The Buddha & The Toddler
All struggle in life can be traced back to one thing: misalignment with your authentic self, your true nature, a failure to hear your soul's voice and heed its call. This is not to say that a soul-centered life is always easy. Duality is a cornerstone of our universe. Life is, as Brooke Castillo so eloquently describes it, 50/50. In every life there will be joys and sorrows, gains and losses, excitement and dread. Living from your authentic center does not save you from experiencing the darker 50% of life. But it will save you from suffering through it.
There are two states in which we can move through the world--in authenticity (aka alignment) or in inauthenticity (misalignment, as in no longer settled firmly within your true center). We are either living the truth of who we are, or we are living a lie. We are either following our soul, or we are following our brain. Your brain is not a lie, per se. It's more of a filter, an entity that, while it is certainly a part of you, is overly concerned with the world outside and thereby not fully aligned with your own true center.
The difference between following your soul through life and following your brain is profound. I spoke about this in a recent post, Less is More, where I suggested we should probably all have t-shirts reading "Less Brain. More Heart." If we had t-shirts, it might be easier to remember, when the suffering starts, from whence it comes.
Any time you find yourself with a seat on the struggle bus, you can be assured that you've been listening too closely to your brain. It has led you astray, away from your authentic center. The farther you get from this central point, from your own truth and divinity, the more struggly life feels. The more struggle you sense, the more likely you are to turn to your brain, which will unfailingly look outside of you for the answer. Thus you are lead farther from the truth, like Red Riding Hood being pulled ever deeper into the dark woods, where she will soon be confronted with the Big Bad Wolf. As the forest grows darker, it's increasingly difficult to find your way back out. Which is why we are here today.
Learning to recognize the difference between alignment and misalignment will save you a load of suffering far beyond anything Red could have carried in her nifty picnic basket. Understanding how to listen for the sound of your soul's song over the keening cry of your human mind is tantamount to a Get Out of Struggle Free card in the Monopoly game of life. But it's a skill. Like learning how to save your Monopoly money to put the hotels on Park Place instead of rushing to build them on Baltic, you've got to understand the whole strategy to make wise moves.
A significant point of confusion lies in the fact that your soul's voice and your brain's voice are both yours. It's not as if the song of your soul was composed in your studio and your brain's tracks were mixed by some competitor in another city. These are both aspects of YOU, they both speak to you with a vocabulary, timbre, and cadence that you instantly recognize as your own. So what, precisely, is the difference?
Your truth, the authentic center of you, is the part of you aligned with and inextricably connected to Divine. It knows no fear, because it is eternal. It knows no lack, because it is inherently abundant. It knows no doubt, because it is constantly guided. In this center lies your soul purpose, who you are meant to be and what you are meant to do and create in this life. In this space you will also find everything you need to reach these ends--the lessons and callings, the innate talents, the seeds bearing everything that grows to fill your soul garden with abundant life.
Again, this space is connected, supported, abundant, and accepting. No struggle exists here, because there is nothing to struggle for or against. Your soul, your authentic center, is truth and radiance, grace and exaltation. It is YOU, evolved. Think of it like Buddha--calm and serene, needing nothing more than it has and having everything that it desires.
Your mind, inarguably a part of you as well, is aligned with your physical existence and the outside world. It is full of fear, because it is concerned with the survival of a vessel that is bound to expire. It perceives lack because it can be fooled into believing it is connected to nothing more than this transient existence in the physical plane. It suffers doubt because it is constantly bombarded with the thoughts, emotions, and opinions of others. In the center of this part of you lies the drive for survival. A useful aim, this. What is rather less useful is your brain's untrained interpretation of what constitutes a threat to that objective.
From your earliest days, even before your birth, you brain was measuring the world around you, looking for threats. It catalogs an unbelievable amount of information daily. Like a fleshy supercomputer, your brain is capable of managing multiple programs and massive surges of data. But there is one program to rule them all: survival. As your physical body and brain were developing, the catalogs of information being constructed were all built on this default programming.
Though you continue to develop and change your brain throughout your lifespan, the vast majority of it's development, including writing the initial lines of code regarding "threats," takes place while your age is still in the single digits. Long before you stepped onto your first school bus, your brain had created a massive list of perceived threats and its own HTML intended to diffuse them. These supposed menaces were filtered through the brain of a small child, one who is not yet individuated and is truly incapable of surviving alone, a being whose prefrontal cortex is two decades from developing. In other words, your threat assessment software is less NAVY Seal and more Sesame Street.
Where you authentic, soul-centered, self is peaceful, connected, and trusting, a brain-centered self is vigilant, doubtful, and controlling. Struggle abounds here, because there is always something to struggle for or against. Your beloved brain, which so often leads you into inauthenticity, is fear and resistance, isolation and disconnection. It is YOU, unevolved.
Where your aligned self is like the Buddha, your misaligned self is like a toddler--confused and easily frightened, prone to tantrums and capable of only the simplest logic. It's not that your brain is working against you, it's just that it's only working for you to a certain extent, and largely to one end, survival. It's only able to use information it collects through the nervous system to perform this task. And the majority of the information it has used to create basic programming was obtained while someone else had to tie your shoes.
What the soul knows, the body is unable to perceive. And much like a toddler who hasn't quite figured out that the toys you take away haven't been lost forever, the brain assumes that if something can't be perceived, it must not exist. It's no wonder the brain functions so much like a toddler, since much of its key formation happens during your preschool years.
This outward-focused, single objective aspect of you performs vital functions. Beyond the impressive tasks of managing the intricacies of human physiology, the brain allows you to anticipate consequences of your actions, perform the actual tasks involved in creativity (dancing, drawing, writing, etc), hold and access a vast store of memories and learning. So why does aligning with this magnificent manager of data so often lead you astray?
Much of the issue lies in how your awareness is directed. Physiologically, your autonomic nervous system is eternally busy running the myriad systems and processes that do not require your conscious input. You know, little things like breathing, digesting food and absorbing nutrients, removing waste from the body. All of this is taking place inside of you, yet you are nearly completely unaware of it. Meanwhile, your awareness is filled with information about what is going on outside of you.
While you're unaware of the emotions being expressed on your own face, you're carefully observing those on the faces of others. As you blithely move your own body through space, you focus acutely on the movements of others. This outside information is part of your commitment to survival, part of the never-ending threat assessment you started in utero that will never cease. While some of this information is undoubtedly significant, it competes for the use of your limited conscious brain power with everything that's going on inside of you. While you're busy scanning the world for exterior threats, you're utterly unaware of your own inner world.
As your body brings you information from the outside world, your mind, too, is focused on something more than your conscious awareness of yourself. Nearly all of your mental function happens in your subconscious mind which, as the name implies, is not within your conscious awareness. This is where your brain has stored all of that programming it created when you were small, all of the threat assessment as determined by a Bert & Ernie fan. This is where the permanent three year old in your brain resides, trying in every moment of every day to ensure your survival, to keep you safe...from what a three year old finds threatening.
While the survival of your physical self is undoubtedly appealing, surviving is not the same as thriving. Thriving requires a deeper alignment, to that inner truth, to your authentic core. And as your physical body and brain remain focused on survival, you will often find yourself pulled away from that true center. Fear, resulting from the misclassification of threats, doubt, and an excessive focus on what's going on out there will routinely draw you away from what is going on in here, in your center.
It's not that your brain is trying to lead you into inauthenticity. The issue is that your brain is utterly unconcerned with authenticity. It is concerned with survival. In order to experience the grace and connection of alignment with your truest self, you have to learn to let your soul lead. Your brain's GPS has no heading for "authentic center."
The difference between these two states--the connected and abundant Buddha and the clingy, melt-down prone toddler--holds the secret to knowing when you are living in alignment. To determine whether you are aligned, you need only tune in to your energy. Who is in control? Is it the Buddha? Or is it the toddler?
When you're feeling full of Buddhacious energy, you'll notice that it's easier to make decisions. There are no "what if's." You naturally gravitate towards a choice and taking action seems a natural extension of this pull. You trust that you'll get what you need, even if things don't work out as you'd intended. Again, life won't be all rainbows and unicorns; there will still be losses and challenges, you'll still feel emotions typically labeled as negative, like grief and anger. But you won't feel so much struggle around these natural aspects of life. When you're in alignment, all things are possible and everything that happens is for you.
When you are misaligned, you'll recognize the toddler taking over. Resistance and struggle will expand exponentially. You will be full of doubt, decisions and action will become difficult, if not impossible. The choices will be overwhelming, like a 3 year old asked to choose just one toy from a 30' aisle filled with hundreds of options. The darker half of life will feel frightening, unfair, unmanageable. You will find yourself trying to control everything as your brain screams that threats are around every corner and you must do something to make it stop. When you are inauthentic, nothing seems possible and everything happens to you.
Which of these states seems the easiest? The most effective? Who sounds like the leader you'd choose the follow--the Buddha, or the toddler?
In truth, we are all both. We all contain an authentic center that resonates with the Buddha and a human brain that vibrates with the energy of a being sporting 4T jeans and shoes that flash when we walk. Though your inner toddler truly tries to serve you, it's dong so as only a toddler can, with a cripplingly limited scope of information from which to work. The Divine connection, the greater knowing, the soft but persistent hum of purpose that are hallmarks of the authentic self are like a toy on a high shelf to the brain; they can't be perceived, so they must not exist.
The more time you can spend in alignment with your truth, the less you will suffer the lesions of lies, the bloodied wounds from battling against what is and clinging blindly to what is not. And coming home to your center is as simple as asking, who is in charge here? The Buddha or the toddler?
When you find your inner preschooler has taken the wheel, return to your center. Each of us has a different express lane to our authentic self. Explore what this looks like for you. Is it a walk in nature? Art or movement? Meditation, writing, prayer? Find the paths that lead back home, and walk them with purpose any time you feel yourself struggling.
Seek the Buddha, soothe the toddler. Allow each their space, but remember the objective and the dominant energy of both of these aspects of you. You are an eternal being of divine light having a human experience. As a human, your objective is merely survival. Your energy is tentative, mistrusting, calculating. As a divine creature, your objective is truth. Your energy is peaceful, abundant, and supported. When you foster these feelings and stay true to your authentic core, you will transcend survival and truly thrive.