All spiritual paths share the same goal: that of liberation or freedom from suffering, some traditions call it “transcendence” or divine love. Whatever you want to call it, our objective is the same: a greater sense and understanding of how we got here, our place in the world, the things we need to know to enjoy a life worth living, and a sense of where we’re headed.
Double liberation: heart and mind
From the point of view of classic Buddhist philosophy, there are two types of liberation: ceto-vimutti, liberation of the heart, and paññā-vimutti, liberation of the mind (insight or wisdom).
As you can imagine, liberation of the mind pertains to intellectual understanding and analysis of the mechanics of consciousness: cool stuff. And in this blog we’ll be exploring ceto-vimutti; liberation of the heart (stay tuned for a blog on liberation of the mind, in June).
Compared to liberation of the mind, liberation of the heart pertains more to feelings, emotions and sensory experiences. A heart that is more liberated grants us greater freedom. And who doesn’t want greater freedom?
In spite of the tremendous number of options that face us in the average supermarket or on Netflix, we don’t really have freedom. Ironically all these choices can induce a state of dissatisfaction or paralysis due to a kind of fear about what we may be missing.
The freedom that we discuss here is of a different sort. Everyone wishes to be in an excellent state of being: a peaceful, joyous, energetic, blissful, clear, radiant, luminous, intelligent state of mind that is capable of discovery and exploration. By nature it’s unhindered by mental or emotional restraints, such as the fear of missing out, and deeper fears such as those related to survival. Our bank account may not be as big as we’d like, and our limbic brain gets triggered into a panicky state.
Curiously we can achieve greater freedom by revisiting the profoundly formative experience of how we first came into the world.
Clearing the womb experience
“What does the heart have to do with the womb?” You might ask.
When we speak of “clearing the womb” we refer to bringing the events and experiences that have shaped and formed us to awareness, to greater consciousness. Though there’s no obvious link, the panicky state we feel when our bank account isn’t as high as we’d like is intimately linked to the panicky state we felt when we were being squeezed through the birth canal: all we are aware of is that it feels like a perilous time. In both cases, it’s uncomfortable, the future is unclear, and survival feels uncertain!
The journey from the womb to birth is is one of the earliest imprints on our bodies and consciousness, for every single one of us. And those memories are stored in our body, waiting to be triggered by feelings, emotions, senses and thoughts.
As the Gospel of John indicates, “The truth shall set you free.” And in order to know the truth – and be set free thereby – we have to look more deeply into that which has formed and influenced our bodies, feelings and mental processes. It doesn’t get any earlier or more fundamental than the womb and birth experiences.
Liberation from the eight womb fears
Traditional Buddhist philosophy holds that there are eight fundamental fears, which all human beings are subject to. We can think of them as sort of instinctual fears, each one going back to the womb/birth experience. (Horror films make excellent use of these fears, and it can been fun to try to spot them in a good scary flick.) They include, among others: being torn apart, being suffocated, being crushed, falling, and being poisoned.
Why would we all be subject to these fears?
Getting enough oxygen, for example, must have been pretty tough while we were being squeeeeeezed through the birth canal: essential oxygen passes to the fetus from the mother through the umbilical cord, and the cord was getting squeezed too. Every time we feel uncomfortably short of air, we are prone to hearkening back to that first imprint of when the oxygen supply was being interrupted, the future unknown and survival uncertain. And nearly every single one of us has been through this experience, thus the fears are considered universal.
By revisiting the womb and birth experiences through various exercises and meditation, they no longer have an unconscious hold over us. Thus our heart is liberated, our emotions and feelings have a fuller range of healthy expression. This is what we mean when we say “freedom.”
And then the other “freedoms” of our modern world provide us with the opportunity to explore all the wonderful glories of life. When we clear the womb experience, life on this planet truly sparkles with all its mystery and splendor.
Doug and Catherine Sensei often teach this transformational retreat on Womb, Karma and Transcendence. Visit their retreat schedule to see when they are next offering this retreat.
You may order the breakthrough book on this topic Womb, Karma and Transcendence by the Ven. Namgyal Rinpoche here at Bodhi Publishing.
Photo Credit: B. Baltimore Brown