Donna Quesada: Mary, you bring up an interesting point. This dichotomy of fixing yourself versus accepting yourself, when one takes to the healing path.
Which is the spiritual journey? I think that they are one and the same. But I think there is some confusion on that, especially in the self-help world. There is so much emphasis on overcoming anger and making yourself better. How do you address this? What is correct?
Mary O’Malley: Well, I love to say that there is a difference between management and engagement. Management is… the best way I’ve ever described it is… these are my two hands and this is the management hand and this is the engagement hand. When we were growing up, it was like this (management lower). The management hand wasn’t anywhere around and we were engaged. There was no moment other than this moment. And this was what growing up was like. (Hands are equal).
DONNA: So, you just engaged with life…
MARY: Yes. Yes. The past and future, if it was in our heads… They were tools. They were not the truth. It’s in the moment where truth is and slowly and surely as we grew up, we took on management, and engagement faded away.
Management, I’m not knocking it. It does make a better Bubble of Struggle. All we are doing with this work… we aren’t saying management is wrong. We’re just trying to manage management. We are just adding engagement. This is what begins to happen. Engagement begins to come up more. Does the management hand completely go away? No. We need it for maneuvering through reality. But it’s not our main relationship with reality. Because as long as we try to manage it, we have lost trust in the process.
I have a wonderful quote in my bathroom from Sir Thomas Keating. I won’t remember all the words exactly right… The chief act of human will is not effort, it’s consent. As you move up the interior ladder of freedom… That’s such a great line. You become less and less interested in controlling life. These are my words because I can’t remember exactly how he said it. And I’m much more interested in engaging with it.
DONNA: Consent. Going along with it. Flowing with it.
MARY: Yes, listening to it. Engaging with it. Now, that doesn’t mean that we throw management out. It does make a much better Bubble of Struggle, but it won’t bring you freedom. Freedom comes when you can engage. Freedom is when you are curious when fear is talking inside you. Not managing it. Not trying to make yourself less anxious. That can be very important. It can be important to take medicines. It can be very important to have a very deep breathing practice. But what we want to do is add engagement. Engagement is where lasting healing happens.
DONNA: I love those words because the management part of running our lives is the doing portion. We aren’t throwing that away.
DONNA: Just not letting it become center stage.
MARY: The management becomes less and less interesting. You become less and less interested in trying to make you or life any particular way. And what there is… is The Ocean of Being. I’m looking out this wonderful window. I’m living in this magical, secret garden. And all of it… we could call it trees, grass, the water… all of it is just an outer expression of being. An outer expression of love. And we don’t see that when we are caught in an almost exclusively… which is most people’s lives, management life.
DONNA: And that brings me to the title of your book. So wonderful. What’s in the Way Is The Way. And it’s like that notion of consent. This is the way and I’m going to flow with the way. And I’m not going to categorize it as a problem that I need to do something here… to change the path. And I’d like to have you maybe put it in your words… But you also talk about being under the influence of spells. Which is so fascinating. I just piled on two questions, but please, if you could talk about that title because it’s so wonderful… What’s In the Way Is the Way. And then we’ll talk about spells…
MARY: Oh, my goodness, I tell people that you don’t even need to read the book if you don’t want to. Just live the title. It’s basically saying that life is trustable. Not always likeable but it’s trustable. I have a file of quotes. It’s nine pages long. Everything from Buddha to Eleanor Roosevelt to Jeff Foster to Eckhart Tolle to Alan Watts to Ram Dass. You name it. And I call it my YES file. And it’s all basically saying what is in that title. What is in the way is the way. And I think it’s really important; you think, it’s such an easy day… it’s sunny… and I can be open to this… but life is constantly changing. It opens into the 10,000 joys, it closes into the 10,000 sorrows.
And to me, one of the most important symbols on the planet is the Yin and Yang symbol. That… here is dark and light that is nestled together. They aren’t on opposite sides of the line. They aren’t against one another. They are life itself. Every single atom. Every single atom. Every single thing makes a positive and negative charge. In the Yin and Yang symbol, on the light side, is a point of dark and in the dark is a point of light. So powerful.
So, we have this whole thing that a good life is a life that is easy and you get everything you want. But to me, a good, enriched life is one that you can show up for, with the 10,000 joys and the 10,000 sorrows, and begin to realize that in the sorrows… in the difficulty… whether it is a difficult boss or a compulsion… or a difficult health diagnosis… or maybe, a challenging mate or an out of control teen-ager… In every single challenge of our lives, there are gifts embedded in them. And as long as we are fighting them and resisting them and trying to get away from them… In my book about compulsions I say, “Our main compulsion is to struggle.” And all the other compulsions… whether it’s busy-ness, or heroin, or picking your fingernails, is an attempt to numb out from the heartache of being caught in that Bubble of Struggle.
So, What’s In The Way Is the Way is basically saying you can trust it. There is a great quote from Byron Katie, a very beloved teacher of Awakening, and she says “Life is simple. It doesn’t happen to you. It happens for you.” And, “It always happens in the right time. Neither too soon or too late. You don’t have to like this, but it is easier if you do.”
DONNA: I love that.
MARY: I don’t agree with that last line. I don’t think we have to like it. I say, “You don’t have to trust it, but it’s easier if you do.”
DONNA: Back to that notion of trust. We interviewed Byron Katie, and I just love her so much… I love the way you brought that notion of trust back in and I think that gets left out so often, whether we are talking about spiritual teachings, or self-help teachings… whether they are coming from an academic point of view or mainstream therapy approaches. That notion of trust I think, is often left out. Maybe because it smacks of faith and that is a scary word. I’m not sure, but it seems that when we incorporate that notion of trust into our daily existence, it enables us to let go. And we are letting go of the struggle. That fight against what is.
MARY: But, it’s so against the conditioned. The conditioned mind believes it’s in charge and it’s got to do life, and it’s got to do it right and it’s not doing it right enough.
DONNA: And that is the management.
MARY: Yeah. And it just takes time. When I talk about this. I’m not asking you to believe me. I’m asking you to at least contemplate the possibility that your life is for you. And I think what begins to happen is, you begin to stop fighting it so much and you start getting curious. Let’s say your sister calls you and she is reaming you out for something you said, that was totally taken out of context, and she’s not letting you get a word in edge-wise. And then she hangs up the phone.
And so here you are afterwards… your heart is pounding… How dare she! And then you think, What’s in The Way Is the Way. And you do what I call the YOU-TURN. The Y.O.U. turn, in the book. And you begin to understand. You begin to see that life will put you in the exact set of situations you need in order to see how your mind struggles.
And so, these difficult situations… you begin to bring your attention back. And you begin to explore it and you begin to say hello to your fury at her. Or that you are panicked from being unseen and unheard… Or, your despair that you will never be friends again. You begin to be able to stand with those spells.
DONNA: What do you mean when you talk about spells? Because this is so fascinating. We tend to think of spells as something superstitious but in fact it’s an every day thing. You find yourself, as my Zen teacher used to say, ruminating… under the influence of a spell.
MARY: That’s right! And I chose the word spell. Some people have difficulty with it. Isn’t that what a witch does? No. A spell is something that is laid over the top of it. It’s not true. And it can be lifted. So, here is Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. She’s made it through the woods. She’s in the poppy fields. She falls asleep. The apes come and get her they take her to the wicked witch. And here, this witch totally has her under her control. And so… they have teeth. Dorothy accidentally pours some of her tea on the witch and the witch gets smaller. And then I think, there was a bucket of water. It’s been a long time since I listened to it. And I think she puts it over her and the witch dissolves. We all take on spells. We all take on the spell of fear. We all take on the spell of I’m not enough. We all take on the spell of If I just do life right, then everything will be okay. We all take on the spell that we are all separate from life.
DONNA: It’s the stories.
MARY: Absolutely. We absorb them, just like we absorb language. We absorb them from the people we grow up with. We’ve worked with people for over 30 years. It was a couple of years before I wrote What’s in The Way, that in the groups, we began to work with spells. These eight course spells that I talk about in What’s in The Way… they began to come. And if we have time, I could share those with you or not.
DONNA: There is something else that you talk about, that I love. You incorporate how these feelings that we are fighting with, fear and dread, it’s not just in our head. It’s in our body. And so, in your work, you incorporate a kind of body awareness as part of the process of healing. Could you talk about that? Where does dread live? Where does fear live?
MARY: For everybody, it’s a little bit different, but there are basic similarities. Because we have lived so involved up here (Mind)… To first begin to get space… Oh, that’s fear. “I’m so afraid.” Oh, that’s jealousy. “God, I’m going to get a gun and shoot the guy.” That is easier to see it, than in your body. Now, if you are angry… There is something that happens in your body. And it’s usually different than if you are afraid. Or it’s different if you are feeling a lot of joy.
There are different energy patterns in your body. It is much easier to see them in operation in your body. You know, you are just having a hard day and then you notice there is a lump in your throat. And rather than ruminating on that and thinking, Oh My God, I must have throat cancer… That’s what the mind does. We go to the throat. We bring our attention to the throat. And as we do that, over time, what is holding on in the neck or the eyes or the throat or the chest or the stomach or the belly or the back or the legs or the feet… it begins to make itself known. And that’s when you can say “hello, I see you and it’s okay that you are here.” That’s attention and your needed experience of being together.
DONNA: What would be a first-step practice to unravel that from our body?
MARY: I think that the first step… if you haven’t done this work… is to maybe before you get out of bed in the morning, just notice three different sensations. We are not used to being in our body. James Joyce has this wonderful line. Let’s see if I can remember it. Mr. Duffy lives a short distance from his body. Oh my God, I love that line! Because we live a long distance. Way away. We’re not used to it. Oh my God. Most of the swear words about our body… and religion. Oh, it’s of the flesh. Oh, it’s of the spirit. The spirit is holy and the flesh is degraded, for some reason.
Our bodies are a field of radiance and intelligent wisdom. And we are home sick. I think we have to start in baby steps. A child doesn’t learn how to walk over night. So, in the morning, before you get out of bed, notice three different sensations in your body. It’s a warm cozy bed and you notice that your right foot is warmer than your left foot. And you notice a grumble in your stomach. And you notice an itch on your nose. This sounds almost Mickey Mouse but it’s not. And we don’t do it. And we begin training our attention to go to our body. I think if we don’t have the capacity to do it when nothing is really up, we will go away so fast when all of a sudden, we have a knot in our stomach and we feel like we are going to explode.
So, we start small, and then I think it is very helpful to have a kind of breath practice. I think it’s got to be very simple. I used to teach a breath class at our local hospital for many years. And now it’s all boiled down to a long, slow, out breath. To just give ourselves a few minutes every day to just close our eyes and even… ahh… that great sound of letting go, which happens to be in most of the words of God. And just to give ourselves that gift. You really are massaging the Vagus Nerve. You literally are turning on the calming aspects of your nervous system.
And you begin to be able to… as this (your mind) calms down, to actually notice what you are experiencing. But don’t try right away. You just get there. It’s like touching a hot stove and away you go. So, under the covers… warm. Or maybe when you are watching TV. Can I find three different sensations now, while I’m watching TV? Maybe I do it during the commercials. Along that line, you begin to train your attention into this moment.
Read and Watch Part III Here: Awaken Interviews Mary O’Malley Pt 3 – You Are an Imperfectly, Perfect, Totally Unique Expression of Life
Read and Watch Part I Here: Awaken Interviews Mary O’Malley Pt I – The Essence of the Ocean of Being Is love