The Journey Toward Belonging: A Q&A with Caverly Morgan

Caverly Morgan felt a call to reconcile the wisdom that arose from her mindfulness practice with the systems of oppression at work in our world. In this conversation with Mindful contributing editor Stephanie Domet, she explores that reconciliation and shares what she’s learned about our inherent freedom.

Jennifer Alyse

Stephanie Domet: What makes this the right time for this book—what feels urgent? 

Caverly Morgan: I don’t think I’m just projecting onto others when I recognize that in myself there was a type of turbulence that didn’t let me move through the world on behalf of my deepest love and understanding, on behalf of my deepest knowing. It feels authentic for me to say that others in this time, too, long for a way to reconcile that. The questions I was asking were: How does my personal mindfulness practice, which has brought me a lot of peace, a lot of benefit, that I know “works”—how does that directly relate to injustices in the world, the massive structural processes of othering that lead to tremendous harm? Are those two things separate? Am I creating a dent in these larger issues if I’m just finding some personal stress relief within? What else is possible for me? 

That feels like such an intrinsic question for right now. Maybe your mindfulness practice starts by waking up to yourself, but then the more you practice, the more you see it’s not about me, it’s about all of us, and as we often say at Mindful, moving from me to we to us. 

Absolutely. And thank goodness that personal stress relief isn’t enough, that it won’t satiate our deepest longing—which is for true freedom. And that true freedom is never going to happen inside the distortion of I as an isolated, fixed form. It’s only going to happen when we remember the truth of us. It’s like deepening layers of shared being, realizing there isn’t even an us—there is only this shared being. Now, we can see what happens if we’re acting in the world on behalf of the recognition of that shared being, versus on behalf of I in the egoic sense of it. 

Can we talk about those egoic survival mechanisms, how we can recognize them, how they show up in our lives? 

I like to think of survival mechanisms as what’s veiling authentic experience. So if I’m caught in my survival strategy mode of being a perfectionist, I’m forgoing something really authentic. And that authentic experience could be summed up as being able to rest in what already exists. We miss the very thing that’s already in place, like inherent wholeness, or inherent belonging. We think we’ll achieve these through different coping mechanisms—if I can just be perfect, then I’ll have a rightness of being. But of course, the rightness of being that I long for is untarnished by that whole drama. 

Right. It’s outside of all that trying and striving. 

That’s why this kind of self-improvement program that we’re all tempted to fall for, especially in the wellness industry or in the mindfulness world, it doesn’t end up working because it keeps us inside that story. And it’s a faulty story out of the gate. 

I’m just a few years into my mindfulness practice. So, I feel like I can just grasp the edge of understanding. But when you say that, I feel like I can take my heavy knapsack off for a minute and rest in that space, in that freedom, and I want more of that. 

And it’s so important for us to acknowledge more of that doesn’t come from more work in our practice. It comes from a commitment to rest in what we already are. So actually it has very little to do with time in the linear way that we think of time. It’s not like, if you just put two more years in, then you’re going to get to take even more out of that knapsack. Taking the knapsack off is an instantaneous process. And yes, mindfulness practice helps steady us so that we can keep our attention on how much we value the remembrance of our very being. But let’s not confuse that with, if we work harder, then we get more free. We are inherently free and we do a whole lot of shenanigans to keep us from experiencing that. And survival strategies are just some of those mechanisms that operate as knapsacks. 

“Mindfulness practice helps steady us so that we can keep our attention on how much we value the remembrance of our very being.”

Caverly Morgan

Tell me about this Taoist verse about the boats. What draws you to that? 

Probably how much it has supported my own practice to see all the ways that I am conditioned to be a full boat. When I first heard that image, I was so familiar with that place of: You poked me? Oh, then I’ll punch you in the face. And it was such an important practice for me to see that I could tap into an inherent emptiness that we lose touch with when we have a knapsack on or we’re busy caught in our survival strategy. Let’s say, for example, another one of my survival strategies is to be right. But if I’m caught in “to be right” and you’ve just poked me, well, now I’m just going to come at you to prove that I’m right. And then we’re just going to be in a battle, and we’re not going to have very much fun together. 

I feel like I am a full armada of overloaded boats at all times. So how do you start to empty that boat without losing your mind? 

Parts of you feel identified with these various processes all the time, but it’s not yet another part of Stephanie that’s going to come in and then do the work of emptying the boat. The boat has always been empty. These parts of you that are in the boat are holograms. They’re little fictitious characters that have a particular reality to them, especially if we’re identified with them. But on the most fundamental level, they aren’t actually who you are. 

Which takes off so much of the pressure. I don’t have to maintain the empty boat. It just is. You talk also in this excerpt about our unmet needs. What changed for you when you realized that you could meet your unmet needs? Honestly, I sound melodramatic, but absolutely everything. When I first began to touch that experience, I was training monastically, and it had never occurred to me before that training, basically before mindfulness practice, that those needs would never be met by the external contentment that I had been chasing after. Whether that’s the way I would seek approval from others, whether it’s the new shiny object. I thought I would get it from outside my own intimate, direct experience of being. So that is a game changer as we practice, because without that turn, we’re going to think we could even get it from our mindfulness teacher, or our therapist. 

My mindfulness teacher often points out my own wisdom, and I shy away from it because it feels braggadocious. 

We are taught that expressing “our own” wisdom is bragging because we’re taught that wisdom is something that the ego owns. As wisdom comes through, the only appropriate response is thank you. And then for us to recognize that we never owned that in the first place, because the minute we think we owned it, then we’re going to feel like shit on the days that wisdom is not there. 

So, for you, now. You’ve recognized your unmet needs were never going to be met externally. So is that done and dusted for you or is this an ongoing process of like, oh, this is a survival strategy from way back. And here it is again, showing up. 

I think it’s incredibly important to acknowledge that the hand-dusting motion that you just did is part of the storyline that if you work hard, then you finally become enlightened, and then practice is just no longer relevant because you’ve reached some experience and it’s about you attaining something. In my experience, there’s absolutely nothing to attain. In truth, getting to see these survival strategies and learning about these unmet needs within is like learning that there is a young person in your life who’s been ignored and you get to realize that you adore them, and it’s an unfolding experience of love, to become more and more intimate with them. Can you feel how this is about deepening intimacy and letting love grow? It’s not about wiping the hands clean. That’s why I don’t like the word transcendence in spiritual practice, because it implies that you’re going to get over these parts of yourself rather than: Love envelops these parts of yourself. And practice is the door to allowing love to envelop everything.

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