Donna Quesada: Mary, it’s wonderful to meet you. I want to thank you for spending time with us today.
And in preparing for this video, I just became so fascinated with your work and the title of your book, What’s In the Way Is the Way. It’s so clever. And I want to have you explain how you came upon that title. But first, we have a tradition. If you would, what does it mean to you, to awaken?
Mary O’Malley: To come back into an intimate, alive, trust-filled connection with life, exactly as it is. Awakening isn’t something that happens in our heads in some far-off place. Awakening is always here and we don’t see it because we have been conditioned to follow the thoughts in our head.
DONNA: That is just so yummy. You said several things that just light my fire. This idea of trust. My brain is going all over, I read something about Steve Jobs the other day, where he said… it’s like that expression, “hindsight is always 20/20”… we can connect the dots when we look back. But when we look forward, we need trust. You mention that.
MARY: Over and over again. Yes.
DONNA: So, awakening for you is being okay with right now? And that requires trust?
MARY: It requires at least a glimmering of the knowing that there is something much bigger than us in charge. It is whatever created the DNA Molecule out of the star dust for heaven’s sake. It’s whatever keeps the planets spinning the way they do. It’s what digests our food. Do we digest our food? No, I don’t think so. It heals the cuts on our skin.
When we separated out from life… When we got caught in what I call “the bubble of struggle,” we lost sight of this. And so, we have spent our lives trying to do life and do it right. Including Awakening. And life is saying, “No, just ground here.” See, if there really is something going on here in your struggling mind and it is trustable, I invite them. Don’t believe me, but at least, possibly, let it in. Life isn’t always likable, but it knows what it is doing.
DONNA: Why is it so hard just to be? It’s true… Why is so hard not to turn the process of awakening into something we need to do? Why is it so hard to drop the doing?
MARY: My mentor tells a wonderful story of these lions in Africa. They were starving. There was a drought. And so, they went and darted them and put them in cages. And it took them three weeks to truck them down to the Serengeti. They said that the hardest part of the process was getting the lions out of the cages in the Serengeti. They had become used to their cage. People say that they want to live in the now. The conditioned mind wants to live in its idea of the now. But living in the now is being open to the 10,000 joys and the 10,000 sorrows. It’s being open in the unknown. And this conditioned mind does not like this. So, it does take a while to begin to see that the safest thing you will ever do is relax into life.
DONNA: It’s like, we get addicted to that bubble of struggle. We get addicted to the miseries and addictions.
MARY: To the trying. To the doing. To try to understand. To figure out. To control. I love metaphors because a picture is worth a thousand words. And this is the metaphor I’ve been using lately:
Imagine the most beautiful ocean you could imagine. And that is the Ocean of Being and that is who you truly are. That is what you rose out of when you were born. That is what you were at one with when you were very little. But then your head began to be filled with thoughts. You absorbed it. Just like you absorbed language from your environment. You moved from being a human being to being a human doing. So, floating on the ocean is a small opaque bubble. And I call it “The Bubble of Struggle.”
It’s being caught in our heads. Struggles aren’t always big. It can be Oh, my hair doesn’t look good today. Or, I’ve got a spot on my shirt. Oh my God, this conditioned mind can struggle with anything. And the key is, that bubble is opaque. You can’t see the Ocean of Being anymore. So, most all of religion. Most all of our therapy is about managing the bubble of struggle. That’s not bad or wrong. It’s better to live in an easier bubble of struggle. But true freedom comes when you begin to get to know… How do you struggle? How does fear talk inside of you? How does sadness, despair, irritation… Anger and fear… Loneliness, envy? What is your story teller up to?
And the more you get to know it. The more it arises and you don’t get hooked. So, the more the bubble of struggle expands and it begins to be less opaque and you begin to see… That’s what awakening is about. Is coming back into the Ocean of Being. Just like with the lions, it’s a fierce process. Our minds are addicted to struggle and they don’t want us to see. We’ll do anything in order to not be really present for what we are experiencing. But again, it is my experience. Maybe it’s scary in the beginning, but it’s the safest thing you’ll ever discover. Have your body, your mind, and your heart, all here at the same time.
DONNA: Mary, I would like to have you just clarify this notion of opacity… one more step. You’ve mentioned that the bubble is opaque. We can’t see through it. Clarify that just a little bit. Does that mean that when I bring awareness to the struggle that the mere act of looking… is an act of healing?
MARY: Yes! I just got chills. Absolutely. I think I say this in the introduction of What’s In the Way Is the Way. We are addicted to fixing. And it is an endless game of struggle. And if people are honest, they will see… It’s a little like playing wack-a-mole. You get one and then another one pops up. Deepak Chopra said, we have 65,000 thoughts a day. 65,000 thoughts! And I add that 90 to 95% of them are repeats from the day before. Our conditioned mind is grooved in particular ways. If my finger was the 65,000 a day… This is what we are doing all day long (finger moving around chaotically). No matter where they go. They are sad, I think I’m sad. We’re mad, we think we are mad.
And what awakening is about putting your attention on something other than this streaming thought. Maybe it’s the sound around you. Maybe it’s the rising and falling of your breath. You see that the stream of thought just keeps going. But now you have lifted your attention out of it and you are paying attention to life, the moment it appears. The sound of a bird. The sound of a car. A gurgle in my stomach. And the more you do it… because none of us will stay there… we’ll strengthen that muscle. We’ll go, “Yes!” And then (all over the place)…
And then, what begins to happen is something very powerful. I want you to see that now my attention is on the stories. But I’m not getting run by them anymore. So, a good example from my life is that I lived in dread. Absolute dread. And that is why, when I was 24, I tried to kill myself three times. Dread is a horrible experience. A feeling in the pit of your stomach that something really bad is going to happen. And it’s going to happen because you did something wrong. And when I learned… and it took me a while with anxiousness and irritation… Not dread… And slowly but surely, I began to be able, when dread arose, to say “hello,” rather than fall into its world or try to run away by eating the thing, or drinking the thing, or just being busy.
DONNA: Is that what you mean by being transparent? It’s almost like, the game is over. It loses its power. You see it for what it is.
MARY: Exactly. You see this part and then you get caught up in that part. And life puts you in situations so you can see this part and this part… But, slowly but surely, it starts to come all together and you begin to see that there is nothing that needs to be fixed. That it is the power of your attention that heals. The mind says “that’s not enough. I’ve got to fix things or change things or understand things.” But once I was able to be with dread… I needed to be with fear before that… to be with self-judgement before that… But then, I had developed that muscle enough, that dread could come and I could give it the light of my attention. And that is when it lost its power over me.
DONNA: And that moment of awareness is a moment of healing. And repeat.
MARY: And even if you just notice an itch on your forehead or a slight lump in your throat… Or a crick in your neck. Or a little tight band around your chest. Every time we bring our attention into our immediate experience and simply acknowledge it, that is a moment of healing.
DONNA: What does it mean to heal?
MARY: To come home. To rest more and more in the ocean of being. That’s the truth. Eben Alexander, who wrote Proof of Heaven… dyed in the wool skeptic… Surgeon scientist from Harvard… And he got spinal meningitis, and he was in a coma for seven days, and had some pretty amazing experiences. And out of that, he wrote Proof of Heaven. He doesn’t like the title because he says there is no proof. Heaven is not a place; it is always right here.
When asked what he saw, he said, “you can’t put it into words.” And then, when pressed, he said, “the closest thing is love. It is the reality of all realities. The incomprehensible, wondrous truth that lies at the heart of everything that had ever existed, or ever will exist.”
Love is one of the words we have never quite captured. The Ocean of Being cannot be captured in words, but the closest word I know that points to the essence of the Ocean of Being is love. Not human love. Not our idea of love, but the vibrant… Brian Swimme, one of my teachers, says that this universe is created on allurement. I love that word, “allurement.”
DONNA: What do you take from that word?
MARY: He describes it as the stuff of the Big Bang… it was drawn together by allurement, by love, into a community called an atom. And then atoms were drawn together. And the allurement drew the atoms together into molecules. Very intelligent beings. Water is a molecule. Then molecules were drawn together into things called cells. Allurement drew those cells together. Multi-cell Beings. And now, for the first-time, humanity is moving into the next stage, which is the drawing together of the understanding that we are just one here. That we are all in this together. And we are very young as a species, so this is very exciting. This whole world… whether it is with George Floyd, or just all that is going on in politics, or Covid-19… we are really beginning, well not everybody, but more people are beginning to get the message that there is only one of us here, and we are all in this together, floating on this tiny, blue-green jewel of a planet.
Donna: You had mentioned earlier that you wanted to kill yourself three times. I don’t want to gloss over that. I remember I was doing my yoga training and my teacher said to me, “The idea is to find a teacher that has gone through the fire.” You certainly have gone through the fire.
MARY: Multiple addictions and suicides… mental hospitals… you name it. I started awakening when I was 27 or 28. That time is all kind of a blur. But those 28 years… I am very grateful for because I went into the depths of darkness. Then, for whatever reason, life brought me out of it. I am so much of who I am today because I did do that journey.
It’s just like the great metaphor of shit. Oh my God, it stinks to high heaven. It’s this horrible texture. But if you compost it, it grows beautiful flowers. And that is what all of us need to recognize. All of us are given great challenges and they are not here because we have done something wrong, or we’ve fallen asleep at the job, or we are just lost. It’s because we are supposed to take on these challenges and then begin to compost them.
DONNA: And that led to your spiritual journey and your own awakening… The dark night of the soul. What was it that turned you this way and helped you pull yourself out of it?
MARY: Oh, I love life. My mother was signed up for a Yoga weekend with one of the first big Yoga teachers in the United States. This was in 1970 and she couldn’t go. And she said, “Do you want to go?” And it was sort of like, I’m bored and I don’t have anything to do… I’m going to go to this! It was at our local university. And I walked into that room and my life changed from a black and white, grainy horror movie to a Dolby Surround Sound panoramic film. I can’t tell you what he was saying. All I can tell you is that I was hearing truth.
And the third time he came in from California, I took in a tape deck and recorded the whole thing. And then painstakingly, if you’ve ever transcribed a whole weekend… you get a sentence, and then you rewind it, and then you re-write it down. And when my house and store burned down and I lost everything, it was that notebook I grieved. And so, the last time he came up from California, I said, “I want to tell you what I’m hearing. I want you to tell me whether I’m on the right track.” And I said, “In the seeing is the movement.”
He was the first person… I had been to dozens of psychiatrists. My mother realized… in her words, “I was gone.” I was gone a lot earlier than that. Mental hospitals, psychiatrists, psychologists. Group therapy and all of that. Everybody tried to fix me. And all I heard was something was wrong with me.
And Joel was basically saying what we talked about earlier. It’s your attention that heals. There is nothing inside of you that needs to be fixed, changed or rearranged. But he didn’t teach it with heart. And it wasn’t ‘till I met Stephen Levine, 11 years later… And in those 11 years, the “judger” could still get me. This should have worked by now. But Stephen Levine, my main teacher… He really showed me the path back to your own heart.
That’s when the depth of my healing began. And that was when it was safe to come and meet myself. His definition of feeling is just the best I’ve ever heard. I’ll use his words and then I’ll say my words: Bringing awareness and mercy to that which you have held in judgment and fear. But I changed it a little bit: I understand it better when I say this: Healing is bringing curiosity and compassion to that which you have held in judgment and fear. We are afraid and we hate our anger, our fear, our despair, our loneliness, our doubt, our confusion, our envy, our jealousy. It’s learning how to move towards and be with. And I will be eternally grateful to Stephen Levine.
Read and Watch Part II Here: Awaken Interviews Mary O’Malley Pt 2 – Fixing Yourself Versus Accepting Yourself
Read and Watch Part III Here: Awaken Interviews Mary O’Malley Pt 3 – You Are an Imperfectly, Perfect, Totally Unique Expression of Life
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