Giving Refuge & Taking Refuge

by Don DeMercurio

Giving refuge to the one that has been pretending to be you is the ultimate act of self-forgiveness. Taking refuge in that which is empty of self-existence is the ultimate act of surrender.

Much of my work with people lies in making explicit the interface between the psychological and spiritual aspects of our lives. For most of us in the West there is a strong perception that these two dimensions of our consciousness exist in separate realities. In truth, what we call the spiritual is the ever-present ground of Being in which the psychological self is born, develops, sustains itself and eventually dissolves. Even our relationship with Essence has a subtle flavor of being outside of us as a kind of additive that can solve the ego’s innate feelings of deficiency. The real alchemy of spiritual transformation becomes optimized as we come to realize that the nature of our own presence is the ground from which our entire personality structure has modeled itself. And, it is through our own presence that it returns home.

The ego/personality is a created self with a mistaken identity, that has the role of understudy in the drama of our life. It’s not the enemy. It’s not the cause of our suffering, but it’s perceptions, beliefs and convictions are. It’s biggest delusion is that it is actually you. When we begin to explore spirituality we often hear about our life being an illusion, about the ego being in delusion. And our tendency when we hear these words is to reject it because we believe that it is the cause of our suffering. We spend most of our lives trying to fix the ego by improving it in some way or feeding its wants and desires – in other words moving towards pleasure and away from pain. When we take a position towards our ego/personality as being the problem, we reject a part of ourselves.

In many traditional Spiritual Work Schools whose focus is on Self-Realization and Liberation there are generally two tracks: the first has to do with entering a logos of consciousness that points us in the direction of our True Nature through practices that bring glimpses of awareness into what exists beyond the world of form and duality. The second part involves penetrating the structures of the ego/personality with awareness and discernment to find out what is real and what is simply conditioned belief. The first part gives us a glimpse into what’s real and possible, creating a sense of inner support as we journey through the process of untangling and teasing out what is story and what is Truth. Often, we are drawn into spiritual work as a means of escaping our suffering. And, there is nothing wrong with not wanting to suffer. But, it doesn’t take long to see that spending time in transcendent states and experiences doesn’t transform our suffering any more than our efforts to find resolution by changing the outer conditions of our life.. In fact having access to higher states of consciousness often highlights the areas of distortion and suffering.

Bringing non-judgmental, open awareness to whatever is arising in our experience allows a natural teasing out and untangling of what’s real and what’s conditioned.

Like all forms of consciousness, the ego, which is also a form of consciousness, arose out of the emptiness as Essence, though it was given the ordinary thinking mind and collective human trance state of duality as its point of reference, its ground of being. It began its formation with impressions that it received from our external environment and genetic patterning from the DNA of our family lineages. It had to grab bits and pieces of information from the local cast of characters about who and what it was supposed to be – a cast that had no actual direct knowledge of your true nature, but presumed to know how to shape you according to what would reify their own mistaken identities. Your stand-in was filled with knowledge and ideas, defined by stories of things it had done and experienced but never given a mirror to see what was under the surface, prior to all doing, prior to all causes and conditions.

So, what does it mean to give refuge to the one that is pretending to be you? It took me many years to understand that the issues that the ego faces cannot be solved from within the ego. For many years I tried to think my way out of delusion, not realizing that new concepts, even true concepts, rarely penetrate deeply enough to awaken the essential part of our nature that they are pointing to. On the micro level the individual issues of our personality resolve when they come in contact with the particular aspects of essence that relate to the sector of the personality or developmental stages that they relate to. On a macro level, the personality structure as a whole opens up when it is allowed to rest in the unknown and the unknowable.

As an example – in twelve step programs the first action that is taken is an intentional surrender to a Higher Power. An acknowledgement that the personality is powerless over whatever the addiction is. There is a humbling of one’s separateness into the presence of something bigger that is capable of restoring wholeness. In Buddhist traditions there is the taking of refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. In these traditions we orient ourselves towards something that we initially see as separate from ourselves, something that we believe will connect us with our true nature.

As our experience deepens we start to understand that our true self, our Buddha nature, our Higher Power is right here in the quiet and stillness that underlies all of our ego activity. We begin to recognize that what all of the teachings have been pointing to is who we are. We allow ourselves to truly feel the suffering nature of our ego/personality for what it is and rather than continuing to defend its positions we allow it to rest and be held in what has always been here, waiting to receive it.