“Growing Up” by A.H. Almaas
I consider our Work situation a kind of school. One important distinguishing feature of a school is that it is not a nursery. All this time you thought it was a nursery! Isn’t this a place to be taken care of, given things, made to feel safe, protected and loved and all of that? The main difference between a school and a nursery is that a nursery is for very little children, and a school is not. I think if we try to understand more the differences between a nursery and a school, we might understand better what it is we’re doing here. If you go to a school and believe it’s a nursery, you probably won’t learn anything. You’ll just be a pain in the butt for the teachers.
In a nursery, the small child is not expected to take care of himself. An adult takes care of the children—provides for, protects, watches over them—and the child is not expected to have responsibility for himself. In a school, a child is expected to have more responsibility. In fact, that is one of the things that a person is expected to learn in a school—to have more responsibility for his own learning. The teacher gives you information and direction, and you go and learn by yourself. You do your homework at home; the teacher doesn’t do everything for you. Of course, students might complain about the teacher: “I don’t like math. Who wants to learn math anyway?” Or: “I don’t like chemistry,” or whatever. But those things are what is taught in school, and that’s what you need to learn. Whether you like it or not is not the problem of the teacher or the school. If you decide to go to school, then these are the things you learn.
In this school we have the opportunity to grow up. It is a school to grow up in. In society at large, the usual situation everyone lives in is like a nursery full of little children. The main difference between an actual children’s nursery and society at large is that a nursery is recognized as a nursery while society at large believes that everyone is an adult, even though everybody is still a child pretending to be an adult.
So in a nursery, a child doesn’t pretend he is an adult. Later on, a child might pretend he is an adult by doing things adults do. Our work here is to learn what it is really like to be an adult, to find out what growing up is really all about. Because of that we can’t treat people like children here or they’ll never grow up to be adults. All the difficulties you experience, all the problems you have, exist, quite simply, because you don’t want to grow up. You don’t want to be, behave, or think like a grown-up. You want to continue being a little baby. The fact that you don’t want to grow up, that you want to continue being a baby, explains almost everything you feel. It explains, for instance, the common pattern of people being angry at the teacher for not doing or being enough for them. They say, “Why don’t you do more for me? Why is it so difficult?” What they’re really saying is, “You’re not a good mommy!” This is exactly how babies feel about mother when mother is not being what they want. An adult doesn’t think that way. An adult looks at the situation and asks: “What is the best way this situation can be used, what can I get out of it?” There is no place for complaints in this Work. What do complaints do? Complaints are used only to keep mommy around. You complain to mommy and mommy makes you feel better. But for adults, what’s the point in complaining? For example, if you feel angry at your teacher or at the schedule or the parking situation, you are thinking that Mommy should be there to take care of you, to fix the situation. But you’re supposed to be learning to be adults, which means to do the best you can do in the situation. You do not come here to be given something. You come here to grow up.
The same pattern happens in every part of your life. When you are in a situation where something doesn’t go right, most of the time you get angry, you complain, you get sad about it, blame the other person, blame yourself. What good does that do? Do you see that only a child would behave that way? If something doesn’t go right, an adult will look at the situation, see what he can do, and forget about the rest. Everything else is just a waste.
I’m not putting you down or blaming you. That’s not the point. I understand why most people act like infants. our purpose here is to become aware of what is actually happening, to see that most of the time we act like children, and our difficulties arise because we want to continue being children instead of growing up. You might believe it is wonderful to live the life of a child, to play and have no responsibilities and all that, but if you look at the child, it’s not really that enviable. A child is dependent, has no freedom, has no choices. The life of a child is very restricted. The adult is different. An adult has freedom, has choices. So you can’t want to continue to be a child and then complain about things not being your way, because children don’t have things their way. If you want to have things your way, you have to grow up and make them your way.
Let’s look more closely at the activity and process we’re engaged in here. We’re saying that this Work is basically an activity or a process of learning how to grow up. It is not a matter of getting better, or of becoming a more perfect person. It is a matter of growing up, with all that growing up means and requires. A neurotic human being is a childish human being. A psychotic human being is an infantile human being. A healthy human being is an adult.
What is the difference between a child and an adult? The most important feature is that the baby is unable to fed and protect himself. The parents do these things for the child. Then the child grows up and does these things for himself and for his children. An adult is a person who can do these things for himself and does not expect somebody else to do it for him. An adult is one who is aware of the situation as it is, sees what is there, knows his capacities and limitations, and behaves and acts accordingly. An adult is realistic and knows what is to be expected from a situation and what is not to be expected. Instead of blindly expecting things, an adult knows what a situation can give. Instead of acting according to his unconscious beliefs, an adult sees what a situation really provides and what it does not.
For example, believing that your partner, girlfriend or boyfriend will give you something— love, perhaps, or security, or self esteem—is the belief of a child, because it is obvious, if you look clearly, that the person will not or cannot give you such things. You continue believing that the other person is supposed to give you certain things, and when he doesn’t, you get angry and furious and blame him. If you were an adult you would have known from the beginning what the person was capable of. But you don’t see the person for who he really is. What you unconsciously believe is that this person is your mother, and you continue feeling, behaving, believing like a child towards his mother: expecting things, being angry and disappointed when you don’t get what you want. An adult does not do this. If something doesn’t happen, he says, “Oh, I see—I’ll do it.” But when a baby wants something and the mother doesn’t come, the baby cries, makes a fuss. That’s what most people do with their friends, right?
Whenever you relate to another human being, you don’t really relate to another human being; instead you are constantly relating to that person as if he or she were your father or your mother. And the main reason you continue relating to that person as father or mother is that you want to continue being a baby. So you want to look at other people as if they are adults and you are a child. This becomes clear if you look at how you feel most of the time— you feel that everybody else is an adult and you are sort of a kid. So you expect this, you’re angry about that, you don’t like this, you want that. Mommies and daddies are always around, and you are this little kid, and you hope you’ll get what you want if you just be good, or better, or whatever. This applies to how you feel about the Work. You feel that maybe if you do this work you’ll get better and everybody will take care of you, you’ll be so lovable and wonderful, not like you were when you were a little kid. You hope that, finally, mommy and daddy will find out you’re really a lovable kid and they’ll take care of you all the time. They’ll comfort you every day whenever you want it and every time you want a lollipop, someone will hand you one and you’ll suck on it. That is one of the main reasons people come to the Work. They think it’s the way to be a successful kid. If you look at it, what you want from the Work is to a more successful child. You don’t want to be an adult. “How nice it would be,” you think, “to understand more and expand more so people will think I’m wonderful and they’ll want to be around me and do things for me and give me what I want.”
Our unconsciousness, our inability to see things as they are, is mainly because we don’t want to grow up. Our unconsciousness is the unconsciousness of a child. It is nothing but continuing to see things the way you saw them when you were about a year old.
So, to become aware, to become conscious, means to grow up. It means seeing things as they are. And when you see things as the are, you’ll see there are certain things you need to do. There are certain things you can get from external reality and there are things you cannot get. There are certain basic laws about how the universe works, and an adult is one who is aware of these basic laws and acts accordingly, not in a childish way, protesting and complaining. When rain falls it falls downward. You can make a fuss about it falling downward if you want it to fall
upward. But it won’t fall upward, no matter how much you cry about it. A person who has not grown up unconsciously sees other people, men or women, as walking tits, but they’re actually other people, just like you. But most of you see people as a mass of tits coming toward you or going away from you. And you wonder, “Are they big or small, do they have something inside them, will I get it or not, will that milk suit me or give me a stomach ache?” Isn’t that how we look at people? Or we worry, “Is this tit going to be too big, too much milk, will I drown or suffocate?” What complicates the situation is that the other people are looking at you the same way. So it’s like two tits checking each other out, each of them trying to find out where the nipple is.
So we can see that if you don’t grow up, you’re going to have difficulties. You can’t expect the life or the freedom of an adult as long as you’re a child. In a sense, what is generally called “the life of an adult” is really just a second babyhood. When we are children, the functions of nourishment, care, protection, release of tension and comfort, are provided by the parents—particularly by the mother when the child is an infant. As the personality of the child develops, the child becomes more independent of the mother, but this is accomplished by introjecting the mother—by recreating her inside. You have your mother inside you, and so in a sense you are still a baby. You still have your mother around and you need that mother. That is why, when you go deep inside yourself in the Work, you start realizing how much you want your mother, how much you don’t want to lose her, how much you fear separation, all of that business. Deep inside, you still believe that you need mother around.
The mother inside you is not a physical thing, but you have her emotionally, in you unconscious. You behave like her, and you seek out people like her, right? You feel the way she felt, or you find people who treat you the way she treated you. In these ways you can always have mother around. The ego or the personality of an adult is really a baby, except that now the mother is in a different form. Even those who deny they want mother, who had a negative experience of mother, continue to unconsciously seek the negative mother, while consciously feeling the opposite. The mother is still pretty much the same mother you had before. Of course, you project that outside and you want other people to be like her, or you look for other people to perform those mothering functions for you, or you look to society at large for security, or comfort, or sustenance.
So emotionally, their personality continues to have a symbiotic relationship with mother. We grow up physically, but not emotionally. We continue to unconsciously believe we are dependent in ways that an adult human being doesn’t actually have to be.
You see yourself as dependent on others for love, approval, recognition, support, nourishment, contact, pleasure. Most people think that’s the way it is. They think, “How can you be a grown up person and have a career and a good life, unless you have a wife, or at least a girlfriend?” That’s how most people think. They don’t
question it. They think they need love, and it is true, they do. But what they are seeing is the personality. The ego functions through emotional dependency, and you call it love. Even when you are by yourself, not married or in a relationship, or in a group, you are still relating to your mother—the mother inside you. You relate to your superego, and your superego is always beating you up. Why is your superego beating you up? Because it makes you feel that your mother is around. When you were a child your mother was always judging you. So every time you feel like a little kid, your internal mother comes and beats you up. Then you feel secure. You might complain, but you feel secure.
School—a regular school—helps you to become an adult in some practical ways. You learn how to remember information, you learn skills that can help you to earn a living, you learn to do what your teachers teach you to do—that kind of thing. But school doesn’t not teach you to grow up psychologically. In this school, what we do is allow you the opportunity to grow up psychologically, to become and adult on an emotional level, to become really autonomous. You learn how to provide emotional sustenance for yourself. You learn how to give yourself love, compassion, approval, recognition, support and strength. You stop believing you need those things from the outside.
Most people complain, or protest, or feel miserable, when they don’t get love from the outside. An adult does not complain; an emotionally grown up person has his own love available inside him. He no longer has the unconscious belief that he will die without love from outside. You might think from this that growing up means to be alone, isolated, unable to relate. But no, that is also the fear of a child. Only a kid would believe, “Oh, I’ll be all alone, by myself. That’s really scary!” An adult isn’t scared of aloneness or loneliness. An adult knows that he has a choice about being alone or being with others.
What essentially happens in the process of really growing up is that you don’t need your mother or your father any more. You don’t need to have your mother inside you, or outside you. In the course of the work of dissolving the mother inside you, you have to deal with the fear that there will be nothing there to support, protect, comfort, or nourish you. But you learn that you do have these capacities in yourself. What takes the place of the mother — first the physical and then the psychological mother—is your essence. To recognize, realize, integrate, and develop your essence is to become an adult. Your essence is you. It is not something you learn from your mother, it is not being like, her, or relating to your superego. No, it is being your real self. Then you will have what your mother gave you in your physical babyhood: love, compassion, support, intelligence, consciousness, protection, pleasure, fulfillment, release—all these things. Essence can give you these things because essence is support, is strength, is intelligence. If instead you look to others for these things, if you open yourself to the environment and say, “I want something from the outside,” you will get exactly what’s there. And what is that? Psychological babyhood. Essentially, everybody is deficient and hungry, psychologically poor, weak, unconscious. That’s what you will get from the outside. What you will get is frustration, suffering, pain, and
disappointment—because that’s what is there. You will find real love and support and consciousness and intelligence and strength and protection only if you turn to the essence. That is when they exist in a pure way. It is a basic and obvious truth that if you turn toward the outside world, you will get the pain that prevails there, and if you turn toward essence, you will find those things you want; you will in fact find your own essence which is the source of all those things you thought you wanted from the outside. So the process of growing up is pretty much learning that basic law, and learning how to turn more and more towards it, until you are completely, totally, the very nature of your essence, seeing that it is all there, all that you need.
This is the reason all disciplines, past and present, and all religions —talk about looking inward. “Look inside yourself,” they say, “know yourself.” It is not a moral or religious law, it’s just how things are. It is not that you will be good if you look inside, it is just the only way it will work. It is the most practical thing. I have talked about this many times. When I talked about the heart latifa, I said that the main thing is the orientation of movement. You turn inward or you turn outward. If you turn outward, it closes. If you turn inward, it opens. If you turn outward, not only will you get what is outside, but by the very movement toward the outside, the inside will close. If you look inward, if you turn toward yourself, toward your essence, it will open. This is the basic law of the heart.
This principle is formulated by various disciplines in different ways. Two main ways of working with it have prevailed. One is called the theistic approach; the other is called the nontheistic approach. The theistic formulation has been the main approach in the West: the Judeo-Christian and Moslem traditions were formulated around the existence of a deity or God. These traditions say that if you look toward God, you’ll go to heaven, and if you look toward anything else, you’ll go the hell. And what is needed is complete faithfulness, complete surrender, complete openness, complete turning towards God, which is nothing but the movement towards the essence, for God is nothing but the nature of the essence, t he essence of the essence, the source of the essence. So the theistic form of the principle we’re discussing is that if you turn toward God, you’ll go to heaven. So if you turn toward essence, the source of essence, the nature of essence, you will get the realm of the heart, which is heaven. If you turn toward anything else, you will get what we call the “false pearl,” the personality, all the suffering and misery, which is hell.
The nontheistic traditions —the Buddhists and Taoists for instance— do not postulate the existence of God. The Buddhists speak of the Four Noble Truths. The first Noble Truth is that there is suffering. That is the nature of the personality. The second Noble Truth is that the cause of suffering is desire. The third Noble Truth is that there is a way out of that. And the fourth Noble Truth is the path. There is suffering, its cause is desire, it is possible to have a cessation of desire and there is a path towards that cessation. Desire is the looking outward: I want this, I want that, give me love, give me this, give me pleasure—seeking things from the external. The cessation of desire is the movement inward.
The theistic approach comes from the perspective of the heart. The other approach, the Buddhist one, is the perspective of the mind. But they are basically the same thing.
Growing up is learning this truth, accepting it, and acting accordingly. You can cry about it and blame other people for not giving you what you want, but if you persist in the Work you will finally see that’s how it is. On the way, you will protest and you will resist in many ways, gross and subtle, direct and indirect. In the process of growing up, you will have many fears about giving up the child’s attitude, because you believe that you don’t have the capacity to provide what you need for yourself. You believe unconsciously that there is no other way but to look outside.
But it is possible to grow up. What does grown-up mean? The grown-up, like mother and father, is a person who can actually take care of you. Why don’t you think you can do it yourself? You know that you believe your mother or father could do it; why don’t you believe you can do it? The reason you don’t is that you want to continue being a little baby and have your mother or your daddy inside you. But when you are finally willing to grow up, essence becomes your mother and your father.
In this process of growing up, you have to see through your pretensions or being an adult. When you see through those pretensions, you have to confront the facts of your childish psychological make-up. You have to see, experience, confront and understand your smallness, your deficiency, your fears, your inadequacies, or what you believe are your inadequacies. These beliefs about your inadequacies and deficiencies are the basis of the feeling that what you have is not enough or not good enough.
If you sometimes feel frustrated and disappointed because I’m not being mommy and daddy, that is something to be understood. If I were just to play the role of your mommy and daddy, you would continue to be a baby. The purpose here is not to find mommy and daddy to take care of you or to make you feel better. In this school, we are learning to be adults, to take care of ourselves.