As I approached the town of Alachua, I started looking for the site of the Temple.
I half expected a towering spire to appear along the highway, but there wasn’t one. Then I expected to see a billboard along the two-lane highway threading its way through the backcountry, but there was nothing. As I turned off the main road onto a dirt track, I was sure I would encounter at least a sign telling me I’d arrived.
But there was no formal entrance, and before I knew it I was parked in an ordinary parking lot at the edge of a sprawling plot of land. I glanced Singer driving by in an old beat-up pickup truck. “What is going on here?” I wondered. Could it be that this famed guru had nothing in the way of ceremony or fanfare?
I parked the car and started strolling around the lot. There wasn’t a person in sight, and I walked all around the property until I ended up back at my car. I encountered only a small handful of unremarkable buildings spread around the land. It was getting late, and I decided to head out and find a place to stay the night.
My mind was still racing, trying to come up with an explanation for what I was doing here in case someone confronted me. But I also trusted my intuition that it was important for me to be here. I felt a sense of peace and quiet descend on me; the kind that arrives when you literally follow your heart.
I made my way to the local Motel 6 and settled in for the night, with a plan to return the next morning.
Samskaras: Impressions from the past
What is it about the heart center that allows it to open and close? Let’s look at the mechanics.
The heart closes when it is blocked, like any valve. It gets blocked by unfinished energy patterns from the past, which are stored in the heart for later processing. The Hindus call such a pattern a “samskara.” Samskara is a Sanskrit word meaning “impression,” like an impression of a shape upon the sand.
Think of it like a little energy loop that keeps a bit of information trapped and cycling in place. This packet of cycling energy is quite stable, and can remain there indefinitely. All the samskaras you’ve collected over your lifetime are stored there in your heart center.
If these samskaras build up enough, they can block the flow of energy flowing through you. Like plaques building up in your veins, they can choke off the flow. When this happens, your view of life becomes dark because every emotion has to pass through that dark energy.
Every samskara is programmed with the specific details of the event that created it.
For example, if you caught your boyfriend cheating on you, very detailed data about that trauma is embedded within. The emotions of the event, the circumstances surrounding the event, the people and places associated with the event – you will have enhanced sensitivity toward any of these details.
Your entire being wants to process this information and be free of it. At first, it will try to express itself through the mind. You’ll think about it constantly, for days, your mind filling with chatter.
Anything that reminds you of this traumatic event – a similar location, the same time of year, the people who were there, or even the color of a shirt that reminds you of your ex – any element in common will trigger a cascade of frenzied thoughts as your inner voice tries to explain, rationalize, and justify what happened.
Samskaras are not a metaphor. They are real. They don’t just disappear on their own with time.
Long term, the ones that aren’t processed via the mind will be forced into the heart, where they will express themselves through emotional upheaval. Any experience connected to the original trauma will bring all that data rushing back into your awareness, imploring you to feel it fully this time. If you still resist it, all that unprocessed energy gets forced into deep storage in the heart.
We generally don’t like any reminder of uncomfortable memories from the past. We call it “being triggered” and do everything possible to avoid it.
But there is another way to treat the experience of being triggered. An experience is just a pattern of energy flowing through your senses. It isn’t the experience itself that creates a samskara. It is when we block it, and close around it, and prevent it from passing through us, that the pattern gets trapped within.
These patterns are flowing through us constantly, all day every day. You’ll see that they are awakening and touching you on a deep level all the time. Moment after moment, experiences are rushing in and you are growing as your heart and mind expand.
Every moment can be a stimulating, moving experience if you are completely open to it.
The service begins
I returned to the Temple of the Universe the next day, completely unsure of what to expect.
I wandered back onto the temple grounds, and soon found myself drawn to a central building, made from dark wood with a sloping roof. It was the main meeting hall. Coincidentally, a weekly service was about to begin.
The sanctuary had an open floor plan, without chairs or benches. Like a yoga studio, a slightly raised platform marked the front of the room, with the rest of the seating area arranged in a semi-circle around it.
Pictures of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary hung next to Hindu gods and a smiling statue of Buddha. It was like a spiritual United Nations, all faiths and traditions welcome. I noticed a portrait of Yogananda, an influential guru who had been one of the first Eastern teachers to visit the U.S. and had famously inspired Steve Jobs.
There were about 25 people in the room. I could tell most of them were here for the first time. I would later find out they were from all over the country, and most of them had simply driven here out of curiosity after reading The Untethered Soul or Singer’s other books.
I spoke with one young couple, teenagers from a couple states away, who huddled together on the floor with a blanket wrapped around them, eager to hear more about what this philosophy entailed. I was moved by the sight of so many curious seekers, meeting here in the middle of the woods for no reason other than a thirst for knowledge. It had been a long time since I found myself in such a congregation.
The service was unlike any I had ever been to. Singer came in from the back and sat on a cushion at one edge of the raised platform. He exuded a humble, yet expansive presence. His remarks seemed unplanned, but purposeful. His subject that night: a history of the universe.
That’s right. Singer chose this evening to tell us the (abbreviated) history of the entire universe.
He started with the Big Bang, describing the unfathomable amounts of energy unleashed in an instant of primordial time, and how it expanded from there at close to the speed of light. He recounted the formation of galaxy clusters, waving his hands in the air like a conductor leading a celestial orchestra. He breathlessly narrated how entire star systems spun out as the newborn universe cooled. It was all scientifically accurate, as far as I could tell. The birth of a purely physical universe, unfolding according to natural laws.
Singer went on with his story for more than 30 minutes, every one of us spellbound by the play by play of an infant universe in the throes of cataclysmic formation. He slowed down as he approached geological time, narrating how our solar system began to take shape, and how the Earth and other rocky planets coalesced out of the cooling debris. He moved on to how the molten core of our planet came to be, the mysterious emergence of life from bubbling wetlands, and finished with the punctuation mark of humankind’s origins on the plains of East Africa.
It was a sermon, but not one with a single takeaway or lesson. As Singer finished, we were all struck with a profound sense of our insignificance. The realization that we are all just miniscule specks of dust in a vast universe whose existence has nothing to do with us.
Next we moved on to music. Instruments were passed around, and everyone joined in with an eclectic mix of percussion instruments, chanting, a melodic chorus, and occasional raucous cries. There was no clear object of worship, and no worship leader.
I was taken aback, amused, but most of all, moved by this spontaneous outpouring of emotion. Free of dogma and theology, we were just people brought together by our search for something beyond ourselves. I was allowing myself to reconnect with the world of the spirit after years spent denying it.
I spoke with Singer after the service as he stood by the exit and greeted people. His eyes were so crinked by smiling that I couldn’t tell if they were open. He looked down at the ground and wouldn’t meet my eye, and kept bowing with his hands folded together in front of his chest as I thanked him for what he had written. He seemed introverted, almost shy in the presence of so many guests. I had the sense that this kind of encounter was a frequent occurrence for him.
As I shook Singer’s hand, I felt an electric prickle moving up my forearm as if he was plugged into a wall socket. In his book, he had described waves of energy flowing through his body and washing over his limbs, and I couldn’t help but imagine them flowing up through my arms as we touched.
The mechanics of healing
When a samskara is stimulated, it begins to open like a flower and release its stored energy.
You’ll experience this as flashes of memory from the original event rushing into your mind – the thoughts you had at the time, the feelings you experienced, even smells and bodily sensations. The samskara stores a complete snapshot of the event down to the tiniest details.
If old memories come up because you were unable to process them before, their reemergence is another chance to let them go. Do what you have to do to process them – cry, laugh, scream, relax your heart, forgive. Just don’t push them back down.
Of course it hurts when they come up. What was stored with pain is going to be released with pain. You get to decide if you want to continue walking around with stored pain blocking your heart and limiting your life. It only hurts for a minute and then it’s over.
In the end, we all have a choice: do we want to try and change the world so it doesn’t disturb our samskaras, or are we willing to go through the process of letting them go?
You can reach a point where you become centered and aware enough that you just sit back and watch this stuff come up. It will arise like a torrent and pass right through and out of you. The samskaras will come up during the mundane events of your day and even in your dreams. Your heart will become accustomed to the process of releasing and cleansing. Don’t process them one by one; that’s too slow. Just stay centered behind the flow and let go.
As you go through life, things will happen that trigger the stored energies within you.
Someone disagrees with you harshly in a meeting. Your ego and pride are hurt, and you feel a tightening. That is your cue that it’s time to grow. The minute you sense the energy within you starting to get strange, just stop. Stop mid-sentence, because you know where that road will lead. You can actually feel a sense of anticipation and excitement when this happens. It’s time to let go of the part of yourself you’re defending.
Every time you feel the energy get activated inside, relax behind it. Don’t fight with it. Don’t try to change it. Don’t judge it. Don’t tell yourself, “Oh I can’t believe I’m feeling this.” Then you’re just going with the guilt thoughts instead of the wounded pride thoughts. Relax the area around your heart, and play with letting go of the feeling of being bothered.
This isn’t about fighting or struggling with the emotions you feel inside. Being free is not about the absence of emotions. There is nothing wrong with feeling anger, jealousy, or attraction. It’s not your fault those energies exist. Just remember that all those thoughts and feelings don’t make any difference. They don’t make you pure or impure. They are not you. They belong to the human you are watching.
What I am describing here is a spiritual path in which you use life itself to free yourself.
A walk with Rose
The service ended, Singer and his crew left, and a few of us were left in the meeting hall speaking amongst ourselves.
I felt awkward. I’m not very good at making small talk with strangers. But across the room I saw a middle-aged woman, and felt compelled to speak to her. I learned that her name was Rose. She was here for the same reasons I was – out of curiosity, hope, and a search for an answer to a question.
We began to walk around the grounds together, and I discovered that she was also dealing with a debilitating health condition. At this point I had spent years trying to diagnose and fix an unexplained pain in my throat, which I’ve written about previously. She’d also tried every kind of doctor and treatment to no avail. I felt a strong sense of kinship with her, as if we were destined to meet.
I had walked around the grounds of the Temple the day before, but hadn’t known about any of the trails leading into the wilderness. She led me to one, and we spent a couple hours exploring the most beautiful, untouched trail in the fading twilight. We spoke of our journeys, of what it was like to hope against hope. We talked about our families, the impact our condition had had on us, and what we had learned from Singer’s work.
For so long I had kept my own chronic pain hidden from almost everyone. It wasn’t supposed to exist, and so I didn’t speak of it, as if not speaking its name would make it cease to exist. I had built up a structure of shame around my pain, as if it was my fault somehow. That whole aspect of my life had become like a forbidden secret, a corner of my psyche kept hidden under lock and key. But the longer I refused to share it with anyone, the more it dominated my thoughts.
Speaking with Rose I felt a newfound freedom inside me. Seeing my own experience reflected in hers, I could see for the first time that my pain had a purpose – that it was a necessary and important part of my life journey. I hadn’t expected it, and hadn’t wanted it, but that was exactly why it was so valuable. It was teaching me who I was and who I could become in the face of adversity.
In his autobiography, Singer writes of the moment the spiritual flow that he had spent years cultivating began to overflow into his intellect and creativity.
He was still pursuing a doctorate in economics, but had all but dropped out in order to meditate for as many hours per day as possible. But his professor insisted that he finish his final paper, and he decided to surrender to the request like so many others. He tells the story:
Notepad after notepad became filled with a totally logical presentation that began with a premise, laid out its argument, and ended with a conclusion. Along the way, there were graphs to present logical relationships, and there were references to facts I had previously read or heard in class. These facts would need to be polished and footnoted later, so I simply left space for them and kept on writing what was created in my mind. I stopped for nothing. There was no worrying or judgment of good or bad; I just allowed the process to unfold. When artists create a work, they first get the inspiration, and then they bring it down to the physical plane. That process is exactly what happened to me that night alone in my van. The inspiration for the entire paper came all at once, and then my mind digested it and gave it form. Instead of a sculpture, a painting, or a symphony, my work of art was an economic treatise. It came from where art comes from, but the medium of expression was logical thinking instead of marble or paint. I had no idea where that spark of inspiration came from. I only knew that in the flash of a moment, I had all the material I needed to write a doctoral-level paper.
As the parts of my life began to connect and make sense to me, I was starting to experience this kind of integration in my own life. All the flows started coming together – the flow of life, the flow of meditation, the flow of creativity, and the flow of the intellect.
I began to understand that these are not separate flows, each requiring their own dedicated effort. They are interconnected, the flow of emotions driving the surge of ideas which is channeled through the flow of focused writing.
I was one being, with information flowing through me as fast as I would allow it. I could label that information in different ways, but in the end it was all the same – the essence of who I am manifesting itself into the physical reality around me.
Like a great engine starting, I began to experience inside of myself the quickening pace of a heart and mind unblocked and uninhibited by the traumas of my past. Not that they were all gone. Far from it! But after several years of seeking and meditation, it was as if a critical threshold had been reached. It now took as much energy to hold back the flow as it did to let it rip.
I decided to stand aside and see what would happen if I removed my “self” – my ego, my pride, my fear, my past – as the bottleneck to my creative expression. I would perform my own version of a surrender experiment.
It would be a grand experiment to find out for myself just how many good things life would bring my way if I expressed who I was without reservation.
To be continued…
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