Compassionate Self-Care is not about subduing or controlling the mind. This work involves a simple release of the attention from thought so that it can rest with the portal of the heart, the breath and with the body in a more general way. We do not fight the mind. We simply shift our attention to the breath, participating in the gentle rhythmic movements of the body as it inhales and exhales. In so doing we allow our feelings to exist in a simple, physical way. This innocent movement of the attention from thinking to the heart creates an opportunity to discover, even briefly, a dimension of life which is different from that unruly force we call the mind. We pull the sash and view something which has been hidden from us for a long time. Maybe we weren’t even sure it was there. But it is. Such an assurance has been given throughout time. A realm exists on the other side of the illusions and delusions of the mind. That realm becomes available when we open to ourselves in such a way that a hidden passage gets cleared. We become gently aware of a dimension which is filled with the possibility of adventure and discovery.
We stay with the body and the breath. We allow the rhythm of the breathing to exist in an uninterrupted way. Whatever we feel in the body is okay. We don’t prod or try to make it go away. We let the body settle down and drift away from its habitual defense.
If the mind begins to repeat its worn-out view of things, we notice that in an open way and then return our attention to the breath. We leave the thoughts behind. If a particular strand of thought persists, the chances are that a corresponding intensity exists in the body — a hurt, a raw place, a woundedness that needs our care.
Underneath all our obsessions, riding just beneath the surface, but obscured by a fixation on content, something hurts in the body. The body attempts to defend itself against that hurt and tenses. As it does so, the mind’s demands are amplified. But underneath the tension, and transcending the mind’s demands, we can find an ache, an innocent longing for something other than our current reality frame. We turn to the longing and wait. We consciously participate in our longing.
What we see around us, our picture of reality, is made up of certain perceptual constraints which arise from the past. This perception does not represent an objective fact or an accurate picture of the whole. It is only a fragment of what exists, a tiny thread of limited possibilities.
There is more to life than what we currently perceive, more than what we are currently taking in. Each of us longs to step outside the conditions of our existence and to experience the greater arena, the deeper understanding. We know intuitively that something else exists.
There is something that we want, but it is not always clear what it is or how to get it. Something elusive beckons and sometimes its call seems very real. But there are times when we feel caught inside a prison of our own making and don’t know how to bring the walls down. We long for a reality which is greater than the one we have assumed to be true.
Each of us has experienced at one time or another, a vague frustration with the situation at hand, a hunger for the next step. We want to know something more about our lives than what thoughts invent, but it feels like we are being held back. Two forces live within, a longing to expand and a holdback. They press against each other, they struggle. And this struggle is often dramatized in our relationships to each other, to money, to our past and to our dreams for the future. We long for greatness, but feel held back in various ways.
The longing and the struggle with it has led to a search, a desire for answers. We look for some insight, idea or philosophical construct which will release us from our belief in limits and our longing for something else. There are times when we treat our longing with disrespect, when we fight with it, hate it and even try to push it away. There are times when our longing confuses us and times when we know we must wait.
It is certainly possible to perceive the interplay between the longing and the restraint as a problem or even as a kind of failure. Yet, from another vantage point, this same interplay can become the most important internal event we might face as human beings. This simple interaction between a sense of limitations and the desire for something greater is the passkey for the journey ahead. It represents the next step for each of us.
Angelic Dialogues offer a path toward a new relationship to ourselves in which we honor our frustration by understanding it on a new level. Human beings long to experience the mystery of existence in an open way, to be fed by love and to express freely. But there is also a block. We must learn how to honor the longing and the block as well. In so doing, a guiding wisdom can be uncovered, a clear indication of the next step.
When we compassionately observe ourselves, breathing and being with the feelings, we might notice that there is a part of us which would like to be taken care of. There is a part of us which would like to have a big brother or sister who knows something we do not know, who would give hints and indications about what to do next, but would not inflict their judgments and advice. We would all like to be given some delicate instructions about what decisions to make, what path to follow and how to work creatively and peacefully with the circumstances we must face. Conscious knowledge is so limited.
Each of us longs to expand and each of us is blocked. The endless refrains of thought distract us from both the longing and the block. We have made something up about what our conflict means and have become absorbed in a debate which has no grounded bearing on the situation as it exists. Inside, somewhere, we are aware that trying to figure out what to do next, what steps to take, is mostly futile because the future is an unknown. The effects of our decisions can’t be understood in advance. We have a natural desire to be lovingly guided, gently pushed in a particular direction so that our lives can be fresh and not merely a reiteration of the past.
Inside is a longing. It has been there for a long, long time. And if we are clear with ourselves, we can see how this longing has motivated many of our responses to life’s events. We haven’t always approached it in an honest way. There are times when we have tried to distract ourselves from the longing and times when we have tried to suppress it. There are times when we have assumed that someone, something, some event or achievement would satisfy it. We have embraced that person or thing for a while, felt thrilled and filled with hopefulness, and then realized that our embrace did not bring an end to our desiring. More lay underneath.
At times we have judged our longing as the worst part of ourselves, that which is always out of peace. Sometimes, however, we are intrigued and fascinated by it because within lies a hint of something else, something more, something greater, something just over the edge of our current perception —more magnetic than the ho-hum of everyday routines.
Our longing is often perceived as an enemy and only sometimes as a friend. It inevitably reminds us that there is more to life than our current perception lets in. We want to step outside of boundaries, but we are cautious, tentative and even a little afraid.
It may seem sometimes as if an unseen obstacle is holding us back. We perceive ourselves to be caught in an invisible trap, knowing vaguely what we want, but not knowing how to attain it. This sense of entrapment may not seem severe, but there are times when it appears stark and all too clear. We are caught in a cage, shaking the bars and knocking on the gate. Sometimes we can hear something knocking back, calling our name, but more often, we can’t. What is the key? Who can show the way?
As human beings we are urged toward the infinite. When this urge is felt, it can be interpreted in many different ways. We might see it as a neurosis, a weakness, an issue or as a psychological dilemma in need of insight or analysis. Sometimes we seek to blame. But our urge is not a weakness, an issue or problem. It is our dignity and true strength. It is the path out of our apparent trap. It is the way.
Anyone who is attracted to spirituality senses that life holds more than the phenomena which we perceive through our five senses. Life is more than a random series of events which please or displease according to how much pleasure or pain they bring. Those who are attracted to a spiritual quest intuit that life can offer more than what we currently perceive. We have begun to acknowledge our hunger.
Compassionate Self-Care is a path which allows us to be so respectful of our longing that we recognize it to be a spontaneous and natural prayer. We don’t want to feel vacant, empty, alone or imprisoned by a code of reality which the mind invents. We want freedom and guidance as well. We want to follow the call.
One of the principles of Compassionate Self-Care is that the body is an opening, a way to union even though we may perceive it to be an enclosure, a little fortress with some awareness inside. The body is a passageway, an entry into a cathedral.
It is the door to spaciousness. When we become aware of the body in this way, we begin to experience life differently and might even feel the presence of invisible forces, wisdom bearers, that can give strength, compassion and understanding to us in our everyday affairs.
The path of Compassionate Self-Care reveals that true wisdom is not a mental experience. It is not a function of thought. Wisdom is a heart experience, a bodily phenomenon. If we are to find guidance in this life, to enter into communion with subtle realms and find the Presence of Love, it will be necessary to transcend the ordinary mechanisms of thought and discover something new about the body. The body is a passageway to space from space. It is not evidence of our isolation or separation from the whole. It is instead an integral part of things seen and unseen.
This earth is not the only arena of consciousness in the universe. What we call reality is just one piece of an enormous and mysterious whole. Layered into our so-called reality are many other dimensions which can not easily be seen. Certain individuals throughout time have peeled away the veil of sensory perception and have witnessed the life beyond. Some have shared their experiences and have told of presences, beings, forces, which guide and assist the destiny of humankind. We are not alone, but our sense of aloneness holds the key to reunion and communion with all that is.
Those who have come to the edge of life, who have passed through the veil and then returned, indicate that there are Beings who guide us. They don’t necessarily intervene in our affairs, fixing circumstances and making things right, but they do offer compassion, guidance and deep care. We must turn to them in a conscious way before they can become fully active on our behalf.
The human body is an unbelievably subtle and complex phenomenon. It is not a device which carries around a head. It constantly receives something of vast importance to us and gives back something of importance to the universe itself. Unseen energies come to the body and are taken into it. They vibrate in a particular way, creating a felt tone. We may experience that tone, but interpret it as something personal — as an emotion, perhaps.
Our feelings are messages. They are transmissions. They do not mean what we think they do. In order to hear the message of our feelings, we must reorient the way we react to them by listening differently. We must learn how to turn toward the tone of a feeling, instead of to our ideas about it. We must learn to accept the sacred nature of our experience and to take in the wisdom and nourishment it brings.
The mind is obsessed by information, yet it doesn’t know how to deal with all the information it has. It can’t make sense out of all the pieces. Every feeling is a many-layered communication which contains the wisdom of the whole. Feelings are not pieces of information. When we turn our attention to the heart, we can discover the evolutionary message which resonates there and is often interpreted as an emotion.
We don’t have to live as if the body were a jail cell. It is not a density, but only appears that way due to our current perception of it. The body is a visible tone. It is an opening, an invitation, a constant possibility. It is not the beginning and end of our existence. It is only one phase of it.
Finding guidance, touching the deeper realities of life, involve unlearning what we think our feelings mean and allowing ourselves to be with them at the physical level alone. We give ourselves permission to feel our longing without making any demand upon it at all.
The dialogues, which have always been an integral part of the Compassionate Self-Care work, are called Angelic Dialogues because they help us to give up the barren and often self-destructive labels that have become attached to our feelings and our life circumstances. They also offer, in the gentlest way, a chance to pray through the body and to receive a vision of our life from a perspective which is not bound by the restraints of the past. It has been a way for many to find the next step in their lives and to embrace the great mystery which guides us all.
Over the years people have gathered to explore their lives from a radically different perspective. Angelic Dialogues is not a discussion of psychological insights or the communication of abstract ideas. It is instead a way to remove the thorny crown of self-hate and to honor our lives as they are, so that a creative force can begin to consciously come through us.
Angelic Dialogues and Compassionate Self-Care are not programs which attempt to show us how to fix ourselves, get better or to find what we are missing. They are instead ways of translating everything we have judged to be wrong or weak about ourselves into a fiery force of love and understanding.
Angelic Dialogues take place in the warm sphere of relationship as a result of a unified prayer, a conscious opening. They are participatory explorations in self-respect and creative responses to the mystery of this life.
During a group session, what is discussed with one person is unique to that person on the level of content, but is deeply enriching and transforming to all who sit and participate, silently or otherwise. We feel ourselves as one being, able to recall something ancient, sacred and beautiful about ourselves and each other.
Angelic Dialogues leave no one out, but at the same time, no one is ever pushed to get anywhere, to be anything, to overcome something or to see life in a particular way. It could not be any other way. We sit together in the prayer of no regrets, respecting ourselves and each other in just the way an angel might.
Compassionate Self-Care and Angelic Dialogues represent an invitation to explore something which is often ignored —our dignity, our deep connection to each other and a direct experience of self-love.
From Stephen R. Schwartz. Angelic Dialogues – The Work of Compassionate Self-Care. Riverrun Press, Piermont NY: 1993. pp. 3-10.