For the past two weeks I have been having a sort of reoccurring dream. It hasn’t been exactly the same dream repeated day after day, but rather there was a similar theme of trauma that characterized these dreams. I reflected on why this was happening. Often we dream about the same thing, the same person, or the same event, whenever subconsciously we have attachment to them. And our anxieties often come from our attachments to things outside of us that we are seeking validation from, seeking healing from, and seeking a sort of resolution from or through. Going deeper, it means that our Soul, that deeper dimension of our Being, is striving for liberation from that object. But, of course, those objects outside of us are merely concepts that the Mind has constructed that reflect our internal state of longing for healing and completion. So, our pain and our anxieties, reflected through physical concepts and appearances in dreams as well as in our experience of the material world is really our Soul attempting to teach us what we are by teaching us what we are not. But the lessons are learned only when we have attained non-attachment in relation to them, when we have detached ourselves existentially from those objects. It is the process of negation, which allows eventually for the affirmation of our Divine Reality – our Essence. That is the basic premise for removing veils of illusions within us as a prerequisite for attaining to the Divine Presence within us.
Trauma is different from daily life stress because it unhinges our Organizing Principles of Reality. When we are traumatized by something we tend to ruminate. The Mind is trying to find the underlying reason behind the trauma, trying to make sense of it thereby reorganizing our internal world. Sometimes we spend most of our life ruminating, our head in the clouds, searching for something. When we have finally arrived at an understanding that reorganizes our world then we have arrived at an Organizing Principle. There are different levels of Principles, and the deeper and more prior they are to the origin and core of our Being then the more expansive and powerful they are in recreating and maintaining our self-concept. We often have to travel through layers of our psyche, arriving at Principles that are actually particular to each layer of Foundational Trauma that we perceive as Self. Each layer is like a whole world in itself, but when we resolve the Foundational Trauma that characterizes our current self-concept, that floor of pain that defines our cognitive limit, then we will transcend that version of our self. This relates to that teaching of the Prophet, that purification of the Heart is like polishing a mirror – it is cyclical and requires vigor and discipline, but it is also exhausting. We will have to undergo cycles of death and rebirth, pain and pleasure, suffering and liberation, which relates to the concept of Samsara that was taught by the Buddha.
Last night I had a dream that was related to a particular sort of trauma that I had internalized since I was a child. If you come from a home environment in which there has been a lot of conflict, physical or emotional abuse, absence, and any sort of circumstance that lead to emotional neglect, then you will have accrued trauma. Sumrok’s Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Test tallies the number of your adverse childhood experiences and determines with a high degree of accuracy the likelihood of mental health related issues later on in life as adults.
The ACE Study found that the higher someone’s ACE score – the more types of childhood adversity a person experienced – the higher their risk of chronic disease, mental illness, violence, being a victim of violence and a bunch of other consequences. The study found that most people (64%) have at least one ACE; 12% of the population has an ACE score of 4. Having an ACE score of 4 nearly doubles the risk of heart disease and cancer. It increases the likelihood of becoming an alcoholic by 700 percent and the risk of attempted suicide by 1200 percent.
That being said, there are people that score high yet are powerfully healthy as adults. The reason for this is resilience, and while healthy interpersonal relationships play a key role in that, resilience is ultimately tied to something deep within a person to persevere, to overcome, and to thrive. The theme of traumatic experiences in my dreams was something that largely characterized my self-concept growing up and maintained in adulthood. It had a great and seemingly enduring impact on my self-esteem, my emotional triggers, how I perceived others and events, and so on. It definitely has features of a sense of inferiority, of never being good enough – what feels like an impossible and unattainable state, pain, anger, and fear, a sense of constant comparison and self-judgement. I always hated when I’d have those dreams because, especially as of the last three and a half years, it would fill me with anxiety that could last for weeks until I had resolved it through meditation.
“When we are traumatized by something we tend to ruminate. The Mind is trying to find the underlying reason behind the trauma, trying to make sense of it thereby reorganizing our internal world. Sometimes we spend most of our life ruminating, our head in the clouds, searching for something. When we have finally arrived at an understanding that reorganizes our world then we have arrived at an Organizing Principle.”
My experience up till now has taught me that the reason that I am again having these dreams at this precise point in time is because I am ready to confront it on a deeper level and resolve it. When we lack to mental and spiritual tools to confront pain, then the subconscious Mind protects the conscious mind by avoiding the pain. But if you avoid confrontation for too long it becomes toxic. The fact that it is happening now as opposed to some other time means that I have learned recently the wisdom and the insights to resolve this trauma. I am confident that I have the spiritual power to overcome and resolve the traumas. I now welcome uncomfortable emotions and thoughts whereas before I would always try to avoid them.
Pain tells me, as Rumi says, the way into the Heart. And the fact that I had this positive thought was comforting to me because I am not in control of all of my thoughts, none of us are. Some thoughts arise due to attachment where the ego tries to avoid pain at any cost, especially by maintaining unhealthy attachments. But there is a deeper part of us that calls for transcendence, for growth, for Beauty. A great lesson that I learned is that those thoughts, emotions, feelings, and senses of inspiration that come from a place beyond the Void of Pure Consciousness is God’s Will manifesting in us. When we can accept that, then it leads to a deeper level of Reality beyond what we have always limited ourselves to – a sense of reality limited by a floor of pain and trauma, never envisioning a Reality beyond it. That understanding brought me to a higher state of consciousness, and this gives us the potential to confront the pain, to fight and to overcome. When you can find in your Heart a place of refuge, then you can learn to have confidence in your own Reality. I always look forward to entering my Heart, and often prefer it to the company of people.
Meditation and Confrontation – Negation of Illusions
I concentrated using a type of meditation, what I call, and what I believe many traditions have similarly referred to as, the Meditation of Death or Death Meditation. I have not written about this yet, but I plan to. I was originally going to write this post after I had done a description of that meditation and other concepts in order that people would have an understanding of concepts that I reference here, but I have decided to update this post later on instead. But basically, the Meditation of Death is an entry point into a state of mind that frames the world from the perspective of one who has already died. This is related to the Prophet’s statement, “Die before you die.” He was talking about the death of the old self, the lower self, so that you can arise and be reborn as the Higher Self. This is a central meditative practice in Islam, although largely unknown. It is referenced in the Qu’ran where it says “Meditate upon God until you enter into a state of certainty of Death.” (Surat Al-Ĥijr)
When you enter into a state of certainty of death, and then ground yourself in the awareness of God, then you can perceive your reality as transcendent to death itself. And then death appears as nothing but the dissolution of the material world, which you by nature of your Essence, transcend. To me it feels so liberating, like a feeling of peace, of coming home. I like going there, and it’s not something other people can give you. I believe that this is a profound way of developing a healthy relationship with yourself because you become so comfortable being alone. You become so comfortable simply sitting in silence and in stillness. And as Kernberg wrote, the prerequisite for having a healthy relationship with others is having a healthy relationship with oneself. So this path of striving towards God is synonymous with the path of healing, which is why the Prophet was portrayed as a Mercy for mankind, and how the premise of the Buddha was the welfare of mankind. In the tradition of the Greek sages, of the Philosopher-Kings, Plato describes in the Allegory Of The Cave the role of those who attain enlightenment, which is to venture back into the cave and rescue others from being trapped within the cave. All spiritual traditions are premised on liberation from spiritual suffering.
From the Death Meditation, the world appears like a memory, a dream, something already vanished. And yet, your consciousness still remains. What does this mean, why is this so significant? Because it causes to arise in the Mind the experiential knowledge – what is True Understanding or gnosis – that the events of the world of phenomena are separate from Self, from our Essence. They thus lack an inherent sense of Reality, which is the ultimate understanding of the concept of Śūnyatā or Emptiness. It does not mean that the world is akin to a hologram, non-existent, but rather that our perception of the world becomes more accurate, more Truthful. The physical eyes merely perceive the world in a way that benefits our specific requirements for survival. Other creatures thus perceive the physical world differently according to their physical survival requirements. The Spiritual Eye opens to perceive the world when physical survival is not our ultimate concern on an existential level. It does not mean that if all of our physical needs are met then we become enlightened. Usually it’s the opposite because we’ve only deepened our reliance on these provisions, even internalizing them on the Essential level of Being.
Concentrating on this, I understood that all events of the six senses – sight, sound, touch, smell, taste, and Mind (conceptualization leading to thoughts and emotions), are the conditions for the arising of the perception of phenomena as mental concepts. And as mental concepts, they are created things of the Mind. Being created, they are dependent on the creator, which is the Mind. This understanding allowed me to perceive their inherent lack of Reality, which opened up to me their nature of cessation, of Impermanence, and therefore their separateness from my Self or Essence.
“This is related to the Prophet’s statement, “Die before you die.” He was talking about the death of the old self, the lower self, so that you can arise and be reborn as the Higher Self. This is a central meditative practice in Islam, although largely unknown. It is referenced in the Qu’ran where it says “Meditate upon God until you enter into a state of certainty of Death.” (Surat Al-Ĥijr) When you enter into a state of certainty of death, and then ground yourself in the awareness of God, then you can perceive your reality as transcendent to death itself.”
This puts you in a certain Mind-State characterized by observation. It’s like looking back at the world as a memory. You can simply observe the rising and the falling of painful phenomena. By dwelling within this Mind-State while simultaneously recalling the images and the sensations of your traumas you can attain a greater understanding and sense of their separateness and their illusory nature. What you are doing is contrasting the impermanent nature of illusions with the permanent nature of your Essence. And then by grounding yourself in your Essence you self-identify with your Essence rather than with your traumas, thereby recognizing them as separate.
The more that you understand and experience them as separate, the more you can simply observe them as fleeting objects, like leaves in a stream. You can see them as illusions. I focused my Mind on the dreams and their sensations, on how dreams arise and cease while yet I remain, awakened and existing, Permanent, while the dreams have vanished. They arise and they cease, which points to their nature of Impermanence. And being impermanent, and being dependent on the Mind, they lack inherent reality. Their true nature is that of non-arising and non-cessation, that is, Śūnyatā, Emptiness.
What is happening here is that you are emptying your Heart of impermanent concepts, thereby disentangling your sense of reality from them; as you empty the world of Self, you empty the Self of world. The Buddha responds to Ananda on how to abandon Ignorance through recognizing the Emptiness of the world. Andanda asks, “It is said that the world is Empty, the world is Empty, lord. In what respect is it said that the world is Empty?” The Buddha replied, “Insofar as it is Empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self: Thus it is said, Ānanda, that the world is Empty.”
The events of the past I perceive as memories rather than as realities, and memories are no different than dreams. They are fleeting and do not exist per se. They have no inherent Reality. It only seems like they do when they made us feel shame, and having self-identified with shame – the delusion or illusory state of the Mind – then we continue to self-identify with the past. We continue believing that it characterizes us. We are entangled with the world, giving a sense of life and reality to illusions. We continue to exist in the illusory world.
Grounding Myself – Affirmation Through The Divine Statement
Where is my Reality? It is a question that I felt in the moment of struggling to negate the negative energy of the past. And then I remembered the most powerful grounding meditative technique, which is the Divine Statement “La illa ha il Allah”. Throughout a period of over four years of meditating upon this in the silence and seclusion of darkness, different layers of its reality were experienced. They all build on top of each other, going deeper, and so the latest experience of it is a reflection of all of that.
This current experience makes me perceive and to feel that there is no reality except for My Reality. Nothing is beyond my Mind, beyond this dwelling place of Pure Consciousness. Everything else disappears, and I feel grounded and absolutely present. But this sense of My Reality is not my physical reality, my physical self, my ego, my thoughts, feelings, body, and sense of self or identity. All of that is void. It is a metaphysical and transcendent sense of Being, where I feel like an observer, both as the seer and the seen, as the mystical poet Fakhrudin ‘Iraqi said. And it is predicated on that knowledge I mentioned earlier about the Will of God manifesting through the deepest recesses of our psyche; a sensation of a presence from beyond the void of Pure Consciousness. There is a presence there, and we must come to know it intimately.
I focus my Mind on that presence, on its energy, and on how that is the only Reality. How it is really my Reality. It is characterized by a very warm feeling and positive energy, like a white light. I continue to focus on it, grounding myself in it, further entrenching the understanding that this is my Reality.
Suddenly the thoughts, memories, and sensations of trauma arose. However, I perceived them as being separate and having nothing to do with this higher sense of Reality. Again, a focus on the Divine Statement grounds me in positive energy, and it inculcates in me a deeper understanding that these lowly objects of pain have nothing to do with God. They are like false idols that are effaced and shattered by the very mention of the Divine. And when, on this level, you are self-identifying with your Essence, which is recognized as pertaining to Divine Will, to that Presence beyond the Void, then it deepens a sense of separation from destructive energy and emotions.
“This current experience makes me perceive and to feel that there is no reality except for My Reality. Nothing is beyond my Mind, beyond this dwelling place of Pure Consciousness. Everything else disappears, and I feel grounded and absolutely present.”
It makes me appreciate that there are different levels of reality and consciousness. Often, we get stuck in a lower level of consciousness that is characterized by pain and anxiety and inferiority. Our lives are limited to the cognitive potential of merely seeking social validation, as if we have no substance ourselves. We end up thinking that this is just how we are. We normalize abuse in our lives thinking it’s normal. We normalize our anger, jealousy, and other unhealthy character traits.
But when you recognize that there is a higher way of existing, then you start to recognize that you need to change your environment – both externally and internally – because it’s actually not normal, healthy, or helpful. You need to change something about your ingrained perception of yourself in order to be happier and more fulfilled in life. But it is a process of growth, so you need not regret the past nor feel ashamed for not taking positive action sooner. That was written long ago in our Heart beyond this world. As the Prophet advised, “Humans are like cups, they can only pour out what is already in them.” The way you acted, the way things turned out, it could not have been otherwise. It’s ok, so use it to grow, to forgive both yourself and others.
An image and sensation of White Light, a powerful energy, radiates outwards from my Essence and totally effaces the images of pain, the objects of attachment. I feel like I am merging with that White Light by recognizing it as my Essence, which simultaneously allows me to recognize what is not my Essence. Immediately, I felt the anxiety of pain, of inferiority, of anger, disappear and be replaced with a sense of contentment and serenity.
Those images of pain within me were idols that lead to Ignorance, Attachment, and Suffering. They are expressions of the Big Idol at the center of our Being, which is the false idol of the self, the ego. It is represented in the Qur’anic story of Abraham, who smashed the idols in the Ka’bah as an allegory of his Enlightenment story. The Big Idol is the material delusion that the Transcendent Mind has fallen under in which its Essence is changed – the Inverted Self, from metaphysical and transcendent to physical and immanent.
Liberation is possible, symbolized in the image of the Buddha pointing towards the moon, or the Prophet pointing beyond transcendence towards God. There are many images of the expressions of transcendence throughout religious literature, and we must always keep that theme alive within us. It is the source of hope as well as our power of imagination and creativity.
Ultimately, what we are learning here through separation is a higher Principle. It is the Principle of Emptiness; we are learning about the impermanent nature of this material world. And this teaches us about our reality beyond it, and that our sense of value is inherent and not entangled in the world. Continuing along this path, higher Principles of attachment to the beyond may arise.
Artwork: Amit Nitore