This time of year I start to think about the interconnectedness of all beings. It’s something about Thanksgiving and all the foods along with all the people who sit around my table who attempt to articulate what they feel thankful for during the year. But my mind wanders beyond my self and the immediate family. What if we really sent a message far and wide to all the thousands of people who contributed to our capacity to enjoy this meal? Have you ever considered how many people are involved in the food we enjoy.
I’m going to lead a discussion group on turning points tonight, which made me think of the importance of turning points that occur in life, perhaps through a chance meeting, a decision, a trauma or a loss, a career or relationship change. Turning points occur as well in a spiritual process. Even the choice or internal movement toward seeking Truth, or God, or freedom from suffering (however this impulse has arisen in you) is a turning point. From that moment every choice you make as a “seeker” turns you in a new direction.
Often an introduction to someone new or a friend handing you a book or video can initiate a turning point. When I was 24 a friend in the market telling me to read “Autobiography of a Yogi” became, unknown at the time, a major turning point in my life, shifting me from the training and disillusion of my Catholic upbringing into a vision of what else a spiritual journey might be, and leading me into eastern studies I never before imagined. I moved through the years that followed into becoming a student and a teacher of eastern spiritual perspectives.
For some a turning point is an introduction to new values and life changes that support compassion and greater peace. For some it is a determination to go off to India or some other “promised land” to sit with a teacher, guru, monk, or some other significant guide. Or it could be clarity about leaving such a place, even when it means breaking a commitment. This can plunge a “seeker” deeply into their own resources. For others it the simple beginning of a meditation or sitting class whether it be in Buddhist or yoga communities, or with someone who has touched your spirit like Eckart Tolle or Adyashanti, or a Christian contemplation class using centering prayer. These become inward-turning points, inviting you to a new stillness and a place you may come to call your center.
There are many turning points along the way to self-realization that may arise as your meditation practice and depth stabilizes. Here are a few possibilities.
You may choose to change your lifestyle, drop an old belief system, or find a career that more clearly reflects your values.
You may realize you need to branch out and explore another teaching or practice, open up the energy body through yoga or Qigong, find a teacher who speaks to you.
You may discover something within you has dropped away or changed so that you are more peaceful, more patient or more compassionate toward yourself and others.
You may suddenly activate energy or vibration that moves up from the base of the spine or the feet and begins to unsettle your old ways of being, bringing both challenges and bliss.
You may have a startling new revelation or movement of consciousness into a new perspective or even a sense of unity with the world or the cosmos.
You may realize it is time to align your lifestyle more with your new perceptions, and move out of toxic or dysfunctional patterns and relationship, or move toward a more genuine expression of yourself.
Spiritual awakening is not (as some people imagine) a glamorous tranformation making someone into an all-powerful mystic who can work miracles. It is not living on another plane of experience outside of your body. It is more like a shedding of everything within you that is blocking your access to clear and authentic expression of your true nature, which is essentially at peace and capable of seeing the radiance in the simple things of life. Awakening does not demand that you go forth and change the world — perhaps this was so for Jesus or Buddha, but fortunately it is not meant for everyone to become a famous prophet or found a religion. Awakening does not demand anything. Instead it presents opportunities to know where you might lean in, finding a way that is congruent for you, and go with a flow of energies that lead you to doing what you uniquely are meant to do. This may be much more simple than what your thoughts had in mind for you. Undoubtedly it will surprise you. It will be discovered once all your old drives have faded away. It too will be another turning point.
I wonder if it is possible to miss a turning point, to refuse to see it, meet it or move forward. Think about the significant moves in your life. They may have been choices, inspirations, or shoves from an unknown source. What did they bring forth in you? I think we can only keep our self open to turning points. We can’t dictate them, although the small inner voice asking for change may lead us to the passage into the next step of life. Every life offers turning points — it seems to be the way we humans change and grow into the fullness of our potential. Usually they are only seen in retrospect, and if we are lucky, with appreciation.
At a conference this weekend to learn how to connect with all the people out there who may benefit from knowing about my 30 years of doing spiritual work both personally and professionally.I am at a generating stage of life, eager to pass this on. The web is the new way for finding those you are resonant with and who can support you even when lost in the chaos of transformation, the confusion of emotion, the drama of awakened energy, and the sense your life is crumbling about you. Do you go to the net? to twitter? to amazon? to blogs? I don't know yet but I expect to explore these outer dimensions of consciousness caught in the media and search for those who might like to hear what I have to say. There is a way through and out of your pain, confusion and sense of being all alone . There is a way to shift fear into curiosity, discomfort into ecstasy, fogginess into clarity. There is a way to transform out of you and into the real you that has been hiding all along in the shadows of your personality waiting to be noticed and brought to the surface.
Spiritual awakening is not an improvement of your present condition. It is peace and presence reclaiming you from the confusion of your present condition and encouraging your to see the world in an entirely new way, a way that is not corroded and conflicted by past experiences, disappointments and pains. These must be dropped with compassion, accepted as the difficulties of living in a human condition, and recognized as irrelevant to the free expression of who you really are. Freedom means only that we become free of our old selves, and thus free to live!
Waking up can be sudden or it can be gradual. It happens when positions beliefs, attachments and pains are dropped, because it is underneath all the debris of our mind that our clear awareness shines, free of all burdens, seeing into every moment of our life. No one can force you to drop these burdens. It is up to you and a secret moment called fate. It may happen spontaneously or it may happen because you suddenly see with a flash that none of these moments of problems are true -- they are all thoughts of memories in the past now floating in the mind that have the power to keep you from living the full expression of who you are. How much weight are you carrying? How many arguments are you having each day with yourself? Is that what you want for your life, or would you rather meet each day as a fresh adventure, a curious possibility that might offer something new, something you had never considered before? What thoughts would you need to toss into the waste bin of history to live today fearlessly and openly?
There are many portals into an awakened life. I hope you will explore The Awakening Guide (on amazon) as I have tried from experience and heart to show these doors to any who wish to enter. I am eager to see who will enter, what they will discover and what gifts they will bring to the table of our shared human experience. I can't say where my life has come from nor where it is going, only that these discoveries are what have poured through me along the way. I hope you will let me know your response. I hope it will lead you to love and peace.
I awaken as the sun pours through my east-facing windows every morning and I am drenched in light. I return to my body and stretch, and feel gratitude for the beauty I enjoy as I look out the window over my small town ringed by mountains. I awaken with quietness and openness inside, wondering what the day will bring.
Awakening spiritually is much the same -- coming into a sense of lightness, openness, spaciousness, where thoughts do not interfere with the simple beingness of life -- the I am is experienced as a felt sense rather than a belief, the entering of this moment. As the mind lets go of expectations, desires, and the need to judge oneself and others, all the billions of neurons bouncing around in our head become calm, aware, responsive to the amazing experience of right now. Our senses brighten. As the heart awakens the body becomes soft and relaxed, melting sometimes into wonder at the beauty all around us, the miracle of existing at all. We know our self to be an expansive spirit in a body, using this form to dance and move in the play of life. As the gut awakens the knot in the belly that wants control unravels itself and we are available to change our fear to curiousity, and notice that life unfolds outside of our control, and we are capable of meeting it as it is.
I am 72 now . When I was 20, 30 even 40 and 50 I could not imagine being happy at this age. Old people looked -- well, old. I thought it would be very depressing to give up feeling pretty, being part of the movement and adventure of life that absorbs us when we are young, having lots of energy and moving through the world as if I was "somebody". And it is true there are challenges in aging. Sometimes my feet are unstable. I fell flat on my face off a ledge a couple of week ago and looked for a few days as if I had been in a bar-room brawl. (Frankly, I felt mainly intense gratitude that nothing was broken or permanently damaged.) All of my family in the generations above mine have passed on and many friends as well. Nearly every week someone I care for is reported in a battle with cancer or a heart problem. There is always the knowing that at any time the axe will fall for myself or my husband. But somehow all of this is just absorbed into the weave of living, and in its tragedy there is a beauty, just as in the bright day there is a compensatory dark night with its stillness and solitude. I can be sorrowful for what is not here now or grateful that I am still here now. Which will bring me peace and happiness?
So much of a life today is driven by the demands of an intense and commercial society. Energy is pulled in many directions and the longing to have not only what we need, but everything we want, consumes the majority of westerners, while the struggle in much of the world is simply to stay alive. Humans are in constant turmoil internally, trying to change things, acquire something, gain recognition or achieve goals. And then they are surprised to find they are not happy and the world is not at peace. This is the drivenness of thought, of the part of mind that fears to relax, to let go, to explore just being. We have lost the grace of simply being alive, the appreciation of the natural beauty and wonder in the world that can only be seen when we "Stop". Millions of us cannot even enter the stillness of sleep anymore because the mind will never stop.
If you are seeking peace and beauty in your life create a way intuitively to heal yourself. Put something beautiful in every room to remind you to be present, or find a spot where you can sit in stillness or walk in beauty. Learn true meditation, a simple sitting without efforting and letting things be as they are. Play music that distracts and sooths your spirit. Do something you love each day. Let go of toxic situations in your life and then do not carry them around in your thoughts once they are gone. Create your own series of koans or inner questions that cannot be answered with mind but take you to a deeper place, a place of Truth, i..e "Isn't this only a thought -- a random neuron firing? Is it true?" "What is wholeness?" "Who am I without thought?" "Can I love without attachment?" "What do I know that no one ever taught me?" Find your own, because the portal to awakening is deeply within you. And along this path you will discover peace, joy and appreciation in the very simplicity of living itself.
Non-Duality is a way of experiencing life that is beyond the holding of any belief about it. It points toward a liberation of the attachment to a separate "me" and this brings psychological freedom and peace. When consciousness gives up duality as a way of looking at the world it feels alive by simply Being, as opposed to being caught in the complexity of "thinking". There is an intuitive recognition that underneath all appearances there is One spacious consciousness that contains all of life and that each of us at the core is that spacious consciousness. When consciousness awakens one sees directly that the human sense of separateness and uniqueness is an identification with the body and conditioning that limits understanding of what we truly are.
Most of us can understand upon reflection the inter-connectedness of all things. We can see that without air, water, the trees and many other gifts of nature we could not exist as a species, and we can see that all of humanity shares the same needs and the same connectedness as part of nature. Our bodies are natural expressions of life. As Kahil Gibran once expressed poetically "Our children are life's longing for itself". So our existence is this expression of life as human, and our uniqueness is part of the unfolding of nature's many variant ways, greatly colored by our unique heritage, conditioning and energetic styles, intelligence, inclinations, talents, etc. How natural it is for us to identify as "This".
But non-duality is not about an understanding of our position in the world, even of our interdependence. It is an invitation to a direct intuitive remembrance of ourselves as this essence of life, before all the experiences and conditioning were attached and our thoughts became the apparent managers of our lives. It implies that as soon as thought and mind become active, all is divided, all appears to be dual -- birth and death, awake and asleep, myself and another, light and dark, like and dislike, good and evil -- all are the conclusions of the independent mind, which finds its way in life through division. To be enlightened is to be undivided, while still living with the paradox of division.
The mind cannot understand non-division. It assumes that the gathering and organizing of facts or memories or experiences is essential for navigation in the world. And to some degree this is true -- the rules for the world of form require certain understandings of boundaries (e.g. I cannot physically fly off of a building, I cannot ingest poison if I want to stay embodied, I can learn to drive and operate machinery, I can set up time in days and months and years, etc.) Non-dual teachings however, are not about the world of form. They are about the wholeness inherent in the absolute, in that which precedes and follows form, and which is the essence itself that allows form to appear. They point to Oneness, wholeness, awareness, presence, consciousness, beauty, love... all as the essential Truth of existence. Our deepest source within, our own Awareness, already knows Itself to be This. But we are so distracted by the world of form, and the content of mind, that most people most of the time never feel or touch intimately what they really are. Non-dual teachings, or in some cases the presence of an awakened teacher, exist in order to disturb or startle the thought patterns out of their complacency and delusion long enough for the true nature to be remembered.
Although many non-dual teachers appear to be saying that thought must stop or will stop if one is enlightened, this is not a fact to be feared or used to imply one becomes helpless and limited upon waking up to reality. What a waste of potential that would be!
These expressions are pointers beyond the limitations of thought, much as pointing to the moon does not mean the abandonment of the earth. To reach outer space astronauts have to leap out of the environment of earth -- have to be willing to live in the vastness of open space and trust their survival. To awaken to our true nature we have to similarly reach deeper than mind, into the empty-of-thought openness that is pure awareness, before thought-forms enter the stream. So it is no-mind as we perceive beyond mind. It has been called the dissolution of mind, but it is closer to a transparency, a seeing through the illusory, transient, conditioned and generally irrational nature of thought. As we recognize our own impermanence, and how we have been attached to ourselves as a unique but transient character formed by belief and experience, we take ourselves and others less seriously, so we become less compulsive and ego-driven. The ego has no power unless it believes all of its thoughts. The ego is the movement of attachment, and it gradually falls away when the Truth is seen and lived. When thoughts and even feelings are seen as energies moving through a system rather than "who I am", we cannot easily sustain a belief in the separate self.
Why should people invite themselves into a process leading to a lack of identification with the separate self? At first glance this would seem psychologically and emotionally unhealthy. During some stages of awakening it can certainly be frightening and disorienting, and one must persevere through the fear. But many people feel driven to make this journey, and others fall into the realization spontaneously. It is a longing to know our natural state of Being, a longing to know our "source" and end the sense of alienation in an ego-driven world. It is sometimes felt as a longing to know if there is a god, and of what nature it is. It is also the only way ultimately to feel at peace with life and death, and to end the inner turmoil that comes with division and the search to know what matters, what is real. When we clearly see the separate self as a simply a dance of energies in a creative movement of nature, and we allow what we experience to flow through without struggle, our lives become more free and more immediate. Living in the moment brings more joy than planning for the future or dwelling on the past. Life becomes more simple and more intimate and more relaxed.
If everything I write or other non-dual teachings offer are simply taken as beliefs, they are just as sticky as any other belief, just as liable to trap you in mind, just as lacking in Truth. They are no more useful than a picture of ice cream is able to satisfy your craving for it.
In the end non-dual teachings, or sitting in silence with a teacher, are aimed at driving you inward to question and discover your own realization of Truth, beyond your mind and beliefs and assumptions and feelings, in the stillness there, discovering within yourself who you are.
It seems to me that our minds and thoughts are composed of every person and experience we have collected during our lifetime, all woven together in a kind of mosaic, that makes us feel "This is who I am". Our family and friends, and every stranger we meet, become our projected world. People we rarely saw, or perhaps only met in passing, are not usually central in the mosaic, and exist mostly in the shadows, while members of our family, our teachers and friendships form larger parts of this structure, adding color, depth and variety to our world of thought. Fragments of these people and events are like energetic molecules or flashes zipping through the brain at various points in time. Even movie characters, actors and other celebrities we have admired but never known, collect in some area of the mosaic we call "me" or "my life". So do traumatic stories and scary dictators and other dark figures. No experience is left out. We seem to be what we have met along the way in our life. Our thoughts and beliefs are made of this.
So it is that when people die and pass out of our immediate range of interaction it is felt as a loss, even when we hardly knew them, or only knew them through hearsay, in movies or television, or read about them in the news. We can easily grieve for people we have never met. Some people leave holes in the collective psyche because of who they were or how they died, like the children in Newtown, or the people of the World Trade Center. But especially when someone close to us dies there is a sudden hole in our mosaic, a blank space where it feels as if they should exist, and it hurts to remember they are not available, at least not in the form we were attached to. We grieve not only for the loss of them but for a loss in us, the tearing away of something they were holding for us.
I have noticed these losses more clearly as I get older, because many people I have known have passed on, and some I was very close to have fallen away, taking with them chunks of my projected connectedness. So far this year three women I knew and loved have died, all from some form of cancer. It leaves more emptiness inside, like little holes that will not be plugged. Memories of their light and aliveness float in me but cannot get grounded. My connection to them feels like it is floating into space, like a wayward balloon I can never see again. All of us are interlinked in some mysterious way, and as more family and friends fade into spaciousness and Oneness, less is left in form. We have to adjust to a new mosaic, accepting the missing pieces. If we are to be free, the emptiness has to become expansion and openness, rather than sorrow and rage.
My mother had 11 siblings, and my father 3. Together with spouses and children there was a large sense of extended family as I was growing up. Over the years they have dropped, one by one, and even a few of the cousins have passed, one only a few weeks ago. All of the elders are gone, leaving me and a couple of cousins as the oldest remaining. How this happens so quickly one cannot imagine. It seems just yesterday I was only starting out as a young woman. Now I am an elder. Occasionally I have a vision of all of these people, most of whom were very kind to me, standing together, radiating love (if there is existence without form how can it be anything other than love?)
Every year now it seems I lose a few friends. Most recently it was a fairly new friend, Jennifer, who taught me a wondrous way to face death. Shortly after her diagnosis of stage 4 cancer she simply accepted it was her time to leave. She stayed at home surrounded by her art (she learned to paint after her retirement and loved to paint flowers and portraits), and she spent hours simply being with the tall trees and extensive views of space and sky beyond her living room windows. She surrendered so fully that instead of pain her body would slip into bliss and her consciousness into Oneness and she would laugh and say "I don't know why this is so funny but it is -- I feel so free." (She was not on any medication until the last week or two). So we would sit in stillness and she would drift in spaciousness, and knew herself to be the consciousness at one with that. She was grateful that I would allow her to be her "Self" but I am the one who should be grateful, to have shared this intimate and joyful journey.
I have sat with other people I loved as they slipped away, and I have felt as I age the holes existing in my mosaic, as if their companionship was part of who I am. But Jennifer was a special gift who demonstrated the Oneness beyond any loss. We are all connected as consciousness, without boundary. When we feel this consciousness while living, before and beyond mind and form, our body feels melted into love, and peace, and even sometimes joy. It is as if our very cells are made of spacious love, capable of expanding into all the cosmos.
We may lose one another as forms, but we can't lose what they taught us or the love and wisdom we may have gathered. Beyond the intangible gifts of sharing a life we can never lose the loving consciousness that we essentially are. If we are fortunate to fall into surrender, we find we are eternally together. This is the magic of the non-dual teaching to be willing to surrender to what is. As my teacher, Adyashanti, has sometimes said, "Enlightenment is having no argument with reality."
There is a certain violence in nature. There is an underlying indifference to life that is paradoxically a movement that keeps life changing and evolving. It is the nature of all physical form to rise and fall, shift and die. We see this in large movements like earthquakes and floods and fires caused by lightning and in smaller circumstances such as lifeforms that feed on other lifeforms or battle one another for the right to procreate. Our planet and species were created through eruption and wild intense forces of nature. As humans the roots of this indifference and fierceness to survive also lies in our shadow,underlies many of our darker patterns and is evident in the decline of our bodies as we age. As pure awareness it is seen that all of these movements toward upheaval and destruction are just part of who we are. When consciousness awakens itself and the stillness of our true nature is known we can see with equanimity the naturalness and inclusiveness of the world as it is. This part of what we are has limitless acceptance of what is. As Adyashanti often says, "It has no argument with reality." But this does not mean we then turn our back on the human condition and have no response to it. We are source playing humans at the moment and when this source is awakened in us it moves through an open heart and generates compassion and love, creativity and responsiveness. In knowing we are all of this world we may be moved to respond in ways the limited mind would not. When our identification with personal suffering in our past, and our emotional resistance and rage and grief is over, we are more free to bring something authentic, healing and useful into the world. We don't need to be indifferent and are free to move spontaneously. From a non-dual perspective we can rationalize we are not our body/mind , and think "Why do anything?" But if you look closely you can sense this must be a mental rationalization, because the fully awakened being is not personal, and is moved by a recognition of being one with others. Instead there is a movement that is impersonal, but inclined toward the healing of suffering, the feeding of the human, the nurturing of the planet, bringing harmony into the whole. Many call this movement love, but it is not the love that is looking for something in return. It is simply the complement to the destructive and painful forces. It moves through us and not from us.
Genuine acceptance of the fact that destruction and death are an aspect of living and being in form, frees one to bring more harmony and love into the mix rather than rage and resistance. I can't speak for other life forms, but while we exist as humans we have a capacity for the wisdom to end our psychological self-destruction and the pain in our species that perpetuates it. It is our dream we are living and as we become more harmonious and awake as a species the dream can evolve more harmoniously.
I am back home in Ashland Oregon now, and although it's cold and damp it still warms my heart to be in this picturesque town with its charming theaters, parks and people. The pace is more nourishing here, with much to be involved in, yet a quieter pace of traffic and only a few thousand people, most of whom are happy just to be here. It is the best of small-town living. I've created a Spring schedule for the non-dual center here, and here are the events scheduled:
Meditations at 9 a.m. Saturday mornings;
Satsang on Sundays at 7 p.m on March 27, April 3 and 17, May 1, 15 and 29;
A workshop on "The Kundalini Process" on Sat. May 14 from 9 to 5;
A Meditation Intensive "Sudden and Gradual Awakening" from 9:30 to 4:30 Sat. April 30;
A Non-Dual Wisdom Discussion group at 7 p.m. for 9 weeks beginning April 14;
A Transpersonal Exploration group on Weds. for 7 weeks beginning April 13.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need information or want to register.
On World Events:
What has been on my mind most often these past few weeks are world events. Every day I want to know just what is unfolding in Japan, Libya, Bahrain and all the other unsettled and chaotic places on our planet. I see that what I am includes all of these, even though I as a body/mind have the luxury of living free from harm in this particular or apparent moment in time.
One of the biggest challenges of seeking freedom or liberation is the recognition that so many people and places are suffering. It makes it seem one should not allow oneself to be free of suffering since we are all in this together. Guilt can arise in those who are not in pain along with everyone else. But freedom from suffering already exists in each of us and until we remove the patterns that block this freedom we are not capable of bringing any lasting freedom into the world. All of us as humans have our times to suffer --with losses, grief, illness--or because we are holding on to anger, self-rejection, jealousy or fear (psychological suffering). Isn't most of the horror caused by humans in the world the result of someone who suffers from a rage, or greed, or fear of "others" or desire for revenge? Isn't the need for power just a reaction to all these internal limitations we resent and reject? Some folks are simply obsessed with a greed for power. What fear and rejection of humanity must lie beneath this obsession? It is easy to see how a repressed people would want to gain control over their lives and would battle authority for it, would hunger to overcome the pressure of someone else's power drive. It is harder to see how someone could want so much power over others unless they felt a great lack and fear deep within themselves. Despite all of the horrors we witness on the world stage do we dare to remember our own internal freedom, our natural compassion and love, and the true nature that is empty of all conditions while paradoxically holding all conditions? If we who have the breathing space to wake up and to live as freedom do not invite it into our lives how will it ever penetrate the collective, or infuse the planet with wisdom and love? We cannot force freedom or love or wisdom but we can let go of ourselves deeply enough to remember that these qualities are reflected naturally from the light of what we truly are. We seldom see them in the world because most humans are so identified with the surface of their lives, and fearful of the inner shadows in their psyches, that they do not sit still long enough to penetrate the delusions of mind and heart that trap us. When someone begins a spiritual path it is usually for the purpose of ending suffering within themselves, at least on the surface of things. But perhaps it is really a drive imposed by the universal source or wisdom in order to release just one facet of the suffering in the world, to breathe into the universe a fraction more of freedom. If the repression of Truth and Love ends in you or me, something painful ends and something new and unexpected can emerge. If we are then moved in a way to help others who suffer we then can do so from freedom rather than pain,trusting the capacity for freedom in others, and we can see the obvious fact that anyone who truly lets go, lets go of suffering. Even in pain and loss there is a possibility to discover an endless and eternal freedom of spirit.
Some people believe the reason for suffering is to force someone to go deeper and to wake up. But why wait until you are suffering or struggling with great losses to go deeper? Why not move when there are less outer distractions, before loss, before chaos -- why not move inward to see through delusion and get released to be a force for freedom now? Then whatever happens on our vast and erupting planet can be embraced as part of the whole, with compassion and spontaneous wisdom, with love amidst the pain? All of it belongs to all of us but few are those who can bring harmony into the whole. And this harmony will never come from mind, whose nature is division, but must come from the awakened heart.