Anyone who has been on the spiritual path or seeking anything in this lifetime has probably heard the term “peeling the onion”. There are many possible interpretations to this metaphor. The onion is a vegetable that has layers of edible goodness that can be peeled, diced, sliced or julienned for baking, frying and sautéing. I happen to love onions. I digress, back to the metaphor. Getting to the root of our psyche and the causes for our emotional issues and mental traumas is often called “peeling the onion”. We peel away layer after layer of memories, perceptions and traumas to get to what mental health professionals call “core issues”. Core issues are thoughts, memories, or beliefs that color our perception of the world and create suffering. Often buried deep in our subconscious minds, we may not even be aware of these core issues. Many times they are only discoverable by the symptoms that surface into the conscious mind in the form of fears, phobias, prejudices and beliefs.
There are as many different ways to peel the onion as there are therapists and patients. Peeling the onion can be specific to the person whose onion is being peeled, or it can be more general to help groups operate more efficiently and cohesively. Generally people start with what they know, and follow a path deeper into the core of their personality and belief systems until they find their core issues that are causing suffering in their lives. It could be a childhood event that took on distorted importance in their memories or a thought or belief that causes suffering.
I want to suggest one way to peel the onion that can be beneficial to just about anyone that can be honest with themselves. We can lie to therapists and our friends because we don’t want to be rejected. We can’t lie to ourselves because we know at some point what the truth is. So as long as we don’t try the useless exercise of lying to ourselves, this works just fine.
The first layer of the onion that needs to be peeled is the belief that we need someone to make us happy. A large part of the suffering I see among spiritual seekers is the angst of being with someone that is making them miserable or not being able to find that person that will “fulfill” them. We have to let go of the desire, the lust, or the need for someone else to make us happy. Let me be clear, this does not mean that we have to be a hermit or shun companionship and friends. It simply means that we need to let go of the feeling that something is wrong if that perfect “someone” isn’t living with us. Look at it this way, if we are peeling the onion to find out who we are, it is almost impossible to continue along this path if we are focused on people outside of us. To outsiders, they may not even know you have given up the need for a companion/soulmate. They may observe that you are a lot more relaxed and peaceful.
The second layer of the onion that needs to be peeled is the belief that we are victims. We are not victims. Life does not happen to us. We are simply experiencing the end result of our decisions, thoughts and behavior prior to this moment. All we need to do is clean up our act and we will start enjoying life rather than suffer it.
The next layer of the onion that needs to be peeled is our negative emotions. When negative emotions arise, and they will, we have to let go of them and not dwell on them. If we feel afraid, angry, jealous or other negative emotions, these are being caused by something deeper down and show us that we are on the right track. We have to sit with these emotions until we understand why we are feeling how we are feeling. The peeling process is simply the acknowledgement of the feeling and going deeper to the root cause. We do not resent the emotion; we do not fantasize about why we should feel this way, we simply say, “oh, I am angry. What is causing this?” and go look.
The last layer to peel is judgment. Judgment causes most of our suffering. We judge something as good or bad, right or wrong, like or not like, and depending on how we judge it we either feel pain or pleasure. It is probably the hardest layer to peel, because it is the basis of who we are and how we perceive the world. If we let go of judgment, we don’t have to do anything, we just are. Once we let go of judgment, we will find ourselves in a very peaceful place. It is almost like we are floating on amrita and experiencing a joy we never thought possible. If you look at an onion, you will discover that when you peel away the last layer, there is nothing left. This is the perfect metaphor for your spiritual journey. When we let go of who we are, there is nothing left but the divine.