Finding Authenticity: When the Inner and the Outer Voice Match

Finding Authenticity: When the Inner and the Outer Voice Match

I don’t pay attention to my inner voice very well. It’s vague, muddled, until it gets very loud. That is a problem. Some people hear their inner voice, loud and clear. Some believe it fully, and express it confidently. That could be a problem, too.

We have to be able to hear our inner voice before we can decide whether to indulge or ignore it. I needed some work in that department. Otherwise it controls us subliminally.

Qapel has often said something to the effect of, “When the inside voice matches the outward expression, you find authenticity.”

In August 2023, I went to Clear Sky for a month. I stayed in a private cabin. For ten of 32 days I went into a silent, solo meditation retreat. I organized my own meditation/prostration schedule. Breakfast would be self-serve. Lunch and dinner would be left for me each day. 

I had an interview with Dean a few days before my retreat started. He asked me what I wanted to eat or did not want to eat, the size of portions, and any specific requests. Such kindness and care to ask us these questions! I would also have a “Retreatant’s Notebook” in which I could exchange notes with the Clear Sky sangha supporting me. I told Dean I would like small portions. I often eat more than I need. The beautifully prepared three meals a day at Clear Sky are satisfying, nutritious, delicious. Small portions should do just fine. I’ll be mostly meditating, and there is no need to be overindulgent.

The retreat starts. Day 1, day 2, day 3. Having the time and focus, I increase the amount of daily prostrations from 100 to 150 to 200 a day. My Karma Yoga tasks begin. Use a wheelbarrow to spread mulch down the paths leading to the cabins, and finish lining them with stones. I relish in physical work. I am admittedly doing much more physical exercise than I thought. I love it. I’m getting in shape. I’m drinking lots of water. My body is feeling strong and healthy. But then, my hunger starts increasing.

Around Day 4, dinner arrives and it is a small portion, as I requested. Pasta bolognese. I want three times the amount of meat sauce they give me. I compensate by making myself toast with almond butter which is usually my self-service breakfast.

The next morning I make myself oatmeal instead of almond butter toast. By lunchtime I’ve lifted stones for an hour and finished 100 of 200 prostrations. I’m really hungry. I arrive and find a small bowl of soup and some vegetables and rice. Small portion, as requested. I gobble it down, not satiated. I compensate with toast and almond butter. Dinner arrives, another small portion and I don’t want to compensate again with almond butter toast. 

The inner dialogue commences. Mantras are disturbed by chatter. The mind becomes chatty and negative. This is ridiculous. I need more food! How can I go on like this? And then it turns negative, against the lovely people that are feeding me. And against myself. I’m fighting with myself that I shouldn’t want to eat more. That I’m a glutton. I argue with myself that I should use this time to trim down. Food and body image issues float lightly in my brain. They are not strongly anchored there and I only half believe them. I am more focused on the sangha who isn’t feeding me well. Really?

This is my moment to experience the “hate type” that I am. Sensei and Qapel ask us to look deeply into our nature. When meeting our shadow side, how do we show up? We may be a greed type, who has a natural propensity toward generosity when feeling whole. We may be a confused type, with a natural propensity toward clarity. And we may be a hate type, with a natural propensity toward loving.

The next day at lunch it dawns on me, as if it were some epiphany, that I need only write a message in that little retreatant’s notebook. Ask for bigger portions! My first thoughts come out sounding in a you-should-have-known-better tone. I notice the ridiculousness of that attitude, and reframe it. I’m surprised at how hard it is for me, in this moment, to sound nonchalant and neutral. I wish I could avoid the request altogether. I managed to pull myself together and make the simple request. Presto! The next day I have full portions of healthy foods. 

No one minded my request. It was a mountain I built in my head and I had a second chance to learn the lesson before the month was over. 

“Ah, so this is what it is to be a well adjusted human being.”

My final week I did Karma Yoga with my sangha. Somewhere in my mind, I had thought, I’m going to be the perfect karma yogi. Maybe this is the source of my problem: wanting to seem perfect. Never wanting to need anything. 

I woke at 6:30 and made my way in winter clothes from my cabin to the main house for a quick wash up before meditation. The temperature rose from 6 degrees to 23 degrees within 6 hours. By noon, I shed clothing and needed a shower. But as the schedule said, lunchtime and clean up. So I postponed the shower. The midday pause did not give me enough time to both relax and shower. I also hadn’t enough time to poo, change clothes, return a flashlight, and other little things.

I started to feel I couldn’t take care of my personal needs and hold tight to the schedule. A forgotten notebook, or a change of clothes might take 15 whole minutes! Good Gosh!

The perfect karma yogi image I built in my head was disintegrating. That “hate mind” arose again. 

“How do they expect us to follow this schedule? This is crazy! I can’t…..blah blah.” 

Then I remembered my lesson. I sent Cara a text. “Could I have an extra 30 minutes today?” I expected her to ask me why. She didn’t. She just said, “Sure!”

Ah, so this is what it is to be a well adjusted human being.

A month-long retreat at Clear Sky gave me the opportunity to quiet the bombardment of daily life, and to hear what happens inside my head. What I have laid out so plainly in this blog was not at all clear to me six months ago. Meanwhile, that little glitch in my mind has had significant repercussions in my daily functioning.

Integrating this revelation into my daily life outside of Clear Sky isn’t immediate, but I have incorporated it into my spiritual practice like this: When the “hate mind” kicks in, I need to ask myself, “what is it that you need?” Then, express it. I believe that when I heed my needs and express them, even if they aren’t fulfilled, the hate mind will fade away and eventually disappear. This is the practice. This approaches authenticity. This is the path of liberation.

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