It's Leo season, a time often touted as the opportunity to shine forth, to be seen, to step up and step out. Leo is the masculine, fixed fire sign, and the constellation is the natural abode of the Sun. As a fixed ball of radiating energy, Leo supports the Sun's role as the sovereign center of the solar system, and enhances the sun’s natural tendencies to radiate light, warmth, and power. Last month we looked at how people with lots of Cancer energy can struggle with constructing a healthy ego using the endlessly shapeshifting energy of water. The fixed fire of Leo, on the other hand, readily supports the growth of a robust, strong sense of self. But instead of looking at the usual Leo suspects like divas and dictators, I wonder if this Sun in Leo season could shine fresh light on the true nature of what we each call the self.
The construct of an individual self that maintains a fixed identity over time is just that - a construct, an idea, not true reality. At this time in history, we have access to a plethora of maps and models of the self from different cultures and different time periods. We could examine traditional Western developmental psychology, integral philosophers like Ken Wilber or Gregory Bateson, one of the many schools of yoga, the chakra system, the Tarot, Vedic or Western astrology, or Buddhist philosophy. Regardless of which of these systems we choose to study, they all provide an opportunity to reflect on the ever-changing nature of the self and how self-perception evolves and changes through choices and life experience.
One of the models of the Buddhist tradition that maps different realms of consciousness is The Wheel of Life. According to the Buddhist teaching, there are six realms are the layers of samsara which living beings find themselves within over a succession of lifetimes. Beings have the opportunity to step out of these realms by recognizing the true nature of existence and letting go of the three forms of confusion that maintain samsara (confusion between self and non-self, permanence and impermanence, and confusion between what is pain and what is pleasure). These confusions lead to us getting locked in the cycles of samsara, which is not at all the true nature of reality, but the way in which we interpret our experience. The realms can also be studied as modes of consciousness that we all exist within and float between as we go about the business of daily living.
As we examine the realms depicted in the Wheel of Life, the energy of the Sun in Leo can support our inquiry. Along with encouraging the blooming of flowers and ripening of crops, the Leo Sun also shines a spotlight on our self, bringing into focus the set of constructs and algorithms that each of us have defined as and identified with as the self. What a great time to reflect and perhaps gain moments of recognition of when we are entranced within the various algorithms identified in the Wheel of Life.
THE HELL REALM
Writings about the Hell Realms describe multiple layers and types of Hell, much like Dante's Christian version of its many circles. As a space of consciousness, all of the realms of Hell entail complete absorption in aggression. When anger, hatred, and aggression build up to a certain level, they become the ground from which one operates. One experiences aggression, projects it onto the world around them, and then receives it back from the world in return. Destruction becomes the primary action, and the only way to create anything. If you find yourself feeling like you are constantly having to defend yourself from attacks from the outside world, it might be useful to look at how much anger and aggression you may be holding onto, and what sort of stories you are telling yourself that keep all those emotions alive.
THE HUNGRY GHOST REALM
Hungry Ghosts, or pretas, are beings with tiny mouths and huge bellies that can never be satiated. In this mode we become obsessed with overpowering hunger, thirst, or needs that can never be fulfilled. This is the space of extreme addiction, where we find ourselves making the same choice again and again, long after it has ceased to be enjoyable. Again, in order to remain entranced in this realm, we tell ourselves lies to justify choices we continue to make.
THE BEAST REALM
In this space, we are fixated on basic needs, and act as though all choices are binary- seek pleasure, and avoid pain. We pursue food, sex, shelter, and other bodily needs. When we enter this space we have no awareness of how our choices and actions impact those around us. Deception, hoarding, stealing, and killing are all considered justifiable in a dog-eat-dog world where you must take what's yours before someone else does. The notion that the world is a zero sum game is the major lie that holds the reality of this realm in place.
THE HUMAN REALM
In the space of the Human Realm, there is more awareness of things outside of the self. This is the ever-changing world of the interaction between self and other people, events, objects, and experiences. The attempt to identify with all of these things creates an existential angst since everything is always changing and there is ultimately nothing to really grasp onto. Trying to grow a self that exists in relation to an ever-changing outside world prevents us from establishing a connection to the actual source of awareness. The Human Realm and those above it also become even trickier to detach from since they entail various amounts of pleasurable experience, and we are often very unwilling to let go of lies that make us feel good.
THE JEALOUS GODS REALM
The jealous gods, or asuras, are beings that can perceive the God Realm and are consumed with envy of the devas or gods. They become obsessed with what they are not and what they do not have. While this realm is blessed with the same pleasures and comforts as those of the God Realm, the asuras cannot access them due to their obsession with triumphing over others. While asuras can recognize others, they trust no one because they assume everyone is as self-serving as they are. This deep lack of trust makes authentic communication impossible. In this realm, similar to the Beast Realm, having a winner means someone else is a loser. Keeping up with the Joneses is a version of this realm. Every time we compare ourselves to someone else and decide we are inferior, we are operating in this mode.
THE GOD REALM
The God Realm, or realm of the devas, is the realm of space and emptiness. While a human in a physical body can have peak experiences of oneness, we cannot dwell indefinitely in this realm. The nature of everything that manifests is to change, nothing that is born avoids death or stays indefinitely the same. Refusal to acknowledge this true nature of manifest reality leads to an obsession with dwelling forever in the God Realm, a pipedream that can manifest as religious or spiritual fanaticism.
STEPPING OFF THE WHEEL
In all of these realms, we get stuck in a set of lies that prevent us from seeing reality as it really is. Yet within each realm there is the possibility of using its attributes to release ourselves from the trance that it creates. In Trances People Live, Stephen Wolinski presents the idea that trauma includes trance states that people can fall back into when they become triggered. He explains that the trance state always involves a narrowing of attention. Quoting a 1980 text by Erickson and Rossi, Wolinski writes that, with the trance state, “there is a reduction of… attention to a few inner realities; consciousness has been fixated and focused to a relatively narrow frame of attention rather than being diffused over a broad area". This is exactly what occurs when we become stuck in one of the Realms of the Wheel of Life. Our attention narrows to the point where we become fixated on certain aspects, and then we cannot see the full picture of what is actually happening. The process of narrowing our consciousness to include only the objects of our fixation entrances us to believe that that object is the totality of reality.
There are many practices that can help us expand our attention to the point where we no longer function from the lies that create the various realms of samsaric existence. Meditation, therapy, journaling, Access bars and verbal processing, bodywork, and breathwork can all create expansions in awareness that build over time. And, as the sun shines its rays of awareness into the realm of our lives that we call the self, we have the opportunity to look with more clarity at the true nature of who we are. The light of the Leo Sun can also give a boost to the bravery required to recognize and acknowledge the lies we tell ourselves to maintain our current reality. Perhaps this Leo season is a great time to ask, who am I, really?
If you would like to further explore the Six Realms, you can check out this meditation: The Six Realms Meditation on SoundCloud