The nights. I didn’t realize how difficult they were until my ex-husband and I parted and I found myself living alone—no one to come home to, no one to have dinner with, no one to crawl into bed beside at day’s end. I felt adrift, unsupported, disconnected, lost.
Friends told me that the void was an opportunity to connect to my spiritual source, but all I could feel was the nothingness. My sense of separation was overwhelming, especially after sunset. I sought solace in another relationship, despite the fact that it was fraught with challenges far greater than any my ex-husband and I had ever faced.
A decade has passed since that tumultuous time. I’m less fragile than I used to be, but I still don’t love the nights and I still don’t love living alone. What has becoming exceedingly clear over the last 10 years, however, is that nothing in the external world—no relationship, no career success, no amount of money, no vacation, no number I reach on the scale—is going to fill the void.
Miranda Macpherson understands why. Author of The Way of Grace: the Transforming Power of Ego Relaxation, Miranda would say that I’ve been trying to fill the void from the place of ego.
“Ego is our sense of separation from the Divine, our True Nature, and one another,” says the interfaith minister, spiritual teacher, and Kripalu presenter. “It’s also our adaptive defense mechanisms that keep us recycling limiting patterns of unnecessary suffering. We feel not good enough, disconnected from real love, peace, strength, and joy. This is the human condition asleep to its deeper nature. In this state, we seek fulfillment in the outside world. This keeps us seeking, but never really finding.”
Many fruitless attempts at seeking fulfillment outside myself have illustrated that what I’m longing for must indeed be intangible. According to Miranda, what I truly desire is the experience of Grace. “Grace reconnects us to the truth that we are in and also part of boundless love, true support, and peace,” she says. “It’s the direct experience of who we truly are and what truly is. The more we recognize that we, and indeed everything, exist because of Grace—that it’s what has been living and breathing us all the days of our lives—we naturally begin to feel at home in ourselves. We become settled and relaxed.”
Miranda explains that Grace is much more than a beautiful state that fills the heart with gratitude. She refers to the Sufi mystic poet Rumi, who described Grace this way: “Something opens our wings. Something makes the hurt and boredom disappear. Someone fills the cup in front of us.”
Grace, Miranda says, has four primary dimensions—or ways that it comes alive within us:
- The unchanging ground of our being
- The love and blessing that end the spiritual poverty of lack
- The transforming power that lifts our veils
- A radiant, spiritually elegant way to walk in this world from a consciousness beyond it.
While Grace sounds mystical, there are practical ways to embody it, Miranda says. Here are a few.
Take an Ego Relaxation Break
“We need to learn how to become present and undefended with what is,” Miranda explains, “rather than contracting and trying to do everything from the perspective of a separate ‘me’ who feels scared and unsupported.”
When we feel stressed, like we’re pushing internally to make this or that happen to no avail, Miranda suggests lying on the floor or sitting outside in nature while slowly speaking these words (even if our logical minds don’t understand them):
Seek for nothing
Be as you Are
Rest in God
“If your mind tries to ‘think’ about what this means, see if you can relax the need to figure it out,” Miranda suggests. “Just open to the transmission of ego relaxation that offers you an instant vacation from having to figure everything out from the perspective of a frightened one who’s simply forgotten what’s abiding within.” Along these lines, Miranda recommends listening to a free audio meditation on her website entitled “Be As You Are.” www.mirandamacpherson.com/sanctuary.
Admit that You Don’t Know
While our egos need to be in control and therefore possess a plan and a way forward, Miranda says that not knowing what our next steps are is actually a requirement to embody grace. “It doesn’t mean you’re stupid!” she exclaims. “Admitting we don’t know is a truly humble posture that actually supports us in becoming more receptive to higher streams of intelligence and guidance beyond our separate selves.”
When we have the thought that we don’t know the way, Miranda recommends befriending it. “Instead of turning not knowing into a problem,” she says, “see if you can open, soften, and allow the spaciousness and mystery of not knowing. Then ask, ‘What’s needed now?’ or pray to move in the direction that best serves you … and then trust what comes.”
When we’re in our heads, lost in fear or painstakingly trying to figure out our next steps, Miranda suggests a simple somatic cue to help switch off the unpleasant radio station in our minds. “Just wiggle your toes and sense the soles of your feet in contact with the ground,” she says. “Let your awareness focus mostly in your feet and lower body. Perhaps butterfly your knees a little and rock your pelvis. These micro movements help to switch on more presence and the recognition that—whatever your frantic mind is doing—the simple fact is that you’re in and part of something so much greater, more powerful, inherently supportive, and good.”
“Melting into Being” is a foundational meditation practice that Miranda recommends as a way to facilitate the experience of Grace. “Here we focus on the in-breath as an unconditional welcome to just be here, in our direct experience, exactly as it is,” she explains, adding that the out-breath is an invitation to melt and release. “It’s very similar to progressive muscle relaxation, except it’s for the body, heart, and mind.”
Miranda also recommends the Mountain of Presence, a somatic-based practice that opens up the felt sense of sitting within an infinite mountain that has no boundary or circumference and provides total support to be where we are and with what is. In a meditation called the Shower of Grace, we visualize a hand of light upon our crown and intone either a mantra or a name of the Divine that we resonate with, as a way to open to celestial streams of love and wisdom beyond conceptual understanding. The Vast Heart meditation develops our hearts’ capacity to recognize our love for all beings and things, and feel part of a great continuum of unfolding Grace throughout time.
In her retreats, Miranda often teaches participants another Grace-embodying tool: accessing something called true identity. “True identity is ‘I’ prior to ‘me,’” she says. The first step, she says, is to see, understand, and compassionately contact the layers of our core ego identity (our familiar sense of self). Once we’ve done that, it’s possible to learn how to relax them. “This means seeing the scaffolding of our ego structure,” she explains, “who we take ourselves to be, the narratives we tend to live out of automatically. We then ‘drop through’ this structure, doing nothing to change or fix or even try to transcend it. Basically, we turn our loving hearts towards the very feelings and sensations we’ve likely been spending a lifetime trying to avoid, transcend, or circumvent. When we can just see all of this and open towards it all with absolute love, the identification with the story and structure of ‘me’ dissolves.”
The result, Miranda says, is the revelation of a luminosity that has been at our core all along. “It’s like uncovering a diamond underneath all the layers of mud. We recognize that the light, luminosity, and beauty are what we truly are, but it’s not to our personal credit. It’s just the pure truth of who and what we all truly are.”
Discovering that we’re a part of the deepest love imaginable and that “something mysterious is pulsing in and through us” leads to a cornucopia of gifts. “Direct insight bubbles up from the inside, and we find ourselves connected to the living stream that can truly quench our thirst,” Miranda says. “We start to become aware of subtle blessings that arrive in our lives—such as meeting a new friend—and unexpected synchronicities that respond to our deepest needs. We feel at home, washed clean by the living waters of Grace. It’s as if the seas of our consciousness part, and we find ourselves crossing over to the promised land of freedom.”
It’s taken me more than a decade, but I think I’m getting it. If I want a more joyful, peaceful life, surrendering to Grace is the answer. Even—or perhaps especially—at night.
Originally published by Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health