I studied with a teacher who gave me a perceptual framework for spirituality for which I’m very grateful. He said that we have three primary spiritual quests in life and that all three challenges need to be addressed in order to stay present and heart-centered in life:
One quest is to understand what it is to go into Nothingness, where the small self is united with the Absolute. The Buddhists have developed the most reliable maps for this non-dualist path over the past several thousand years.
The second challenge is to surrender our mind-dominated will by loving or being in service to whatever we experience as Source. The Christians, Muslims and Hindus have all developed pathways to establishing a devotional relationship with whatever our name for God or Source happens to be.
Our third challenge is much less understood or recognized. It is to move though core-unworthiness. Core unworthiness is the deep-seated experience that we are existentially, now and forevermore, unworthy of love. This can also be experienced as never ending self-criticism, a willingness to give love but not receive it, or as a profound sense of being disconnected from life. Modern psychology and its offshoots are laying down the pathways for this quest, but the understanding of core-unworthiness is still in its infancy stages. It has only been around for a mere 100 years rather than several thousand years.
It was this teacher’s opinion that most spiritual teachers and seekers throughout history have bypassed core unworthiness and only focused on one of the other quests of non-dualism or devotion. They didn’t face their own self-hatred or internal split. For an image of this, think of penitent people whipping themselves while praying to God. That’s a core-unworthiness bypass. Closer to home, think of people who can give love to others but who have great difficulty with self-love.
In my own life, I’ve not experienced anything more difficult than feeling and facing core-unworthiness. First of all, core unworthiness is hidden deeply within our subconscious mind. It is much deeper than self-esteem issues, being self-critical or not feeling good enough.
Secondly, it comes with utter terror. If it isn’t terrifying, it’s not core-unworthiness! I personally understand the guy beating himself silly instead of facing core-unworthiness. Physical pain is nothing compared to the psychological pain of self-hatred. Hand me the branch any day, thank you!
The third difficulty in facing my own core unworthiness is that it’s not a one-time deal. As a conditioned belief system, its roots go deep and have many offshoots, more like wild blackberry vines than most trees: I have to remember to return to self-love; literally from moment to moment.
From my experience, the Christian fixation on Original Sin is a result of the church taking core unworthiness and, in gambling terms, doubling down on it. They took people’s deepest fear; that they were unworthy, and used it to bring them into their organizational program. They proclaimed that we are, in fact, unworthy by nature and that the Only Way out of this unworthiness is to accept that Jesus is the only Son of God. They said that by believing this, whatever made us unworthy is forgiven and we thus become worthy.
The obvious irony here is that, if anything, Jesus was delivering the good news that we’re lovable by nature and that unworthiness is an illusion. He offered his love to those around him as proof that they were lovable. Why would he ask people to believe in him rather than to simply believe him when he told them they were infinitely lovable; that they are now, always have been and always will be loveable: that we made of love?
This makes perfect sense to me because what he was saying was, in effect, that loving one's self is the only way of dismantling core unworthiness and the illusionary belief that we aren’t lovable. When we are willing to love ourselves, we either have to let go of the belief that we’re unlovable or stay in the hell of thinking that we are unworthy of love. We let love in or we don’t.
But there is a catch to this. In order to dismantle the illusion of core-unworthiness, we have to experience the depth of what feeling unlovable feels like. Then we have to admit to ourselves that we actually think and feel that we are unlovable. This is basically a self-confession as if to say, “Wow, I actually believe that I am unworthy of love! Isn’t that amazing? I’ve been walking around with this misperception all my life without fully realizing it.”
We don’t confess that we are unworthy. We confess that we mistakenly think that we are unworthy. Big difference here! The more fundamentalist Christians goofed on this one.
Being willing to fully feel the buried terror of unworthiness is the first stage of coming out of core un-worthiness. The second stage is choosing to let self-love or love from others in while feeling fully unloved. This is tricky. Surrendering to love again and again is not that big a deal for a lot us. But surrendering to love while fully in the terror of core unworthiness is another thing altogether! But that is what healing core unworthiness requires!
This can explain why so many religious and spiritual leaders fall from the lofty ideals that they teach. They may have connected to the higher realms of non-duality or religious devotion but if they haven’t dealt with their own core unworthiness, they will sometimes create some kind of sex, power or money scandal. When their actions are made public, and everyone is saying how terrible they are instead of how great they are, they have easier access to their own hidden thoughts of how terrible they are. If they are willing to learn from their fall and witness their own self-loathing, they have a greater chance of coming into deep, humble, self-love because they are in the bottom of their fall rather than at the top of their game.
On the level of the absolute, there is no core-unworthiness. It’s only conditioned thoughts tied up with intense, deep emotions. On the level of the relative, facing core unworthiness is spectacularly difficult.
One of the reasons why I love Heart Circle, and Circle work in general, is that the intentional circle of friends is a place where people can deal with this absolute/relative paradox much more openly and easily than dealing with it alone. When a bunch of people are sitting in a circle giving us their undivided attention and loving us consistently over time, our core belief about whether or not we are worthy to be loved will eventually surface. But it will surface in it’s own time, slowly without a need for it to be eliminated or processed. When this resistance to love comes up safely and slowly like this, the resistance to love can, itself be loved. Core unworthiness becomes the portal into love.
When we love our resistance to self-love the dance truly begins!