1 — Compassionate Self-Care and Angelic Dialogues

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.