“If your devotion is to the truth, you can bear anything, including any emotion. The more you are willing to bear and the more you do bear, the bigger your heart is revealed to be, and the more you are in love with life in all its forms.”
One of the greatest challenges we all share is how to be at peace with our difficult emotions. We spend entire lifetimes attempting to run from, manage, or control our experiences of fear, anger, sadness, despair, and even bliss rather than investigating what is driving these emotional responses to life.
One of Gangaji’s central teachings is an understanding of the “nesting” of emotions, how underneath any emotion can be found another emotion, and then another, until eventually what is discovered is the eternal peace that is the essence of your being. Direct self-inquiry is the key.
For over 30 years, Gangaji has been assisting others around the world to drop fearlessly and effortlessly into their most challenging emotions. This month will begin a series that features live interactions with Gangaji that demonstrate the freeing power of self-inquiry in relation to our emotions. Here the initial question is about addiction, and then the conversation quickly opens to an ever-deepening discovery of the underlying emotions that are driving the addiction. We hope you benefit from this conversational format.
Questioner: Hi Gangaji, I would like to talk to you about addictions. My addiction is to alcohol, and I recently had a relapse. It is something I have struggled with all my life.
Gangaji: First, tell me, what do you need to be happy?
Sobriety. Sobriety makes me happy because then I am more present with myself.
If sobriety makes you happy, then what is it about alcohol that attracts you?
Drinking numbs me out.
Ok, so you’ve had the experience of sobriety and what it is like to not follow the impulse to drink, and you know that sobriety brings you happiness, yet still there is this desire to numb out. In your experience, what is driving that impulse? I understand that there is a physical/neurological component to that, but what is the emotional component?
For me, it feels almost like I’m trying to run away from myself. It is a sort of hiding.
That is addiction, right there.
In AA we raise our hands and say, “I am an alcoholic,” but the more I got into your teachings, the more invulnerable I began to feel. I think that feeling of invulnerability is why I relapsed. Because, well, if “alcoholic” is not the truth of who I am, and if I am so spiritual now and so together, well …
… Then you can have a drink.
Yes, that is basically what happened.
What does it mean to you to be invulnerable? Does it mean that your body is invulnerable?
No, of course it doesn’t.
That’s right. The absolute truth of who you are needs nothing for its sustenance, and yet particular bodies have particular needs. Particular nervous systems have particular needs. Your body needs something. It needs sobriety. It needs abstinence from alcohol. That doesn’t mean “you” are an alcoholic. Let us say your body is alcoholic. Knowing that and then to stand up and say, “I am an alcoholic” can be very useful, because as you know one of the major supports for continuing the addiction is the denial of that addiction.
Yes, that is absolutely right.
The willingness to expose oneself and say, “Here I am, and I am an alcoholic,” is a kind of blade of fire that cuts through the habit of hiding, and there is a power that comes from that kind of truth-telling. That power comes from some source other than this body/mind/ego that is an alcoholic. That source, whatever we may name it, needs nothing to sustain itself because it is always eternally here.
There is a saying in AA, “We are as sick as our secrets,” and that has pretty much been my gig, trying to expose all my secrets. It’s been very difficult.
That’s a good one, yes, “We are as sick as our secrets.” What makes that difficult?
For me, I think fear is the biggest issue.
Fear of exposure?
Yes. So, when fear arises, do I just let myself feel it?
You begin by feeling it, but most importantly, when you turn your attention into the fear rather than trying to get away from it, you can begin to recognize that perhaps you are telling yourself some story about the fear. Either a story about what generated the fear in the first place, or a story about how to get away from fear. You may even be thinking now, “Well, If I experience the fear, then it will leave me alone,” but this is yet another story.
To really meet the fear, you have to drop the stories. It may begin by simply allowing yourself to feel it, but what you want to discover is the truth about fear, and this is deeper than feeling. Because under fear, deeper than fear, is an even deeper secret. Are you aware of that? We don’t want this to be just theoretical.
I don’t know how deeply I am aware of that.
Well, then let’s see. Are you aware of the fear now?
Great, so with your conscious attention, right now, drop into the fear. Quickly now, all the way in, and tell me what is under the fear.
It feels like a peace.
Yes, there is peace.
Okay, excellent. Now with your consciousness, drop all the way into the peace. Is there anything under that?
Yes, I’m feeling a little fear again.
Yes, so maybe the peace was not a true unconditional peace. Maybe it was more like, “Okay, here is a little bit of peace, now fear will go away and leave me alone.”
That’s right, it was more of a mind peace.
Maybe you have learned in our meetings that if you drop into and underneath any emotion there is peace. But real self-inquiry is not about learning or remembering some insight from the past. Inquiry is a true and honest meeting of whatever is being avoided in this very moment. In this case, the meeting is with fear. Maybe a long time ago, it began with anger. Only you would know. Right now, the emotion you are aware of is fear. I promise you there is something under the fear, and something under that, and something under that. There are secrets to be exposed. Secret insights and secret revelations. Finally, you will arrive at the secret of who you really are, and this is the great exposure.
Yes! Every time I’ve heard you speak, I feel like I cannot argue with you. It sounds and feels like the truth, but at the same time I can also get angry at you because it breaks down the whole belief system I’ve trudged up. I can go through periods of what feels like rage.
I thought there might be anger in there somewhere. So now we see that underneath the fear is also rage.
Yes, I get angry, and I get angry that I’m angry. I feel afraid of exposing myself and also afraid of your unconditional love, so there is a mixture of fear and anger.
Yes, this is very clear.
It is great knowing all of this, but it also drives me bananas. The knowing is like being in an insane asylum because it doesn’t necessarily change my experience.
Yes, that is because there is still something deeper to be uncovered. This rage, too, must be fully experienced, just as with the fear. Not acted out and not repressed. Maybe the rage feels like a secret that must be kept because it is so huge and so fearful it must be suppressed. When I say to experience the rage, I’m talking about truly meeting this huge force without taking any action either against yourself or against someone else. I’m also saying not to deny the rage, because in your case the impulse for alcohol is part of the denial of both fear and rage. When fear and rage can be fully met and experienced, they are like ghosts that are set free. Really set free. Right now, they are caught in your body, and you want to numb yourself from the discomfort.
Yes, that is true.
Rage, too, desires to be free, and when it is fully met through inquiry, it is experienced simply as energy. Not as energy that needs to be discharged or acted out, but more like internal thunder or a lightning bolt. Once experienced, it’s like “PHEW,” and the energy is freed. Under the rage is yet another secret because always, whatever we are feeling, the emotions are layered, or nested. Whatever the initial emotion is, there is something underneath it. To discover what is deeper, or underneath it, all that is needed is curiosity and openness. Inquiry is opening the mind.
Now, each time fear or anger arises, you have another opportunity to experience it even more deeply. In truth, your emotions are not your enemies; they are your allies. Fear, anger, and sadness become vehicles to a source that is bigger than your body. Yet to discover this, you have to be willing to tell the truth and ride the emotion, internally, all the way home.
Diving into and under what are commonly considered forbidden emotions or negative states has not been a common journey. Mostly we have learned to avoid and repress our negative states until at some point they begin to leak out or explode. Mostly we just want to have a good time, or we want to escape, and eventually we bring those desires to the spiritual search where there is a hope that we won’t have to experience all this unpleasantness and negativity. But the truth is, you bring your emotions with you wherever you go.
What I am always inviting everyone to is the secret of stopping. To stop right here, right now, whatever the circumstances may be, and fully experience what is here. The invitation is to experience both what is here relatively, such as fear, anger, sadness, or despair, but mainly and essentially what is always here as the pure, unadulterated ground of your being. Peace Itself.
You get to see what you have been carrying through life. It is not always pleasant. It can feel uncomfortable or even very painful and threatening. But if your devotion is to the truth, you have full capability to allow yourself to experience whatever is revealed all the way through. This is freedom. This is what sobriety really is—the absolute truth.
Yes, I know this to be true.
If your devotion is to the truth, you can bear anything, including any emotion, including abstinence from alcohol or any other substance. The more you are willing to bear and the more you do bear, the bigger your heart is revealed to be and the more you are in love with life in all its forms. Love from and with another human being, spiritual love, love of God, love for nature, love for the earth, love for yourself, love even for this alcoholic body.
What a relief! Thank you so much.
I thank you, both for your honesty and for your willingness.
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Gangaji is the author of The Diamond in Your Pocket, Freedom & Resolve: Finding Your True Home in the Universe, You Are That, and Hidden Treasure: Uncovering the Truth in Your Life Story.