All creatures are born inescapably defined by their stories, yet if we remain limited by those definitions we live a life of inner bondage. When we recognize the stories that generate our definitions of ourselves, we are closer to the discovery of what is indefinable within us. That discovery reveals inner freedom and lasting fulfillment.
Each life form has a beginning, an arc of a life story, and then an ending. Most of our internal and external attention and communication circle around the particulars of how we define ourselves as collective life and how we define ourselves, or others, as particular life. Other animals, trees, flowers, butterflies, spiders, rocks, planets and solar systems also have their stories, and the broadcasting of their stories is both our greatest entertainment and our inevitable humbling. We can find ourselves, or parts of ourselves, in all stories and we can separate ourselves through our stories.
We all come from life-giving energy, are infused and animated by life energy to become a particular life-form, and we all end in returning to formless life. Along the way there are small and great dramas, crossroads of destiny and surprises both wondrous and horrific. Some life stories end very quickly and some go on and on. There are countless dramas within this bigger, incomprehensible universal story. Stories are sung, put into sacred books, memorized, dramatized and consulted generation after generation. Our collective cosmic story is a teeming theater of lifeforms appearing and disappearing. Forms are born, live through many stories and then die. Before any form appears, life is here. During the lifetime of any form, life is animating that form. After any particular form dies, life — while withdrawn from that form — remains here. Life is true. It is always here.
Most of my life was spent at war with the characters — including the lead, me — in my story. They weren’t good enough, or smart enough, or deep enough. At one point in the story of me, none of us were rich enough. At another point, when material possessions were disdained, none of us were poor enough. It was never right. It could always be better. Sometime in the future, I could make my story turn out to fit my latest idealization, or so I hoped. For four decades I worked at building a story that would fulfill me. Periods of happiness and peace came and went. Lasting happiness remained out of my grasp. It took some time to realize that the lasting fulfillment I was seeking couldn’t be captured by any story I told about myself. The fulfillment I was seeking in my many attempts to tell a story of victory couldn’t be captured because it is free. It took more time to realize that my story was mysteriously appearing in that which is already fulfilled. It was a beautiful and wonderful shock to discover that freedom and fulfillment were never absent whatever the latest rendition of my story. My story was an individual display of the search for the living free consciousness already inhabiting each character. When I recognized the silent fulfilled core in all versions of myself — and all the others in my story — I could rest. In the spaciousness of rest, I could begin to live my life from fulfillment, rather than continuing to search for it.
What is your story? You discover your story by noticing what you are telling yourself over and over. Notice what you tell yourself about your past, your present and your future. In order to have any lasting impact, our stories have to be told and retold. All stories have a narrative. Your narrative is what you tell yourself through thoughts and images with accompanying emotions. What is your narrative? You can check right now. It is bound to be familiar. It is natural as human animals with developed cognitive abilities to generate and follow the narrative of our stories. It certainly is not wrong to do so. But it is limiting. It limits attention to events that are forever changing. To discover how your attention is being spent, discover what you habitually say to yourself. Listen to your narrative while suspending belief in it.
All definitions and stories arise from the silent core, and in surrender all are then pointers to where they come from and where they return at their end. In surrender all is transparent from the luminosity of your naked self.
This blog is adapted from Hidden Treasure: Uncovering the Truth in Your Life Story, which was published by Penguin Tarcher in 2011. In this life-changing book, Gangaji uses the telling of her own life story to help readers uncover the truth in their own. Publisher’s Weekly said, “This gently flowing but often disarming volume invites readers to examine the narratives that shape them, and is a call to pass beyond personal stories to find a deeper, more universal self.” In February and March Gangaji will be teaching in Maui, HI, offering a Silent Retreat with Eli, and Small Group Weekend. Visit www.gangaji.org for more information about Gangaji and her upcoming events, including the monthly Webcast / Conference Series, With Gangaji, which is currently undergoing an in-depth study of Hidden Treasure.
Gangaji shares a simple message – “This is an invitation to shift your allegiance from the activities of your mind to the eternal presence of your being.” Born in Texas in 1942, Gangaji grew up in Mississippi. After graduating from the University of Mississippi in 1964, she married and had a daughter. In 1972, she moved to San Francisco where she began exploring deeper levels of her being. She took Bodhisattva vows, practiced Zen and Vipassana meditation, helped run a Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Center, and had a career as an acupuncturist in the San Francisco Bay area. Despite her successes, Gangaji continued to experience a deep and persistent longing for fulfillment. She pursued many paths to change her life including relationship, motherhood, political activism, career, and spiritual practice, but even the greatest of her successes ultimately came up short. In the wake of her disillusionment, she made a final prayer for true help. In 1990, the answer to her prayer came unexpectedly, taking her to India and to the meeting that would change everything. There on the banks of the river Ganga, she met Sri H.W.L. Poonja, also known as Papaji, who opened the floodgates of self-recognition. In this meeting, Gangaji’s personal story of suffering ended and the promise of a true life began to flower and unfold. Today, Gangaji travels the world speaking to seekers from all walks of life. A teacher and author, she shares her direct experience of the essential message she received from Papaji and offers it to all who want to discover a true and lasting fulfillment. Through her life and words, she powerfully articulates how it is really possible to discover the truth of who you are and to be true to that discovery. Gangaji’s website www.gangaji.org
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