate self, satiating its desires? If so, can you see that whether you’re drinking a fifth of bourbon or eating a kale salad, you are still distracting the separate self from the pre-existing unity living it? Can you see that, whether you are numbing your pain with negative substances or positive feelings, you are left in the exact same situation, embedded in a separate self? Can you see that self-care, in the culture of separation, is just another form of self-interest?

From Non-separation, self-care doesn’t carry the same level of importance because it is known to be a false promise for total rehabilitation or relief. It is known that self-care is not the opposite of self-destruction. It is known that self-care is not the antidote to suffering. Suffering is a sickness of the separate self – and the only known antidote is the remembrance of Non-separation.