Postings from My Facebook Page #13
The following are selected posts from my Facebook page:
This is the thirteenth collection of posts from my Facebook page (6/22/16 - 11/24/16). My actual Facebook page includes many other things not included here, such as quotes from my books, links to videos, the latest information on any of my upcoming events and books, quotes from other people (sometimes with commentary), occasional responses to other people’s comments to my posts, book recommendations, and so on. Because the writings below were first written on Facebook, where italics are not an option, CAPS are used instead to emphasize certain words.
The posts are arranged chronologically with the most recent on the bottom:
We often talk about “being here now,” but the more deeply we sense and open into the Now, the more we discover that the true present is not perceivable or conceivable. It is too close, too intimate to be seen or experienced. Go deep within any sensation, any perception, go to the very core of it, and what do you find? Nothing! Everything dissolves into the unseen seeing. We might say, Here / Now is the Ultimate Subject, the groundless ground, the Heart or the True Nature of everything that appears,. We might say Here / Now is what remains in deep sleep and what is the same in every different experience of waking and dreaming life.
Everything we are seeing and hearing right now (these words, the device or computer screen on which they appear, this room, our body, the dog, the sound of the rain) is already the past by the time it registers. The true present, which is what we are, cannot be perceived because perception requires time, so all we can ever see or hear or experience is actually the past. All the content—the forms—are past. And, of course, they are also a fabrication put together by memory and the nervous system and thought and all the forces that shape our experience. Boundless energy or unicity is showing up as the world of apparent forms and stories, the world of apparent time and space.
The world as we seem to experience it is an imagination, a memory trace, an ever-changing dance of consciousness, a creation of smoke and mirrors. Whatever appears instantly dissolves. Thought and memory create the illusion of continuity and substantiality. But in our actual experience, we can notice that the past is completely gone—poof! Vanished! How solid was it if it has completely disappeared?
Even the things that seem to persist are actually dancing and changing—the earth, the sun, the mountains, the tables and chairs—if we could watch them over billions of years in speeded-up time-lapse photography, we would see that they are never the same from one instant to the next. Nothing persists. The ancient sages saw all of that without the benefit of modern physics or time-lapse photography—they simply paid very close attention to their actual experiencing. They recognized that impermanence is so thorough-going that no-thing ever actually forms to even be impermanent. The deepest understanding of impermanence is that there is no impermanence. No permanence; no impermanence. Not this; not that. This living reality is at once undeniable and avoidable and at the same time utterly ungraspable and utterly inconceivable.
In the night sky, we see the light from stars millions of years ago. And in our daily lives, if we use the analogy of riding in a car, we are actually looking out the rear window of the car, not out the front windshield as we like to imagine. The executive-controller-self that we imagine is looking ahead and steering the car (the conscious thinking mind) is actually looking out the rear window and seeing only some virtual image of the past. The steering of the car is an unlocatable process, most of which happens below the level of conscious awareness, all of it a movement inseparable from the whole universe. Thought (posing as “me”) only imagines that it is driving the bodymind through life like a car, just like the children on those rides at the amusement park pretending to steer cars with wheels that are not actually connected.
This is a very distressing and depressing thought for the self that believes it is in control, but when we truly see the full truth of this, the effect is one of great relief and liberation. We can’t ever go wrong, not really. We’re not who we think we are. No one is in control of this ride! Consciousness (or unicity) seems to have an interest in experiencing everything imaginable, not just the nice stuff. And the whole ride is a dream-like appearance with no objective, inherent, substantial or persisting reality. It is, as they say, the divine play, the cosmic dance. Can you feel the freedom of this?
We can only speak of inside and outside in relative terms, when referring to objects that seem to have boundaries. But the more closely we examine any apparent boundaries—whether with science or meditation—the more they are discovered to be porous, unlocatable, and ultimately non-existent. Nothing is really separate from anything else. Everything is a limitless, edgeless, dimensionless, boundless, seamlesss totality.
This totality is given many names: unicity, Consciousness, primordial awareness, intelligence-energy, the Self, emptiness, God, being, boundlessness, or even simply Here / Now. This boundlessness is ever-present. There is nothing other than this, nothing outside of this. Here / Now is equally present in (and as) every different experience—it is the suchness, the present-ness, the undeniable fact of this-here-now, which is so easily confused with the interpretation of it (the labels, the stories, the explanations, the theories, the beliefs, the assumptions, the maps of the territory—all of which are themselves nothing other than unicity showing up as labels, stories, explanations, theories, beliefs, assumptions and maps).
Here / Now is often compared to a movie screen. We are in fact always seeing the screen in every scene of the movie, but our attention is mesmerized by the colors and shapes appearing on the screen and by the storyline and drama that these colors and shapes create in the imagination. We become so caught up in the narrative that we seem to lose sight of the screen. We become identified with certain characters, hypnotized by the storyline and by our emotional responses to it. It all seems very real.
But the whole time, we are always seeing the screen, and throughout all the changing action in the movie, the screen is ever-present. It never moves or goes anywhere. It is equally present in a love scene and a scene of violence. It remains unchanged whether what appears on it is narrowing down into a dark tunnel or expanding out into an open view of the sky. And the fire in the movie never burns or damages the screen.
Of course, Here / Now is not a separate object like a movie screen—it isn’t some “thing” or some substance that you can separate out from everything that shows up Here / Now, so like all analogies, the movie screen is only a pointer—Here / Now is a dimensionless, limitless, boundless no-thing-ness from which nothing stands apart. To realize this is to awaken from the dream of separation, encapsulation and limitation.
And being awake doesn’t mean we have to try very hard to always stay in some state of pristine pure consciousness or thoughtless awareness—that’s just another ego-trip trying to gain an advantage for the phantom “me.” The fact that we sometimes feel like a person, that we have opinions and passions and preferences, that we are moved to speak and act and relate in various ways, that we love movies and stories (even crime dramas and horror stories and tragedies)—this is all part of this Great Dance.
I don’t know any supposedly “enlightened person” who would walk away if their child or their spouse or their best friend or their dog was lying in the road bleeding profusely. I don’t know any “enlightened person” who would refuse to call for help because “no one is hurt, and there is no one to make the call, and no ambulance actually exists, and everything is just a dream, and there is no choice, and whether this person lives or dies is already predetermined, so whatever I do won’t matter anyway.” No—we care, we feel things, we act. That’s part of the Great Dance.
When we go to the movies, we don’t try to hold back and detach and “simply witness” it all from afar, that would be silly (and probably not much fun). Instead, we allow ourselves to fully enter into the story, to “suspend disbelief,” to be completely engaged and absorbed, to believe the storyline, to love (or fear or dislike) the characters, to be fully involved, to feel emotions, to cry and laugh—but at the same time, we know it’s a movie. So we’re never entirely lost in utter despair or outrage, because we know it’s not “real.” It’s not unreal either—a movie has reality as a movie. But we know that although the characters may get hurt or killed off, no one is “really” being hurt or killed.
In so-called “real life,” it is harder to see this. The illusion is much more convincing. But we can perhaps notice that the awaring presence beholding the movie of waking life is unharmed—that unicity or totality is undying and unborn, even as myriad forms come and go. When we can see the dream-like quality of waking life—the fabrication of so-called reality—then we don’t need to take the storyline of that as seriously either. We know that we are the boundless totality, not a separate fragment who needs to be fixed and improved and perfected and saved from extinction. We are the whole dance, the unborn Absolute, the Ultimate Subject, the groundless ground.
But at the same time, we call the ambulance. We jump out of the way of a speeding bus. We grieve when our child or our partner or our best friend dies. We play our part. We feel life fully. We don’t need to avoid politics or intimate relationships or children or money or any of the things in life that get messy and that often bring forth passionate emotions. We can enjoy the whole dance, even the messy parts, even the movies, even the ways that we, as Consciousness itself, get hypnotized and tricked into mistaking that scary-looking rope for a snake again and again! We can enjoy being fooled. We can enjoy the game, the play of hide and seek, of make-believe and pretend. And at the same time, once the dream has been seen as a dream, we don’t need to be entirely swept away in outrage or despair or self-righteousness—or at least, not for as long, or not to the same degree.
We don’t really know how the universe “should” be, or what “should” happen next. We don’t really know what would happen if so-and-so got elected, or if the UK left the EU, or if the world economy collapsed. We know we’re not in control. And we know that even if the whole world blows up, all is well. The world, the history of humanity, the story of my life and your life is all in some sense a mind-creation, and everything that arises passes, instantly. Whatever shows up Here / Now is the only possible at this moment, and (as the image of Indra’s Net so beautifully suggests) the world is a net of jewels in which each is only a reflection of all the others.
True freedom is simply the relaxing of the grasping, controlling mind—not even trying to control the controlling or grasp at ungrasping. So-called liberation is not about attaining something or maintaining some particular state of mind, but simply the falling away Here / Now of the imaginary problem and the one who seemed to have it. It is not a matter of getting the right view of things, but rather, of seeing the falseness (or the limitation) of all views and abiding in the openness of not holding to any view—being here without knowing what this is, without needing an explanation, without grasping at any answer, without trying to be (or not be) any particular way. Simply being Here / Now, just as it is. Utterly simple, utterly effortless. Boundless, seamless emptiness bursting forth as everything imaginable. Just this.
It’s easy to get the mistaken idea that there are two things here: the permanent and the impermanent, or the changing and the changeless, or form and emptiness, or the relative and the absolute, or the movie and the screen, or awareness and the content of awareness. But actually, these are all just different words for THIS. And the truth is, we can’t say if THIS is ever-present or ever-changing, if THIS is form or formlessness. Binary language and conceptual thought-forms cannot capture the fluid, nondual, all-inclusive living reality. THIS is beyond the grasp of words and ideas, refusing to be pinned down in any kind of formulation. And yet, here it is, endlessly presenting itself, impossible to overlook or avoid!
What is this? The question actually makes no sense—how can THIS be something other than just exactly THIS? What does it add to say, “This is Blippity-Blop”? Or to argue with someone else who insists, “No—this is zoodlenog”? These are just sounds and whatever conceptual abstractions they bring forth in the imagination. But THIS is not a concept. THIS is impossible to doubt. Interpretations and explanations are always doubtful, but not the living reality.
Thinking about all this just leads to confusion. But right now, THIS is right here, most intimate, utterly immediate—the sound of traffic, the warm air, the smell of flowers, the green leaves, the sensations of breathing, the awaring presence beholding it all—not those words, which seem to divide it up into separate parts, but the bare actuality to which the words point—THIS, right here, right now.
And yes, THIS even includes the words! The map is not the territory it represents, the content of thought is not the living reality it describes, the pointing finger is not the moon, but mapping is part of what the territory is doing, and thus Zen Master Dogen went beyond the usual caution not to mistake the finger for the moon, noting that, “The moon and the pointing finger are a single reality.” THIS!
The old Zen Masters had a wonderful way of pulling the rug out from under any place that anyone landed and tried to set up camp. If you said you were a person, they’d point out that the self cannot be found. If you insisted that you were not a person and that there is no self, they would point to the absolute, undeniable uniqueness and beauty of each snowflake, each whirlpool, each wave, each person. If you insisted you had to work hard and practice diligently to awaken, they would point to the fact that you are already awake, that it takes no effort and no time to arrive Here / Now. If you said no practice was needed and that kicking the dog was no different from meditating, they might slap (or kick) you. Wherever you try to land, whatever you grasp and begin to assert, wherever you fixate, the true Zen Master pulls that particular rug out from under you.
As people who point to what cannot be spoken, nothing we say is ever the truth, but still, we have to say something. So we use words, inadequate as they all are, and then hopefully we erase them or say something apparently contradictory. I’m reminded of the old Zen koan where the Master says, “Dead or alive? I won’t say!” Or the beautiful Zen expressions: “Not one, not two,” and Dogen’s “leaping clear of the many and the one." Awakening is not about finally having the right formulation or the right conceptual map. It’s about not landing or fixating or getting stuck anywhere. It’s about having nothing.
The thinking mind is always busy trying to get a grip, trying to figure things out. On a survival level, that’s its job, and in certain practical matters, it works very well. But the thinking mind doesn’t always know when to stop. The tendency to grasp onto a formula, to make no-thing-ness into some-thing, to construct a whole reality and then believe in it—this tendency is very strong and deeply rooted. It tends to recur. It’s not always that obvious or easy to see that we’re mistaking the map for the territory yet again. It can get very subtle. So can we be sensitive to this habitual tendency, seeing it as it happens and letting go, now and now and now, daring to find out what happens if we don’t hold onto anything at all, if we let every belief, every formulation and every answer go?
One of the things I most deeply appreciated about my friend and teacher Toni Packer was her willingness to look freshly, to question everything, to “start from scratch” as she would say, rather than regurgitating past conclusions. I loved the way she would welcome and invite and enjoy that kind of open questioning and exploring, that way of not knowing. Instead of asserting that she had The Final Answer to How the Universe Works and What This Is, as so many teachers seem to do, Toni would look and listen freshly—right now, in THIS moment—open to seeing something new and unexpected. She would tell us that anything she said could be questioned and/or taken further, that none of it was to be regarded as the word of some infallible authority. She often asked questions rather than making statements, leaving the listener in that placeless place of open wondering and not knowing. Instead of giving us something, she left us with nothing. And that was the greatest of gifts.
Responding to someone who is unemployed and feeling badly about it (and you can substitute any unwanted situation for being unemployed):
It's always interesting to notice the difference between the simple fact of what is happening (such as, I don't have a job) and all the stories and interpretations about that (for example, "I'm a loser"). There is no suffering in the bare facts—there may be hunger, pain, or even death—but the suffering, as I would use the word, is in the spin. The bare actuality of every moment is not a problem even if it hurts. But in the spin, there is nothing but problems! Thought has the ability to go over and over the past and to imagine all the terrible things that might happen in the future. To paraphrase one of Mark Twain’s famous quips, I've been through lots of terrible things in my life, and some of them actually happened.
In the spin, there is a "me" at the center of the story—somebody who is imagined to be either successful or unsuccessful, a winner or a loser, enlightened or unenlightened, good or bad—but this "me" is a fictional character, and the story and the self-image are dream-like and always changing.
Many of us in this society have been deeply conditioned to believe that everyone "should" be able to get a job, earn their way, stand on their own two feet, "do the right thing," “just say no” to their addictive tendencies, and be a success. The prevailing mythology in this country has been that if we do all the "right" things, then our future will be secure. In recent years, this mythology has crumbled in the face of overwhelming evidence that it isn't true. Many people who work hard and do all the "right things" end up bankrupt, unemployed and homeless, facing a future of poverty. But there is a deep conditioning that this is somehow their own fault, and so it is not uncommon for people to feel shame in the face of these circumstances and to have a story that they are a loser.
But whether we have a job or not is the result of infinite causes and conditions—whether we have the necessary physical and mental abilities, the marketable skills, the right talents, the needed ambition, the fortitude to keep looking in the face of rejection—whether we live in times of economic opportunity or in times of economic depression—whether we happen to be at the right place at the right time—all of this is the result of infinite causes and conditions. (Along these lines, I highly recommend a book called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell). But in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, we are deeply conditioned to believe that there is "somebody" at the helm who "should" be able to find a job—and not just any job, but a “respectable,” well-paying, satisfying job that fully uses our best talents and gifts.
That "somebody" who seems to be at the controls is the fundamental illusion, and the notion that we could or should be doing something other than what we actually are doing at this moment, is rooted in a misunderstanding of reality.
We can only do what life moves us to do in each moment. What happens next is never in our control, if by “our” we mean the imaginary self or the stream of thoughts that masquerades as “me,” the thinker-author-chooser-doer. And from the perspective of our True Self or True Nature (Big Mind, Primordial Awareness, Totality, Unicity, the One Self, the Tao, emptiness), there is no problem. Everything is included. No-thing is what it appears to be (i.e., a separate, persisting, “thing” that is supposedly “out there,” independent of the awaring presence beholding it). Life is an inexplicable happening from which nothing stands apart and in which no-thing endures.
So, by all means, do whatever you can to find meaningful work that sustains you. Plan for the future in intelligent ways. Imagine different possibilities. Set reasonable goals. Nothing wrong with any of this. But recognize that all of this is like a dream, and that the outcome is not in the hands of the dreamed-character. None of it means what we think it means. There is no one to succeed or to fail, and when we look closely and deeply, we cannot separate the successes from the failures.
Our true happiness is not in the circumstances of our life—whether we are cleaning toilets for minimum wage, running a huge corporation, living on an unearned inheritance, or homeless on the streets. These things may all matter relatively, but our true happiness is in the way we meet these circumstances, whatever they are—how we see them, how we relate to them, and who we think we are. When we are awake and being just this moment, there is joy and fulfillment in whatever we are doing, and there is no one to take credit or blame. There is simply this dance, unfolding exactly as it does—and instantly, everything changes, everything is born anew. Nothing stays the same, except in the thought-realm, where we can endlessly reincarnate the “same old me” and “my same old story”—Me the Failure, Me the Brilliant Success, Me the Stupid One, Me the Right One, Me the Victim, Me the Bad One, Me the Loser, Me the Winner—a kaleidoscope of ever-changing images in a dream.
For those who want me to say something about recent events in America:
This morning it was raining lightly—cooling the air and making all kinds of gentle, delicate sounds. All day, white clouds have blanketed the hills and valleys here. A few birds are singing now, and in the distance, a dog is barking.
In the course of 48 hours this week, two black men were killed by police in separate incidents in separate states here in the USA, both caught on camera, both men shot at close range. While we don’t know the full story of what happened in either incident, it certainly appears that the police used excessive force and that, had these two men been white, they would most likely still be alive. There is a long history in this country of police brutality against black people, of bias in the criminal justice system, of black people being railroaded into prisons in disproportionate numbers (and more recently, into privately-run, for-profit prisons)—all this against the backdrop of our nation’s history of slavery, lynchings and enforced segregation.
Last night there were peaceful demonstrations around the country against police brutality, excessive force and racism. Then, at the tail end of a demonstration in Dallas, police were fired on by a sniper who said he wanted to kill white people, especially white police. According to the News reports I’ve heard, the sniper had a high-powered assault rifle. 5 officers were killed, 7 were injured, and several civilians were wounded as well. The full story is still emerging, and it’s not completely clear last I heard whether or not any others were involved or if this fellow was entirely a lone-wolf, but it seems clear at this point that he was the only shooter. And clearly, he was in no way part of the organized demonstration, which was peaceful—by many accounts, the police were being very friendly to and supportive of the demonstrators and sympathetic to their cause. Apparently, the police force in Dallas has done a lot of good work to improve their relations with the community and how they do police work.
This week I have been reading Sue Klebold’s book A Mother’s Reckoning, about her son Dylan Klebold, the teenager who—along with his friend Eric Harris—carried out the Columbine school shooting in 1999. In the introduction, Andrew Solomon describes Harris as a homicidal psychopath and Klebold as a suicidal depressive. Prior to this horrific event, Dylan Klebold appeared to be a reasonably happy child—gifted actually, and generally good-natured. He came from what was by all accounts a loving home of educated, responsible people who eschewed guns and did not subscribe to hateful ideologies. How could their son turn into a mass murderer? How does anyone end up doing the things human beings do to one another?
How do we make sense of the mass shootings, the police violence, the violence against police, the racism, the rise of Trump and other right-wing movements, the whole catastrophe of human life?
Racism is real. Some of it is deliberate and overt—as in people who are proudly white supremacist—and some of it is unintentional, the result of conditioning below the level of conscious awareness, the kind of unwanted racism we all carry to some degree (just as we all carry unintended sexism and heterosexism of that same kind). Police are, of course, no exception. They are conditioned, as we all are, by the world in which they grow up. Even those who aspire to treat everyone equally, may in fact treat people differently, not because they want or intend to, but because to some degree we all do—every day, as we go to work, walk the streets, ride the buses, choose a seat at the movies, and so on, we make a million instantaneous, pre-conscious “decisions” about who is trustworthy, who is dangerous, who is believable, who is not—and those decisions are based on our conditioning, our past experiences, our beliefs. They aren’t even really decisions in any kind of rationally considered way—they are more like compulsive reactions. Often, we don’t even notice them. And when we do notice them, sometimes we override intelligent instincts that are actually right-on in an effort not to be racist, and we end up in worse trouble—I know I’ve found myself doing that on several regrettable occasions. In short, it’s complicated. We can’t just snap our fingers and make all of this disappear.
In my radical leftist past, I often thought of the police as the enemy—the pigs, as we called them back then. But over the years, police officers have come to my aid on several occasions, and I have developed a great deal of sympathy for the police and for the difficulties of their job. That job is incredibly stressful and challenging, especially in big cities with diverse populations and high crime rates. They see the worst side of humanity every day up close (rape, murder, child abuse, domestic violence, muggings, beatings), and every day they put their lives on the line “to serve and protect.” And like all human beings, they have their share of marital problems, difficult children, aging parents, physical illnesses, flat tires, leaking roofs, sleepless nights, good days and bad days. Most of them are good and decent people who genuinely want to do a good job, but even the best of them are subject to human emotions, and when put into highly stressful situations, armed with guns, it is inevitable that “bad” things will happen at times. And, of course, some of the police are overt racists or psychologically disturbed or sadistic individuals who should never be in that profession. There are bad apples in every profession.
We have a diverse, multi-racial, multi-ethnic country here in America, with long-standing power imbalances and abuses that have left deep traumas and divides in the American psyche. Anyone and everyone can easily obtain semi-automatic weapons with high-capacity magazines here in America, and in many states, people can carry such guns openly. We also have increasing numbers of veterans who have served multiple combat tours, coming home with a toxic mix of PTSD and expertise in weaponry and marksmanship—apparently last night’s sniper had served in Afghanistan.
Given all of the above, it would be a miracle if people weren’t getting shot!
We live in a world on edge—it has become increasingly obvious that the rich are getting richer, climate change is escalating, the global economy is skating on thin ice, terrorism is becoming more rampant, and we all know that humanity is armed with weapons that could destroy all life on earth in no time at all. The likelihood of these weapons falling into the wrong hands grows larger every day. It’s become very obvious that deeply rooted, systemic problems such as racism and sexism take generations to fully disappear even after the more overt manifestations of these injustices have been outlawed. Having a black president or a woman president doesn’t mean the problems of racism or sexism have been solved—in fact, it often ignites a backlash.
There is widespread and growing mistrust of political institutions and the media, combined with widespread ignorance and lack of real understanding about everything that is happening (not to mention multiple points of view and legitimate differences of opinion). Social media is wonderful in many ways, and extremely inflammatory in other ways. Misinformation and conspiracy theories circulate wildly. Dangerous right-wing demagogues like Donald Trump seem to be on the rise. Of course, many “good” things are happening as well, and we would do well to remember that, but certainly, the problems are very real, and the world situation often feels quite dire and hopeless and overwhelming. People who lived through the rise of Hitler know that the dangers here are very real, that yes—it can happen here. Many people are angry—feeling that they are getting a bad deal and that no one is listening to them. And when bad things happen, everyone wants someone to blame.
But what if no one is to blame?
I care deeply about all the issues I’ve been talking about here, and I’m happy people are working for social, economic and environmental justice. But what I try to point to in my writings, at least for the most part, is the deeper truth—that which is at peace even if the whole universe explodes—the unborn, the deathless, the ever-present, the Absolute. And on the level of relative reality, in the midst of our human drama, I try to encourage us all to look deeply into our own minds, to not be seduced by the lure of simplistic answers and dualistic thinking—to see that we each contain the whole world—and that ultimately, the whole world (and each of us) is a dream-like appearance.
This awakening isn’t about cold-hearted detachment, but rather, it’s waking up to a bigger perspective, a more subtle perspective. Zoom out far enough, and the earth is a tiny speck that eventually disappears. Zoom in far enough in the other direction, and the apparently solid “material world” dissolves into a subatomic quantum no-thing-ness. And somewhere in between, there is this place where the human drama unfolds—the movie of waking life, where it all seems so huge and all-consuming and important and real. And relatively speaking, it IS very real and important! When you get shot, or when someone you love gets killed, it really does hurt. The pain is real.
So this waking up certainly isn’t about denying or ignoring the human world or not caring anymore, but it’s about seeing it all in a different way. We can still respond, in whatever ways life moves us to respond, but when we see deeply and clearly, we don’t want to shoot or blame people. Naturally, we have compassion for all people, even those who do terrible things, even those who have hurt us. And to be clear, as far as I know, no one sees deeply and clearly in every moment. We can all fall into delusion and be caught up in the hypnotic trance of emotion-thought from time to time, some more or less than others, but no one is immune. The good news is that it is possible to wake up—it happens. It happens in small ways and in big ways. And whenever it happens, it’s not about “me” waking up. It is the dissolution of the one who would awaken, and the recognition of what is always awake.
As Nisargadatta was pointing out in the passages I posted earlier, it isn’t about finding the answer or attaining some special state, but rather, it is the falling away of the apparent problem and the attachment to any particular state. It is the recognition that there is literally nothing to attain and no one to attain it. And it’s not about subscribing to that as some nice-sounding idea, but actually living from that realization. Seeing through and relaxing the grasping mind. Simply BEING. And not even clinging to that, because (as Nisargadatta points out) even that beingness will disappear.
My teacher and friend Toni Packer used to read aloud from some of her favorite books on the final day of her retreats. She would read from Huang Po, Krishnamurti, Rilke, Mary Oliver, Vimila Thakar and Nisargadatta Maharaj. Here is an excerpt from one passage she read to us from Nisargadatta’s I Am That (in the chapter titled “Reality Cannot Be Expressed”). Maharaj is talking about Ultimate Reality, the Absolute, which he describes as “seedless and rootless.” He says:
“Because it is without cause, it is without hindrance. It obeys one law only; the law of freedom. Anything that implies a continuity, a sequence, a passing from stage to stage cannot be the real. There is no progress in reality, it is final, perfect, unrelated.”
The questioner asks, “How can I bring it about?”
Nisargadatta replies: “You can do nothing to bring it about, but you can avoid creating obstacles. Watch your mind, how it comes into being, how it operates. As you watch your mind, you discover your self as the watcher. When you stand motionless, only watching, you discover yourself as the light behind the watcher. The source of light is dark…That source alone is. Go back to that source and abide there.”
From that placeless place, Here / Now, perhaps we can bring simple awareness to the pain and grief in this world—and because we’re not actually separate, that simple awareness, which is another name for unconditional love, really does change everything. And even if the whole world blows up, nothing has really been damaged. In realizing that deeper truth, maybe we lighten up just a little, loosening our grip on our certainties and our attachments, discovering that the other is always myself in thin disguise.
Someone wrote to me recently and reported that even after many insights, “still the sense of separate 'me' prevails.” The person wondered, “How to DO something about this 'separate-self'?” The person wisely suspected that, “it's a 'me' that wants to know.”
There is a longing to be free that comes from freedom itself—a natural desire to relax into our True Nature, to come home, to feel the relief of no longer maintaining the illusion of separation and no longer trying to survive as “me.” This is a beautiful longing, but it’s not about searching for some-thing that is missing or trying to have a special kind of experience. Instead, it invites a relaxing into what has never been absent. Here / Now is equally present in (and as) every different experience. It is what we cannot not be. In simply relaxing into this-here-now, we may find to our great surprise that we are already Home.
But, of course, the “me” frequently co-opts this natural longing—so that we are seemingly on a search, wanting to get rid of the self in order to be a more successful self, a happier self, perhaps an enlightened (or selfless) self. As Nisargadatta puts it, “Having never left the house, you are looking for the way home.” This is our human suffering. We are looking for home (or love, or enlightenment, or peace, or freedom) in all the wrong places—“out there” basically, in the future, somewhere else. We are starting with the assumption that “this isn’t it,” and with the thought-sense of being a “me” who needs to find “it,” and then we are looking elsewhere and elsewhen for “it,” searching for an event, an experience, a conceptual clarity, whatever we imagine “it” is. But, of course, anything that is not here now, if it comes, it will go. Any “it” that we can point to and distinguish from everything else is not the it-less-ness (the freedom, the wholeness, the immediacy) that is being sought.
So what can we do? We can notice the impulse to "do" something, feeling that dissatisfaction and urgency in the body as pure sensation. We can notice the thoughts that tell us “this isn’t it.” We can see that these are just conditioned thoughts, not objective reports on reality. We can investigate this mirage-like “me” to see what exactly it is made of and what reality it has. We can pay attention to when and how the sense of a separate self and the story that something is lacking arises. We can begin to see the whole mechanism for what it is—a conditioned habit-pattern, a mirage, a dream. Seeing (or awaring) is very different from thinking or believing. Seeing all this directly is what liberates. And to boundless awareness, the intermittent appearance of a mirage or a dream is no problem at all, so we don't need to go to war with our thoughts or try to banish a mirage.
And as I often point out, there is a functional sense of self and of identity with the bodymind that shows up as needed—we know whose name to answer to, how to differentiate between our fingers and the carrot we are cutting up for lunch, and so on—and that functional sense of self will not disappear permanently unless we have a serious brain injury or dementia. But this functional self is different from the imaginary “me” who is the apparent subject of such thought-sentences as, “I’m a loser,” or “I need to have an awakening,” or “I should go on a diet,” or “I need to make a decision,” or “I am afraid of dying.” That “I” is the psychological self, the self-image, the phantom-mirage who isn’t really there. It is the illusory idea that boundless awareness is encapsulated inside a separate bodymind, looking out at a separate world.
But, in fact, there are actually many moments in any ordinary day when there is no thought-sense at all of being "me"—there is simply hearing, seeing, sensing, driving, walking, washing the dishes, whatever it is—with no imaginary division between subject and object. It is one whole happening—seamless and boundless. But these ordinary moments tend to go unnoticed. So it SEEMS (if we don’t look too closely) as if the thought-sense of “me” persists and is always there. But is it? We may THINK that it is, so it’s helpful to actually look and see. And that’s what intelligent meditation and various forms of meditative inquiry can reveal.
There are a number of different meditative inquiries that I often suggest, all of which involve directly paying attention, looking and listening with awareness, sensing into the question in the present moment, and not thinking or reasoning about it or trying to analyze it.
The first inquiry is to see (in your immediate, direct, actual experience) if you can you find an actual place (a border) where "inside of you" turns into "outside of you" – can you actually find a solid boundary? Where exactly does the breath cross over from inside to outside, or where in the sensation of body meeting chair does the body end and the chair begin? Can you find an actual boundary-line? Are the sounds you are hearing inside of you or outside of you? You may THINK they are coming from outside, but in actual direct experience, are the sounds “out there” somewhere or are they right here at zero distance, utterly immediate, most intimate, inseparable from the listening presence?
The second inquiry is—again in your immediate, direct, actual experience—if you don't refer to thought or memory, who or what are you?
The third inquiry is to actually look for the self, to see if you can find it—when you turn your attention around to see the seer, or to see the thinker, or the decider, or the "me" who is supposedly inside here somewhere, do you actually find anything? Or do you find no particular thing at all, and at the same time, absolutely everything?
You might also investigate what exactly makes up the sense of self—whenever it arises, look and see—do you find anything other than ever-changing thoughts, sensations, memories and mental images? How solid, how substantial is that?
And what is aware of all that? If you find some-thing that you think is aware of all that (even some vague notion of “the witness” or “boundless awareness” or “consciousness” or “the brain” or “witnessing presence”), then what is aware of that? (Again, don’t think about this, but actually fall into the question with whole-hearted open attention.)
Finally, here are some helpful pointers from Nisargadatta Maharaj:
“After the disappearance of everything, whatever remains, that you are.”
“The mirror reflects the image, but the image does not improve the mirror. You are neither the mirror nor the image in the mirror. Having perfected the mirror so that it reflects correctly, truly, you can turn the mirror round and see in it a true reflection of yourself – true as far as the mirror can reflect. But the reflection is not yourself – you are the seer of the reflection. Do understand it clearly – whatever you may perceive you are not what you perceive.”
“If you have problems or questions with which you are concerned, you will find these problems and questions are based on your identity with the body and mind as an individual. If that identification is not there, then no question can arise. You will come to this conclusion.”
“What is the real essence of the search for the ultimate?
To find out the Truth and the Untruth about ourself.
Whatever can be found is the Untruth.”
“Love says: ‘I am everything.’ Wisdom says: ‘I am nothing.’ Between the two my life flows.”
What is awakening or enlightenment, and does it take effort, courage, vigilance, perseverance and/or practice to get there? Is it a permanent shift from which you can never come back? Or is Here / Now the only real permanence and eternity, making any notion of “after enlightenment” as meaningless as talking about “after Now”? What is it exactly that gets enlightened? Is everyone enlightened, or just a rare few? Is enlightenment a myth?
Let me begin by saying that there are many different (and sometimes conflicting) definitions of awakening and enlightenment, but it usually has something to do with waking up from the thought-sense of being a separate self encapsulated in a separate body living in a world of separate objects, all presumed to have inherent, persisting, observer-independent reality. Awakening or enlightenment also usually has something to do with embodying this realization, living from a sense of undivided wholeness, so that it isn’t just a mental clarity but rather an experiential reality that permeates every aspect of our lives.
Some might say that awakening is the initial glimpse and the beginning of a shift that becomes ever-more stable, culminating, potentially, in complete enlightenment or liberation. Others might say enlightenment is the recognition that everything is already enlightened, just as it is. Some would argue that any apparent journey from delusion to enlightenment, whether sudden or gradual, is itself nothing but a play of consciousness, another scene in the dream-like movie of waking life, all of it a kind of imagination. They might even insist that all talk of shifting, awakening or enlightenment is total hogwash, for there is nothing to shift and everything is always already whole and complete. But if that’s the case, why even bother to say it? Clearly there is some kind of shift and some real difference between Ramana Maharshi and Hitler, but it isn’t a shift or a difference in the way the mind usually conceives of that. And thus, possibly, there is truth on all sides of these apparently divergent assertions.
Is awakeness here right now? Are you here, undeniably present and aware? Without referring to thoughts and stories, can you find the one who is not enlightened? Or the one who is? When we stop and check, isn’t it always Here / Now, and isn’t the very nature of Here / Now awareness or presence? Can you find a limit to present awareness, to Here / Now? What we all most deeply refer to when we say the word “I” is simply this awaring presence, this knowingness of being here now, and (in our actual experience, if we attend to that rather than to our ideas) this presence is impersonal, boundless and limitless.
At the same time, for most of us, the thought-sense of separation and dualism pops back up. The skeptical, doubting mind pops back up. The hypnotic swirl of emotion-thought pops back up. The conviction that there is a solid material world “out there” outside of consciousness seems believable again. The world drama seems very believable. The thought-sense of being “me,” a separate entity, feels quite real—we feel defensive, hurt, angry, upset, confused. It seems we have lost the boundlessness, the nondual presence, the clarity that we had a moment ago.
Except actually, we didn’t have it. That very idea—that “I” have (or don’t have) “it”—is one of the thought-stories that creates a false view of reality, a kind of delusion. To think that I, the separate self, could possess (or lose) limitless, all-inclusive, infinite boundlessness is utterly absurd on the face of it. When we look more closely, we see that the sense of a separate self (and the story of “getting it” and “losing it”) are intermittent appearances within boundless awareness. No appearance, however troubling, ever really destroys boundless awareness, and we never really leave Here / Now.
Someone recently asked me what Nisargadatta meant when he said, "Liberation is not a matter of acquisition, but a matter of faith and conviction that you have always been free, and a matter of courage to act on this conviction. There is nothing to change; it is only when the very idea of changing is seen as false that the changeless can come into its own."
I can’t speak for Nisargadatta, but I’ll share what I hear in this. Liberation is our True Nature (boundless awareness, pure consciousness, the Ultimate Subject, Here / Now), not something “out there” that we must acquire. Our True Nature is already fully present. All experiences come and go within that ever-present True Nature. When we identify with a temporary appearance (“me”) and get absorbed in a drama (“my journey toward enlightenment”) in the same way we can be absorbed in a movie, and when we reference liberation as any particular experience (or scene) within the movie—such as a moment of great clarity, bliss, joy, peace or whatever—we can be sure, that’s not it. If it came, it will go. Experience is like weather—ever-changing. And the “me” who takes it personally is a phantom, an intermittent appearance in a dream.
That moment of bliss or clarity probably happened because attention shifted from the thought-story and the personal drama to simple, open presence Here / Now. For a moment, there was no “me,” no resistance, no seeking. There was just simple being, our True Nature. And it felt blissful or joyous or peaceful or however it felt. And then the me-thought pops back up and claims ownership: “I got it!” And immediately, the bliss or the joy or the clarity seems to vanish—the sense of “me” and separation and duality all comes rushing back in with that single thought. And we reference that now-absent feeling-state of bliss or peace as what we are searching for, and we chase after it, trying to get it back, trying to repeat whatever we think we did to bring it about before.
Our habitual tendency is to try to deliberately “do” (or maintain) that shift of attention from thinking to pure presence, in order to get back to that remembered experience. But this rarely (if ever) seems to work, because that very effort, which is result-oriented, past-and-future-focused, and all about the separate self, is the very activity that is seemingly obscuring the simple truth that has actually never been absent (and which nothing can actually obscure). And the more we try to resist or get rid of the self (or stop thinking), the stronger it seems to get, because the very effort to eradicate the self is that same selfing activity (and the attempt to not think is itself thought-based). So what we need to “do” is more a matter of allowing everything to be just as it is—not in the sense of wallowing in depressing stories or leaving a flat tire flat, but in the sense of being totally awake to the bare actuality of how it is, right here, right now. Not resisting, not opposing, not seeking something else. Not even resisting resistance or seeking an end to seeking, but allowing it ALL to be as it is.
When Nisargadatta speaks of “faith and conviction,” he doesn’t mean belief. He means relying on actual, immediate, direct, present experience—rather than on thoughts, ideas, conceptualizations and beliefs. Attending to the territory rather than to the map. This isn’t always easy, because the thinking mind doesn’t like this. It wants to think and figure stuff out and get a grip and find the right formulas. Usually, attention is on thoughts and concepts—mental maps. This conceptualizing is so ubiquitous, subtle and pervasive that we don’t even notice most of it. It often requires careful, subtle attention to see that we are mistaking a concept for actuality. And there seems to be a safety in our old habits and old stories—even in the story of being a hopeless loser—it’s familiar. Whereas being boundless awareness and the nonconceptual actuality of this-here-now is basically being nobody and no-thing at all! To the result-oriented, grasping mind trying to survive as “me,” that seems scary. Thought wants to get busy and get a grip. Hence, we quickly return to the apparent safety of our maps, our stories, our sense of being “me.”
But there is a faith or a trust in this re-turning to bare experiencing that grows naturally over time. Just don’t expect to be “carefully attending to the territory” all the time—that is a set-up for disappointment, discouragement and frustration. Just let it happen naturally, when it invites you, as it will. And eventually, as a step further (relatively speaking), you can also notice that, whenever you stop and check, Here / Now is always already fully present. Awareness is already present. The territory itself has actually never been absent. Even mapping and selfing and thinking and conceptualizing are aspects of the territory, something consciousness is doing, an activity of the universe. Even absorption in movie-dramas is an aspect of this ownerless and seamless unicity. It all happens Here / Now. So in a real sense, awakening is effortless. Awakeness is already fully present. We’re never really lost—it’s only an imaginary character in a mental movie who seems to be lost. The awareness beholding the movie is never lost.
But then again, because it so often seems otherwise, it does take a bit of effort to undo (or see through) the old conditioning and to rest in the simple truth of this-here-now. Or maybe energy is a better word than effort. Nisargadatta, in this particular quote, calls it courage. I would say it is the courage to question our beliefs about everything, the courage to trust perceiving (or awaring) rather than thinking, the courage to not move away from those things we find disturbing, the courage to stop the search and be awake right now…the courage to not go with the addictive mind, the doubting mind, the skeptical mind, the yes-but mind. The courage to stay with the truth of naked experiencing. The courage to simply BE, to let go, to dissolve, to relax into open, spacious, awaring presence. One teacher calls it vigilance—keeping vigil at the flame of Truth (i.e. the bare actuality of Here / Now).
But again, beware of trying to “do” this in some heavy-handed, result-oriented way. That’s the trap of talking about any kind of practice or process or effort. This is about relaxing, opening, resting, surrendering, allowing, welcoming—not trying and straining. All those thoughts about how well or how poorly “I” am doing, whether “I” am getting somewhere, how I “must” do this, and I “should” be better at it—these are all me-thoughts, about the separate self. Simply see them for what they are—don’t get caught up in them. And if caught-up-ness happens, that too shall pass. And when it does, don’t get caught up in judging yourself for having been caught up, because there is no “you” who was caught up—it was an impersonal happening. And if judgment happens, simply see that for what it is, another impersonal happening. It always comes down to right here, right now—the gateless gate. Waking up is now, not a split second later, not forever after, not yesterday, but right NOW. In this simple present awakeness, no problem remains, and no “me” remains to have a problem. And when it seems otherwise, stop and check—have the courage to look deeply.
Someone reported recently that in reading about someone else’s awakening journey, she became very discouraged: “It seems so very complicated, and I seem so far away from it although I know actually that I am That.” The person says that she “knows” that she is That which she is seeking, and yet at the same time, she also seems to doubt it and feel far away from “That.” I think many of us can relate to that apparent conundrum, which is the dancing of consciousness, veiling and revealing itself, playing hide and seek with itself. Is the knowing she speaks of merely intellectual, an idea she’s heard and read about? Or has she recognized and known the undivided nature of reality directly, as her own undoubtable experience, as clear as the knowingness of being here now? And if the latter is true (and actually, it always is, even if we are ignoring or overlooking it), then where has that direct knowing gone right now—is it actually absent? Or is she simply believing thoughts that tell her it is gone? Can Here / Now ever actually be gone?
Believing that “I am That” may be better than believing that “I am a failure who has ruined my life,” but ultimately, belief is useless. Belief is always shadowed by doubt, and past experiences are useless when it comes to being awake now. We need to turn away from belief, let go of the known, let go of all the swirling thoughts, let go of these seductive memories of past awakenings, let go of other people’s stories, and wake up to the living reality, right here, right now. This alone sets us free and resolves that deep longing to be home.
Someone else’s account of their journey may sound complicated. But what it points to—if it’s genuine—is actually very simple. Right now, are you here? Is it possible to simply hear the birds or the traffic, to smell the coffee, to feel the sensations in the body, to enjoy the light playing on the green leaves, to see the thoughts that pop up for what they are, to be aware of this vast awaring presence that is being and beholding everything, to simply BE what we cannot not be?
What we call this whole thing doesn’t matter, whether we call it unicity or Awareness or Consciousness or God or emptiness or the Self or no-thing-ness or Here / Now or “just this” or thusness or Buddha Nature or the Tao or blippity-bloop. Words are only pointers. Let the words go. Go to where they point. And where they point is not “over there” somewhere. It takes no time to arrive Here / Now. It is a journey of zero distance. These words point to what is most intimate and without limits.
Are you looking for it, trying to see it, or get it, or figure out what “it” is, or have some particular experience of it? Just SEE the folly in all of that. And relax into what is always already the case. (And if you can’t relax, be tense—don’t fight the tension, allow it to be as it is, and maybe notice that there is an awareness beholding this tension, a bigger context, and that this awareness is already free, and that at the very core of the sensations you are calling “tension,” if you go right into them with open attention, there is nothing at all—just pure awareness, pure intelligence-energy, emptiness, vastness).
To continue this exploration, this direct discovery, this waking up, here and now, is the pathless path (from Here to Here). Everything that arises is an invitation to explore this, to wake up, to be true to the Truth. This moment, just as it is, is the gateless gate.
What does it mean to love yourself? Someone recently asked me this question: “In one of your books you mentioned your mom spoke of the importance of loving yourself. I'm curious, if the self doesn't exist as a separate entity isn't this another way of reinforcing that separate selfing so to speak? What's your sense of self love? I often get so angry at myself for perceived past mistakes or opportunities squandered, and it's such a painful way of living. I want to stop it.”
My mother’s statement can be heard in two ways, as loving our True Self (boundlessness, primordial awareness, intelligence-energy) or as loving the person that we appear to be in the play of life. I think she meant it both ways (and maybe they’re not two!). As for why we would love the person, and whether that would just reinforce the separate self, I think there’s some confusion about exactly what is illusory or problematic about “the self.”
The separate self that we speak of as an illusion and as the root of suffering is the false sense of being separate and encapsulated, limited to the bodymind, looking out at an outside alien world made up of other objects, and apparently being in control of our thoughts and actions. When we are exclusively identified as a particular bodymind organism, we are overlooking the reality that we are so much more than this, and that even this apparent entity doesn’t have the solid, independent, persisting existence that we imagine it does—and it isn’t in control of anything.
Our True Self—the One Self—certainly includes the bodymind, but it isn’t limited to that. And it recognizes that the bodymind is not a solid “thing,” but rather an ever-changing dance of thoughts, images, memories and sensations—more like a wave or a whirlpool than a block of stone (although even the block of stone is moving and changing, but in a much less obvious way).
In the play of life, there is most certainly the appearance of what we call individual people—ourselves included—and when we are awake, quite naturally we love all beings—including ourself. We love the trees, the ocean, the people, the freeways, even the nuclear waste. Unconditional love is the very nature of awareness. Naturally, we love this person that we are playing in this Great Lila, as we love all beings—knowing that all beings are expressions of One intelligence-energy (One Consciousness, One Mind), not really separate—like the multiple waves on the ocean.
Rather than hating ourselves, judging ourselves, never feeling good enough, being endlessly self-critical, what a blessing to actually love this human being, flaws and imperfections included—and to have compassion for our apparent failings—to appreciate this utterly unique and momentary expression of the One Reality.
This is quite different from the kinds of “self-love” that we call narcissism, grandiosity, self-aggrandizement, megalomania, hubris or egotism—those are all predicated upon a total identification as the bodymind—that kind of “love” isn’t really love at all. That’s the kind of “self-love” we see manifested in someone like Donald Trump—totally identified with the separate self, always on the defensive, always feeling attacked, always needing to justify yourself, viciously attacking others, bragging, craving attention and power, putting your name on lots of buildings. And of course, unconditional love has compassion for Donald Trump, recognizing that he is the way he is because of infinite causes and conditions. Compassion doesn’t mean we have to like what Trump does, or that we have to vote for him—we may do everything we can to stop him from becoming president—but we don’t hate or blame him for being exactly the expression of nature that he is at each moment.
We can’t make ourselves stop judging or hating ourselves (or others)—that’s a case of thought trying to control thought. Instead, simply give attention to the bare experiencing of this moment (hearing, seeing, sensing) and to the presence-awareness being and beholding it all—and simply see those negative thoughts for the old, conditioned habit that they are. They refer to a phantom—an image in our imagination—not to the actual reality of either the One Self or any unique person. Allow such thoughts to pass through—don’t fight with them, don’t hate them, don’t judge them—just see them for what they are and allow them to dissolve in the light of awareness. What remains is love.
Thought convinces us that we are a separate self, lost and lacking, with problems to fix. The Heart (presence, awareness, unconditional love, GOD, Christ Consciousness, the Tao, intelligence-energy) knows that all is well, that everything is our Self, that nothing is separate and nothing is missing.
If we take that as some metaphysical philosophy or belief system that we need to figure out or some special experience we need to strive for and hope to someday attain, then it’s just dead weight. Love (real love) isn’t an idea. GOD (real God) isn’t a concept to believe or not believe in. Awareness isn’t some metaphysical idea to figure out and eventually understand. And what is being pointed to is not some exotic experience we might someday have. Awareness is right here, most intimate, closer than close, beholding and being everything. It is the common factor in every experience, the present-ness of Here / Now, the knowingness of being here, the aliveness of this very moment.
So if you find yourself apparently lost and confused, filled with anguish or despair, desperately searching for some breakthrough, is it possible to turn attention away from the thought-stream and tune into the listening stillness, the awaring presence, the pure energy of this very moment before thought starts labeling and comparing and judging and trying to figure it all out? In other words, simply BE. Listen to the birds, the traffic, the barking dog. Feel the sensations, the energy in the body. Be awake to the spacious openness of Here / Now, this limitless awaring presence that you always already are, the awareness in which everything appears (your body, your thoughts, your sensations, the apparent world, the 7 billion “other” people, the planets and galaxies, the microbes and subatomic particles, the brain, the nervous system)—it all appears Here / Now in this boundless, impersonal awareness that is ungraspable and unlocatable and yet undeniable. Dissolve into this radiant light that you are that shines everywhere, even in the midst of anguish and confusion. Don’t think about awareness and try to figure it out, simply BE it. Be awake to the spaciousness, the emptiness, the fullness, the light that you are.
There’s no “how” for how to do this. It’s something each of us has to discover for ourselves, much in the same way we have to discover for ourselves how to swim or ride a bicycle—no one can explain to anyone else how to do these things—we have to feel our way into it. But the biggest clue on offer in this case is that we’re already Here / Now. We’re already the awareness, the boundlessness, the wholeness, the unconditional love that we seek. How far do we need to travel, or what do we need to do, to reach the placeless place where we already are and from which we are inseparable? Here / Now is all there is.
There are many different ways of expressing nonduality, of inviting the simple opening to Here / Now, of waking us up from our habitual hypnotic entrancement in conceptual thought. I appreciate many different expressions, many different ways of coming Home to what is most true, most real, most alive. Ultimately, these varying expressions are all pointing to an unchartable territory that can be experienced, felt, realized, lived—but never formulated. My own way of expressing nonduality can be quite varied. I may seem to contradict myself on many occasions. But the contradictions are only at the level of words and concepts—what is being pointed to is not a concept or an idea.
I’ve noticed over the years that words such as “consciousness” and “awareness” are used differently by different people, and even by the same person in different moments—and that however they are used, they are only pointers to a wordless reality that no word can capture. Words have the inherent danger of apparently separating out and solidifying what is actually a seamless, fluid, ungraspable happening. Words are certainly useful in pointing out certain aspects of reality, but if we cling to them or imagine that the “things” they seem to create (including subtle things such as “mind” or “consciousness” or “awareness”) actually exist as discrete objects, we will be deluded by these words.
Eventually, all the maps must be left behind. If you try to figure out nonduality and awakening rationally, by thinking about it, it will continue to elude you. And it will seem as if all the different teachers on offer are saying completely contradictory things. Some of them say that the entire movie of waking life (including you and your whole spiritual journey) is all nothing but a dream-like illusion, while others appear to take the phenomenal manifestation (and spiritual practice) very seriously. Some insist that there is nothing to do other than exactly what is happening, while others offer some kind of apparent process, practice or method for waking up. Some seem to suggest that "you" have the power of choice, while others say there is no "you" and that everything is the result of infinite causes and conditions over which no one has any control whatsoever. Some say liberation is found in the realization of complete impermanence while others insist it comes with the recognition of That which never changes. Who has it right? What should you believe?
Don't BELIEVE anything! No words or concepts can capture reality. Every nondual book, every nondual talk is a kind of map—an attempt to describe or point to what is happening—and then (hopefully) to deconstruct the description, to erase the map, to leave the listener with NOTHING—nothing to grasp.
Ultimately, each of us must look and see for ourselves. As my teacher Toni Packer once told me, “Go all the way to the bottom and then put it in your own words.” What a powerful instruction! Eating the meal is what nourishes us, not reading different menus over and over again and arguing over which of them best describes the meal.
Don’t get stuck on different pointers—either clinging to and defending them, or rejecting them without ever really hearing them because they seem to conflict with some other map you’re attached to. Question and look and see for yourself. Always be ready to see something new and unexpected. Don’t land anywhere. Liberation is in groundlessness, not in clinging to some imaginary ground, however subtle or exalted it may seem. This openness or groundlessness is the heart of being awake and the nature of this awaring presence Here / Now—and being awake is always only NOW.
Use the maps, but then put them aside and BE here. Be here without a map, without a formulation, without knowing what this is (or isn't). Feel the openness, the spaciousness, the aliveness. Give your life to this openness. Let it have you completely.
Someone wrote to me saying it was “clear and obvious” that there is no self and no one in control of this happening, but that “the mind keeps wanting to jump on the carousel of seeking” in search of permanent bliss and greater happiness. The person said that this felt almost like an addiction, and he asked, “how does one get off of the carousel of seeking?”
My response: In one moment, it is clear and obvious, but then the mirage of a separate self re-appears along with the sense of dissatisfaction and longing. The imaginary problem is back—or it SEEMS to be. All that can be done when this happens is to see how this works, over and over again—for most of us, there is no dramatic finish-line moment in which the mirage permanently vanishes, never to return and never to seem believable ever again. But the more clearly this whole unfolding is seen and seen through as it happens, the more it loses its grip, its believability, its power to hypnotize, and the more it falls away.
Yes, seeking is very much like an addiction or a compulsion. It is a movement away from something that seems unbearable (the sense of separation, lack, dissatisfaction) and a search for something that we think will make us feel better. And of course, there is no such thing as round-the-clock ecstasy or perpetual bliss. By its very nature, experience is ever-changing and includes varying kinds of weather, not just sunshine and blue skies. But when we stop running away from dissatisfaction and instead turn to meet it, then something shifts. But we have to discover this possibility for ourselves.
Even after we have discovered it, the willingness to stop and be still and turn toward what we are fleeing isn’t always instantly available—sometimes the dissatisfaction and the addictive pull are too strong and we go with the seeking. Sometimes we are aware that this is happening, but the compulsion overtakes us anyway. So then, is it possible to simply pay attention to how it feels to seek? The more we are able to stay with these uncomfortable places, or with the seeking itself, the more easily these habit patterns dissolve. And when I speak of staying with them, I don’t mean staying lost in the story. I mean feeling them as pure energy, bare sensation—and also being aware of the awareness in which they appear. Being knowingly present as the unbound awaring presence that we are.
Gradually, over time, seeking falls away more and more. It may never be completely gone forever. It may show up again from time to time. And that’s okay. Consciousness is apparently vulnerable to the hypnotic power of its own creations. It happens. But it’s not personal. More and more, we realize that these happenings arise in the unbound awareness that is our True Nature, and that they don’t mean anything about “me”—that “me” is only an intermittent appearance, like a mirage.
And of course, it’s important to clarify the difference between exploration and seeking. There is no end to genuine exploration (inquiry, devotion, discovery), but seeking is something else—seeking is addictive in nature, escapist and result-oriented, focused on the future, avoiding the present. Like any addiction, seeking is alluring, but we quickly notice it is a form of suffering. Whereas genuine exploration feels like opening in ever-deeper and more subtle ways—it is enjoyable and has no motive, no end-gaining. It is an act of love—pure joy, pure play—like a child exploring the world or a lover exploring the beloved.
Responding to something I said about dissolving, someone asked, “How do I dissolve and step away from a negative belief / identity?”
This question, which is a thought, is predicated on the assumption of—and the identification as—a separate self who has a problem that needs to be fixed, something that must be gotten rid of or achieved—a self who apparently needs to DO something to make that happen. With the arising of that question, this whole mirage-world of self, time, separation and problem unfolds itself in the imagination. Can that be seen?
When the imaginary, mirage-like nature of the problem is SEEN clearly (not once-and-for-all, but NOW, whenever a thought like this arises), then there is no longer anything real to step away from. And whatever contracted energy or tension might remain in the body will dissolve by itself if it is given open welcoming attention and allowed to relax in its own time. And eventually, attention or no attention, everything changes. In fact, in reality, EVERYTHING is dissolving second-by-second into something entirely new.
Asking how to dissolve is like asking how to fall asleep at night, or how to float in water, or how to ride a bicycle, or how to relax—no one can explain to anyone else how to “do” these things, but it can be discovered. And meanwhile, it’s important to realize that contraction or tension is simply an appearance in (and of) Consciousness (or Unicity), like stormy or cloudy weather. It’s not personal and it doesn’t mean anything. Only from the perspective of the imaginary separate self who claims ownership and authorship does stormy weather seem to be a problem with personal meaning.
You cannot attain or lose what you already are—and thus, to seek your True Nature is like the wave searching for the ocean or imagining that it somehow has to dissolve out of its wave-ness or shed some of its frothiness in order to become the ocean. You are already 100% THAT. Rather than doing something to attain your True Nature (or working to get rid of some apparent obstacle), waking up is more about noticing what’s already fully present—waking up to this present instant, right here, right now, just as it is, prior to any story about it—THIS cup of steaming hot tea, THIS traffic sound, THIS bird cheep, THIS listening-awaring-presence, THIS undeniable beingness. And you can also begin to notice what you’re doing to pretend that you’re not already THIS. So you might notice that this very question of how to dissolve is itself a way of pretending that you are a small, solid, separate self who needs to dissolve. In fact, there is no-thing to dissolve—the “you” who seemingly needs to dissolve (i.e. the small, separate self) is only a mirage, and the real You (boundless awareness, vast emptiness) is already 100% Here / Now, and EVERY apparent form is always dissolving before it even forms. We never step into the same river twice, and we’re never the same bodymind twice.
This whole mental movie about someone on a journey who needs to dissolve or step away from some imaginary problem is an exciting drama that Consciousness has created, centering around that imaginary separate self. All of it appears Here / Now in this boundless awareness that you are, and all of it (every movie image, every thought, every sensation, every event, every kind of weather, the whole universe) is a momentary shape that Consciousness is taking, a movement of the Tao, a vibration or pulsation of this one undivided intelligence-energy that is all there is. There is nothing personal about anything that appears, and none of it has any real substance.
When we speak of dissolving (or allowing, or opening, or relaxing, or resting), it’s a pointer or an invitation to simply BE Here / Now, to dissolve into pure experiencing (seeing, hearing, sensing, awaring, being), like a moth to a flame. In other words, relax into the utter simplicity and immediacy of what is impossible to doubt or avoid: the undeniable experiencing of this present ever-changing happening prior to any labels or interpretations about it and the undeniable knowingness of being present and aware. THIS is always already 100% fully present.
Instead of thinking ABOUT all of this and trying to figure it out, simply BE this awaring presence and this present happening (and these are not two). Be THIS, just as it is. Give attention to what is beyond doubt. Be what you cannot not be, what you always already are. This is effortless, so if there is any sense of efforting to “do” this, that effort is something extra, predicated on some dualistic thought-belief. Of course, you can’t MAKE this belief or this efforting not happen, and both thinking and efforting are themselves simply wave-like movements (vibrations, pulsations) of the luminous no-thing-ness that is showing up as everything. But by SEEING (awaring) this thinking and efforting clearly for what it is (i.e., a way of pretending that you’re not already Here / Now), and by SEEING the belief on which it is predicated—the belief in a separate, encapsulated self who needs to attain or fix or get rid of something—and by not resisting this efforting, but rather by allowing it to be as it is, it will—like a clenched fist or a cramped muscle—relax and open naturally, on its own, in its own time. Open attention (and the light of awareness) is the great solvent, and ultimately there is nothing real to dissolve. It’s all about seeing through the imaginary problem and the phantom who seems to have it.
You don’t actually have to DO this allowing or this dissolving or this awaring presence or this present happening. Anytime you stop and check, it can be noticed that this awaring presence is already here, that Here / Now is already here, that this present happening is already here, and that everything already IS allowed to be just as it is (obviously, since it is as it is). The one who seemingly has to “do” all this is nothing but a kind of mirage composed of intermittent and ever-changing thoughts, sensations, memories and mental images. Don’t take that on as a belief, but observe and see for yourself. Everything (including the tress, the weather, the stars, the galaxies, the subatomic particles, and every single one of your impulses, urges, desires, fears, interests, thoughts, choices and actions) is happening by itself as one, undivided, seamless movement.
The intermittent activity that we might call selfing (seeking and resisting) is simply a momentary appearance like a bird flying past the window or a dog barking. There is no owner or author of this experience, and its occasional appearance doesn’t mean anything about “you,” for no such imaginary owner/author/self actually exists! Selfing is nothing personal—it is an activity of the whole universe, a kind of play (like hide-and-seek), the divine Lila. And the Real You, the one behind all the masks, is simply this unbound awaring presence, this infinite intelligence-energy, showing up as the whole universe. There is nothing outside of You, nothing that is “not you,” nothing that is other than You.
"How do I do this?" is a kind of postponement, a delaying tactic. It creates the mirage of a doer, the mirage of future time, the mirage of a problem that needs solving or dissolving—simply see the mirage as a mirage. See that this thought-question is a mirage chasing a mirage. Give up the search, and simply be awake Here / Now. Be what you always already are, what you cannot not be—this awaring presence and this present experiencing (One indivisible Whole without borders or seams).
DOUBT: A HELP OR A HINDRANCE?
Referring to the previous post, someone asked, “How do I tell ‘how do I do this?’ from a valuable inquiry or koan? How can I tell healthy skepticism or doubt from the kind that seems to defend my sense of being a separate self and that prevents me from letting go?”
Discernment comes from attention, from seeing clearly. For example, when the question “How do I do this?” pops up, what happens? Does it open the heartmind, or does it create a kind of tight, unsettled feeling? Does it reinforce the idea that there is a separate self and the belief that something is presently not quite right? Does it lead to more thinking, more speculating, more trying to figure it all out—or does it lead away from that? Is it helpful, or is it a form of suffering? By paying attention, we find out for ourselves what is a valuable inquiry and what is a form of wheel-spinning, self-torture, postponement, resistance or avoidance.
Obviously, it’s helpful to have a critical mind that can discern truth from illusion, question assumptions, doubt what politicians promise or what religions claim, separate fact from fiction, and so on. This kind of mind is at the heart of the scientific method and is vital to our survival and functioning in relative reality. And in Buddhism, doubt of an even more fundamental sort is an essential ingredient on the path to awakening—a deep plunge into the fundamental uncertainty and darkness of not knowing—not trying to paper this core uncertainty over with comforting beliefs or distract ourselves from it with various forms of intoxication, but actually going right into the very heart of our fundamental doubt. This kind of genuine, open-minded inquiry is a wonderful thing—exploring, questioning, wondering, being open to the unexpected, not getting stuck or fixated on any view—and in the search for Truth, not settling for beliefs or second-hand information. But as you’ve noticed, doubt and skepticism of a different kind can easily be a form of resistance, a way of holding on to the separate self and its limited views.
It’s an old habit-pattern that keeps firing up, seducing and entrancing us into more and more mental spinning and away from the kind of surrendering, allowing, opening or dissolving that is the only way through the gateless gate. This kind of skepticism and doubt is a way of saying “No” to life rather than “Yes,” a way of putting on the brakes, arguing with reality, closing the heart, and holding on tightly to the sense of separation. It creates and augments that “me against the world” feeling. If we’re paying attention, we can feel this when it happens. It hurts. It feels tight, contracted, agitated and alienated.
Simply by giving all of this open, loving, nonjudgmental attention, we can become more and more sensitive to the difference between genuine enlightening inquiry and that tired old “yes, but” mind that only serves to close us down. And when it’s the latter, in seeing it for what it is, it begins to lose its grip, it’s believability, and its ability to pull us in. More and more, we’re able to turn away from this useless kind of skepticism and let it go.
We often don’t want to let go—we’re afraid that if we do, we’ll be fooled or deceived or let down or wiped out in some way. The always-vulnerable separate self is endlessly trying to protect and defend itself. But if we pay attention, we’ll begin to notice that this separate self has no actual substance, that it is a kind of fiction or mirage, and we may also notice that there is a deep longing to let go, to dissolve, to surrender. And when that longing is stronger than the fear—which is a shift we can’t force or make happen—then surrendering happens naturally by itself. Meanwhile, simply SEEING the fear and the tightness, recognizing the thought-patterns that stir it up and keep it going, and experiencing it as pure non-conceptual energy and sensation in the body will eventually dissolve it—the light of awareness will erase the darkness. And remember, it’s all about NOW, not yesterday or tomorrow or later today or once-and-for-all.
This letting go or melting is not some exotic experience you’ve never had. We all know this experience in some form. To take a common example, you’re arguing with a loved one—holding tightly to your position, feeling righteous and threatened and angry and hurt and defensive and very much “me against them”—and then at some point, something breaks open—you begin to recognize that you’re not even entirely sure what you’re fighting about or what you’re defending, and your grip begins to relax and open, and next thing you know, you and your beloved are making up. There’s no “how” to this, no formula or recipe—it happens naturally. But the more we give open attention to this whole unfolding, and the more the light of awareness clarifies how we are holding on, the more the relaxing happens by itself. As the light erases the darkness, the sense of contraction melts or opens naturally into boundlessness and love (not forever after, but NOW).
And it’s always so important to remember that even in the midst of resistance and seeking, even in the midst of doubt and conflict and turbulent emotions, even in the midst of the thought-sense that “I” am an encapsulated separate self, even then, the True Self (boundless awareness, unicity) has not ever really been lost. ALL of these apparently “problematic” experiences are nothing other than the One Reality, your own Self—and all of it is a fleeting and ephemeral appearance, gone in an instant. The openness of boundless awareness includes and has space for everything, even contraction and resistance. Nothing is really a problem.
Response to a comment:
“Hoping it will dissolve now” is a great way to make sure it won’t dissolve. It’s a subtle form of resistance and seeking—resisting how it is, and seeking (or hoping for) something imagined to be better. Of course, we can’t will this kind of hopeful thinking away—that’s just more of the same—but it can be seen for what it is whenever it shows up.
Instead of hoping it will dissolve, maybe it’s possible to fully embrace and allow what’s actually here right now. And what’s actually here is not “this contraction and fear I'm into regularly,” because that is already a story. Before those labels, before the story that this is “the same old thing I experience regularly,” before the thought that “you” are experiencing “it,” before ALL of that, is something actually fresh and new that has never been here before that has changed already into something again fresh and new.
Even if it feels painful or unpleasant, can there be a willingness to experience this so-called fear or contraction forever, not hoping for something better? The only real forever, of course, is NOW. The eternal Present. Can there be a willingness to fully experience it Now, without hoping it will dissolve or turn into something better?
Here’s a beautiful quote from Toni Packer: “No matter what state dawns at this moment, can there be just that? Not a movement away, an escape into something that will provide what this state does not provide, or doesn't seem to provide: energy, zest, inspiration, joy, happiness, whatever. Just completely, unconditionally listening to what's here now, is that possible?”
IS THIS ALL THERE IS?
Someone writes to me and says: “It's interesting to see that what comes up is that ‘this is not enough' (what's here now). Are you saying that all there is, is what's here now and anything else is thinking and avoiding being present?”
“This is not enough” is a thought. Thinking is an aspect of what is showing up Here / Now, and there is nothing inherently wrong with thinking. But we can question thoughts such as this one, recognizing them as a form of resistance and suffering and not an objective or reliable report on reality. And it’s also important to recognize that even in the midst of obsessive thinking or a storm of difficult emotions, we can never really avoid being present, can we? We never actually leave Here / Now. This awaring presence or eternal Present is the ground in which and out of which all experiencing appears and disappears. It is the common factor in every different experience.
Yes, we can lapse from the kind of present moment mindfulness (“being aware” or “being here now”) that is often talked about in meditation circles, but even that apparent lapse occurs Here / Now as a happening in and of this awaring presence. Here / Now (boundless awareness, seamless unicity) doesn’t actually disappear. All that happens in such a “lapse” is that attention shifts from (for example) mindfully washing the dishes to being absorbed in a daydream, a memory or a thought-stream. The felt-SENSE of boundlessness or spaciousness may have vanished; the image on the movie screen may have changed from soapy dishes to an imagined beach in Hawaii or a remembered conversation; the storyline may now center around the imaginary self; and there may be a felt-sense of contraction and encapsulation—but Here / Now, the screen (or ground) of awareness, is still fully present, as it always is. This “screen” is blank in deep sleep and then filled with images in dreaming and waking life. The screen is seemingly hidden at times by our absorption in the images and plotline of a movie—although actually, we are always seeing the screen in every scene of the movie, but when the attention is on the movie-story, it SEEMS otherwise. And then sometimes, the screen itself (boundless awareness, unicity, presence) is deeply sensed and seems to shine clearly. But the images in the movie never actually hide or stain or damage the screen. The fire in the movie never really burns the screen. Nothing real has ever actually been lost or gained no matter what images of loss or gain appear on the screen. And no felt-sense is permanent—all sensations, feelings and experiences come and go, including the felt-sense of presence as a particular experience that can be contrasted with other different experiences. So trying to hold on tightly to the felt-sense of presence is unnecessary and actually counter-productive.
Does that mean that it doesn’t matter if we daydream our lives away or get endlessly caught up in the kinds of emotion-thoughts that bring suffering to ourselves and others? It doesn’t matter in any absolute sense—because ALL of it is the One Reality, and nothing is ever really damaged or lost. But relatively speaking, that shift from caught-up-ness in the self-centered dream to open, spacious, unbound, awaring presence is the difference between samsara and nirvana, heaven and hell, joy and suffering. Waking up won’t free us from pain or painful circumstances, but it will change how we relate to them. It will also change how we relate to so-called others and the world as well. So in that sense, it absolutely does matter!
But remember, the biggest single key is that waking up can only happen NOW. And there is no “me” who wakes up—that “me” who seems to be either deluded or awakened is a dream-character, a part of the movie, as is any event that we can describe after the fact. So this shiftless-shift is not about arriving at some foreign destination or acquiring some new attainment, but rather, it is simply a shift of attention from the storyline of “this is not enough” to the bare actually of Here / Now, just as it is—which was already fully present, but was simply being overlooked or ignored.
Without the story, is anything lacking Here / Now? Without thought, is there a problem?
There’s nothing wrong with practices such as mindfulness or “being here now”—they have their place and can be very illuminating and helpful—and certainly, being fully present Here / Now in that way is a much brighter and happier place to be than lost in the self-centered dream. But one potential pitfall in the deliberate practice of mindfulness or “being here now” is that it can also reinforce the sense of being a limited separate self who is “doing” mindfulness, and then all the evaluations, judgments and comparisons that typically follow—comparing myself to others, evaluating how well I’m doing, feeling that I’m alternately “getting it” and then “losing it,” and trying desperately to stop losing it. Trying to “be mindful” or “aware” or “be here now” in that limited sense “all the time” is a nightmare. I don’t know anyone who can do that. But if you simply stop and check, you’ll find that you’re always already Here / Now, that awareness is always already present, and that in fact, Here / Now is your most fundamental reality.
So if we’re already Here / Now, and if there is really nothing to attain, then is there a path or no path at all? Is there some kind of shift or awakening or enlightenment that happens, or is there no such thing? Is this waking up a choice or is it a choiceless happening? If we land on either side of these conceptual binary divides, we fall into dualism. This is why sages speak of the pathless path, the effortless effort, the choiceless choice, or the gateless gate as a way of expressing the apparent paradox of a present moment journey from Here to Here that goes nowhere at all while at the same time ending suffering by revealing nirvana in the midst of samsara. We can’t say there is a path, nor can we say there isn’t one. We can’t say waking up is a choice, but we can’t say there is no choice. We can’t say there is a gate to pass through, but we can’t deny the transformation either. The ultimate discovery of this pathless path from Here to Here is that what we are longing for, what we are seeking, is always already 100% present, right here, right now. And nothing is ever really in the way. We have never been other than THIS, and THIS is all there is.
And what is “THIS”? The question doesn’t really make any sense. This IS as it IS, not something else. Any word or explanation we put on it isn’t the living reality itself. The living reality itself isn’t any-thing at all. It is the Unborn, the uncreated, the undying Absolute—the inconceivable no-thing-ness of everything—this open aware present that is all-inclusive, without an opposite, depending on nothing. Just this. Ask what it is, or try to pin it down and grasp it with the mind, and immediately, you miss the mark. And yet, paradoxically, the mark is never missed.
Form is always changing. It never actually forms into anything solid. All forms are like waves or whirlpools. Look deeply at any form (a tree, a skyscraper, a garbage heap, a person, a sensation, a thought, an emotion, an ant, a virus, a galaxy, a quark) and you will find the entire universe. As the great Zen Master Dogen said, “Although the light is wide and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in dewdrops on the grass, or even in one drop of water...Each reflection, however long or short its duration, manifests the vastness of the dewdrop, and realizes the limitlessness of the moonlight in the sky.” Or as Kabir puts it, “Drop falling in the ocean—everyone knows. Ocean absorbed in the drop—a rare one knows.”
Yes, this is all there is.
Response to a comment:
The apparent dilemmas and paradoxes that are so abundant in nondual teachings only exist when we try to language or conceptualize the living reality of our immediate actual experiencing. We miss the mark if we land (or fixate) on either side of these conceptual divides: path or no path, choice or no choice, effort or effortless, self or no self.
I find that different teachings are like medicine—you take the medicine to cure the original dis-ease, and then you get side effects from the medicine, so you take an antidote to get rid of the side effects, and then you need an antidote for the antidote, and so on ad infinitum. Every different way of presenting nonduality has different strengths and weaknesses and different ways it can be misunderstood—so each way in a sense serves as an antidote to the misunderstandings brought on by the others. If we try to grasp One Correct Way, we miss the aliveness of this ever-changing reality.
There are many forms of practice—some tell you to bring attention to the boundless presence-awareness that is here before, during and after all appearances. Other teachings tell you to bring attention to present experiencing, just as it is (not the interpretation or the explanation or the labels or the judgments or the storylines, but the bare actuality itself—the sound of the birds and the traffic, the sensations of breathing, and so on). Still other teachers may give you a koan to live with, or a visualization to play with. And still others will offer no practice at all, insisting that there is no doer and nothing to do other than exactly what is happening. On the surface, these may all seem like very different approaches, but if you go all the way with any of them, you’ll end up in the same placeless place (Here / Now), awake to the fluidity, the vibrancy, the aliveness, the boundlessness of what is.
But practice is a subtle thing. As soon as it becomes a goal-oriented task trying to improve the phantom self, it misses the mark—although in the absolute sense (as I said in the post), the mark is never missed. Another apparent paradox! But it’s only a paradox when we THINK about it and try to put it into language. In our actual everyday experience, reality is obviously not one, not two.
Everything returns to the One.
To what does the One return?
This is an old Zen koan. Please don’t answer it. Instead, live with it. It may strip away all the answers, all the hand-rails, all the landing places, all the Big Ideas, all notions of permanence or impermanence, all the ways of avoiding or overlooking the utter simplicity and immediacy of this-here-now, just as it is.
THE MYTHOLOGY OF QUICK FIXES AND PERPETUAL HAPPINESS
I had an email recently from someone who said he had read and watched a lot of videos about nonduality. He felt he understood it intellectually, but said he wanted to find a technique or method that would help him experience it fully. He’d had glimpses, he said, but he wondered, “How can you make it more powerful? How do you get it to last longer? How does one learn to stay in that good state of mind all day?” He seemed to be equating liberation with staying in a pleasant or extraordinary state of mind all the time. He said he had an addiction to junk food and overeating and a fear of poverty. He wanted to learn how to give up his addictions, and he wanted to be able to get into samadhi quickly and then stay in it permanently. And he wanted to learn to “trust that the universe or something greater than me will take care of me so I don’t have to worry about poverty.” I think most of us, if we’re honest, can relate to these questions and can find within ourselves our own versions of them. They’re very human, these desires and fears, these questions and delusions—and they tend to show up again and again in ever more subtle forms.
I wrote back suggesting to this person that there is no such thing as a perpetual happy state of mind or a quick fix to end all suffering. I told him that being awake doesn’t automatically supply us with food or guarantee that we won’t die homeless and hungry, but that it does offer a different way of seeing and being with life’s inevitable uncertainties and problems.
It all boils down to being awake Here / Now. This sounds simple, and it is simple, but due to our ability to think in complex ways, this utter simplicity tends to elude us. Hence, there are spiritual paths and practices, and I encouraged this person to find a teacher and a practice that resonated with him and that might help him to fully realize the simple truth. I even went so far as to recommend some kind of basic awareness meditation such as Zen or Vipassana.
Hearing this, I can imagine that some of you might be wondering why I recommended a meditation practice such as Zen or Vipassana, or why I suggested working with a teacher, or why I didn’t just tell him the absolute truth, that he is already Buddha, that nothing is missing, that this is it, that there is no one to do anything and nothing to attain that is not Here / Now, and that there is no choice because everything is a choiceless happening. But it seemed to me that he had already heard all of that, and that it all made a certain amount of sense to him intellectually, but that still, he was suffering and searching. As Nisargadatta famously said, “Your begging bowl may be of pure gold, but as long as you do not know it, you are a pauper.” We are already Buddha (already whole, already enlightened), but we don’t believe it. We haven’t realized it (or made it real). We still believe that “this isn’t it.”
In my experience, this realization (that we are already Buddha) is a lifelong present moment discovery that we make again and again (i.e., now) in ever deeper and ever more subtle ways. We think that we are looking for something outside of us, that we are practicing in order to attain or accomplish something, or in order to improve or fix ourselves. And yet ultimately, all of this is delusion, and we come to realize that “this is it,” and to see exactly what that means in ever more subtle ways.
And while it can be very helpful to think and read books about nonduality, merely thinking or reading about all this doesn’t liberate us. This person who emailed me obviously had a lot of deluded ideas—as we all do—about enlightenment and liberation and happiness. I didn’t want to pile more ideas on top of those he already had. I wanted to encourage him to stop, look and listen…to pay attention right now…to see through these ideas….to be awake in this moment…and to find a support system for this on-going (and often challenging) path of insight, discovery and realization that runs so counter to our habitual ways of chasing pleasure and avoiding pain. Maybe he’ll find this and maybe he won’t. In the end, we all find exactly what we need in each moment.
This pathless path through the gateless gate is full of apparent paradoxes. We are already what we seek, yet there is an unfolding process of apparent discovery, transformation and liberation. There is no choice, yet there is absolute responsibility and freedom Here / Now. There is no self, and yet I am Joan and you are someone else. Everything is a boundless and seamless whole, and yet apples are different from oranges. Reality is not one, not two. These various statements only seem contradictory or paradoxical when we try to conceptualize this living reality—when we try to abstract and freeze and map the ever-changing territory.
These paradoxes and contradictions dissolve when we attend to the bare actuality of this-here-now, just as it is. And as I told this man who emailed me, this is incredibly simple, but also incredibly elusive and at times incredibly challenging, which is why it can be so helpful to have a practice, a teacher and a community (and those can all take many different forms). I use the word “practice” here not in the sense of methodical, goal-oriented training, and not in the sense of practicing for a future performance, but in the sense of practicing medicine or practicing an art form. Practice is truly a pathless path to Here / Now, utterly useless and at the same time priceless.
Practice might simply be coming back (right now) to the bare actuality of this moment, before the labels, judgments and stories about it. It might be setting aside dedicated time every day to sit quietly doing nothing other than simply being present and aware—enjoying the sounds of wind and rain and traffic, and also discovering firsthand the nature of reality and how the mind works and how suffering is created and how to be liberated on the spot. It might involve practicing with a group or taking classes or listening to talks or reading books. It might be very strict and highly structured, or it might be very open and spontaneous and fluid. It might involve ritual or it might be totally bare-bones. It can take many forms. But it is a lifelong present moment endeavor, not a quick or permanent fix, and it doesn’t result in a pain-free, mistake-free life of perpetual bliss. It is simply the full acceptance and appreciation of this moment, just as it is.
AM I FULFILLING MY LIFE’S PURPOSE? HAVE I DONE ENOUGH WITH MY LIFE?
I have to assume that the purpose of our life (if there is any such thing) is for it to be just exactly as it is! Life is unfolding by itself in the only way possible. It’s not “my life” or “your life.” It is the One Life that has no beginning and no end. The recognition of this is our natural state (which is nothing special). But then thought pops up and tells us things are not quite right—we’re not good enough. The natural state (liberation) is simply the absence (or the transparency—the seeing through, or the waking up from) this kind of thought-trance. So, can we notice how this entrancement happens?
Everything is totally fine—we are simply being present—watching the clouds, planting bulbs, washing the dishes, balancing our checkbook, doing our job at work, having a moment of friendly conversation with a stranger in the check-out line at the supermarket, riding the bus, driving the car, caring for the children, walking the dog, whatever it is—and all is well (there is no self, no other, no ideas of purpose or purposelessness)—until thought pops up and begins evaluating, judging, comparing and telling the story that this is not enough, we are not enough, others are doing so much more, etc. The story seems like an objective report on reality, and we are instantly hypnotized by its message of inadequacy and unworthiness.
Luckily, it is possible to become aware of this whole process, to see how it works, and to discover that there is the possibility (always only NOW) of withdrawing attention from the mental movie and re-turning it to the immediacy of what is. I call that shift being liberated on the spot. Not once-and-for-all, but NOW.
We tend to think “others” are doing so much better than “I” am. From the outside, others seem to have a more successful career, a bigger income, a nicer house, better children, more courage, more generosity, a better temperament, whatever it is. I’m always amused by the fact that sometimes people imagine that my life is one of fulfillment and success—I’ve written 4 books, they tell me, I hold meetings, I give talks—obviously, I’m a success. Or so it might seem if you see me from the outside and only under the best of circumstances. But sometimes the thought arises here that I've wasted my life, that I've done nothing at all, that I am a complete failure. Sometimes consciousness gets sucked into this story for a moment (whether that "moment" is a split-second or ten minutes or several hours), and the whole body sings along with disturbing neurochemistry and queasy sensations—a storm of emotional weather that seems to confirm the story. But luckily, this never lasts! Sooner or later, there is a waking up that happens by itself—or the phone rings, or the dog needs to go out, or something attracts the attention—and this whole mirage of "me who has failed" vanishes into thin air. How real was it?
Maybe someday this mirage of emotion-thought will never show up ever again. Or maybe it will show up off and on for the duration of this bodymind—who knows? Who cares?
The problem and the one who seemingly has it are both always imaginary. And the appearance of this mirage is not personal—it is a conditioned happening of the whole universe. As Zen Master Dogen so beautifully put it centuries ago, "No creature ever comes short of its own completeness. Wherever it stands, it does not fail to cover the ground."
Response to a comment:
The one who wants to see through it in order to improve itself is itself the illusion. Simply explore directly what you are most deeply referring to when you say “I” – you may find that at the bottom-line, you are referring to the undeniable sense of being present and aware. Does this awaring presence have any limits, any location? Is it encapsulated inside the body or the brain, or do the body and the brain appear in it?
Within this boundless awaring presence, many “things” appear—thoughts, emotions, sensations, people, dogs, trees—but as you explore all these, you find nothing that lasts. It is an ever-changing display. When you directly investigate what you call “the body,” you find ever-changing sensations, visual images, mental images, ideas. Can you find anyone who is authoring your thoughts or initiating your choices and your actions, or on close inspection, is it all happening by itself? You begin to see that “the self” is composed of ever-changing thoughts, images, memories, sensations.
But a functional sense of self and identity with the bodymind remains and shows up intermittently as needed. You know which name to respond to, which mouth to put food in, how to cut a carrot without cutting your fingers—you have appropriate social and psychological boundaries—and so on. That’s functional. But the more you look, the more you don’t find any solid or separate “me” at the center of all this.
Look to see who is aware of all this right now—do you find anybody back there (or in there)? Not finding anything is the finding. And at the same time, you find EVERYTHING, just as it is.
It may still seem like you don’t get it, and you may notice yourself striving to “see through the illusion of self.” But is there a “you” who is doing all that, or is it simply happening by itself uncontrollably? If you watch closely, you might notice how that very search creates the mirage of the searcher. It’s a mental image. In reality, you are the awareness being and beholding all the images.
AWARE PRESENCE: What Is It?
I recently received this question: “I have heard a teacher of non duality describe our true nature as 'aware presence'. Their reasoning seems to follow that our body mind is an intermittent thought pattern that comes and goes and the aware presence is a constant in which thoughts appear. I struggle to understand the idea of 'aware presence' being a constant. During deep sleep or whilst under general anesthetic the aware presence disappears. When we awake and the thought patterns appear again our brains recognise a discontinuity and rationalise a passing of time. I struggle to comprehend this 'aware presence' or 'pure consciousness' that remains as a constant. I can only see that forms are intermittent, objects are separated out from the whole via thoughts and labeling. I can also see that everything is constantly changing. This 'aware presence' people attempt to describe seems like a void; an area beyond thought and description. Changing patterns seems to appear out of this void, but I can't seem to describe anything more than that. How would you describe this so called aware presence?”
Here is my response:
Aware presence is the very nature of Here / Now, isn’t it? Being present and aware (being Here / Now and the knowingness of being Here / Now) is beyond doubt, and yet we can’t actually grasp awareness (or here-ness, or now-ness, or presence) or pin it down because it is not a “thing” with boundaries, edges or qualities. Nor can we actually find any boundary between this awaring presence and present experiencing (what we call chairs and tables, dogs and cats and people, emotions and thoughts and sensations, colors and shapes and sounds, and so on). Nothing is ever experienced outside of conscious awareness. Every experience (i.e., every form, including the brain) is an appearance in (and of) consciousness. And it is our actual experience that, while the forms this appearance takes are ever-changing, the awaring presence (the Here-ness, or Now-ness, or thusness, or present-ness) remains. Consciousness (or awareness, or presence) is the common factor in every different experience, the Here / Now in which everything happens, the groundless ground without which nothing else can exist.
When it is said that awareness is still present under anesthesia and in deep sleep (and even after death), what is being pointed to is the undivided wholeness from which nothing stands apart. In those apparent gaps (deep sleep, anesthesia, before birth, after death), there is an absence of content or memory, like the dark side of the moon. Even the first bare sense of aware presence disappears and nothing perceivable or conceivable remains. And so we presume, after the fact, that awareness was absent. We experience the moment of slipping away and the moment of being back, and as you say, we assume the passage of time in between (after all, our tooth has been extracted, our surgery has been performed, the hands on the clock show the passage of several hours, and everyone else in the room confirms that we were unconscious or asleep). We have no memories of what happened in that gap, and yet something apparently did happen. Others may have been aware of it as it happened, but we were not. And yet, we might wonder, is our awareness actually separate from the awareness of the so-called others, or is it all one awareness, an awareness with infinite points of view and infinite movies playing simultaneously, an awareness in which this whole movie-like appearance (me falling asleep and waking up, the others, my tooth or my gall bladder that was removed, the operating room in which it happened, and the whole universe) is showing up?
I think we all have the deep intuition that birth and death are movements, like inhaling and exhaling, arising in a seamless wholeness that is without beginning or end. Waves arise and subside, but the ocean does not come or go. What appears and disappears are the many forms (the many waves) this undivided vastness takes, but the vastness itself is ever-present. At it’s depth, the ocean is utterly still and dark, while on the surface, waves arise and subside—sometimes churning strongly, sometimes placid and barely moving at all. And so it is with the One Mind—this primordial awareness that is ever-changing and ever-present, sometimes still and dark, sometimes churning wildly, sometimes a blank screen and sometimes an action-packed movie.
Mainstream science tends to assume that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of matter, a creation of the brain, and certainly the brain has something to do with consciousness. But is it the source of consciousness? No brain has ever appeared outside of consciousness, and what we call “the brain” is a patterning of energy, like a wave on the ocean—a form that has evolved out of other forms, a form that appears and disappears in consciousness, a waving movement of the ocean. But what is the ocean itself? What is the nature of Here / Now? In our actual direct experience, isn’t the very nature of Here / Now an aware presence that we could also call Mind or consciousness? We tend to overlook our direct experience and what is most obvious in favor of the conceptual picture we have learned about brains and matter and time and space and me and you and so on. We come to see what we think is here—a world of separate fragments, rather than what we’re actually seeing.
Of course, it is so important to remember that the word “awareness” is only a pointer. And the pointer is to the no-thing-ness or groundlessness of everything, not to some Giant Thing that we can observe and grasp and worship and hang onto for dear life. That’s the tendency of the mind, to want to turn no-thing-ness into Some-Thing. But counter-intuitively, as it turns out, it is precisely no-thing-ness or groundlessness or non-grasping that is the freest, most secure, most joyful way to be.
And, of course, no-thing-ness is not nothing. At least not in the way we often think about nothing. No-thing-ness means there are no separate or persisting “things” in the way we commonly assume—that everything (my “self” included) is actually an undivided happening inseparable from everything else. “Awareness” is not a thing that stands apart from everything else. It is the no-thing-ness of everything, the seamlessness of everything, the knowingness by which everything is known and the very beingness of everything. We might say it is the seeing that cannot be seen, the Ultimate Subject or awaring presence that is prior to everything perceivable and conceivable, that which remains when everything else has vanished. But this “Ultimate Subject” (Here / Now) is not a substance or an object apart from everything. It is not “out there” or “in here” somewhere. It is everywhere and nowhere. No-thing-ness is unborn and it cannot die—it has no beginning and no end. It doesn’t come into existence from somewhere else, nor does it ever go out of existence and into some other place. There is no other place. Everything is Here / Now.
The mind wants to figure all this out, get a grip, pin it down, understand it all. But that very effort only leads to more confusion, more apparent paradoxes, more uncertainty. That effort is predicated on the illusory divide between “me” (the imaginary phantom who wants to figure this out) and “it” (the imaginary thing I am trying to figure out). This is a truly hopeless situation, a mirage chasing a mirage in a mental movie. This tail-chase is as hopeless as trying to pin down smoke or get a grip on water or mist.
But if we relax the mind and stop trying to grasp everything with thoughts and concepts and formulations, what happens? There is simply this-here-now, just as it is.
Words and thoughts divide everything up, draw lines around things and put labels on them, categorize everything, and then figure out how all the imaginary pieces that have just been created relate to each other (cause and effect and so on). This is all very useful on a practical level for everyday functioning. And on the pathless path from Here to Here, it is helpful to have words like “awareness” and “presence” and all the words I’ve used to write this post. These words and concepts help us to notice different aspects of our experience and to see through our previously unseen assumptions. But at some point, after the words have served their purpose, we must let them go and simply be awake to the living reality itself. That doesn’t mean we don’t use words anymore, but we see their limitations and their hypnotic power to confuse, so we’re less likely to mistake the maps for the actual territory, or try to set up camp in the map, or try to nourish ourselves by eating the menu. We turn our attention from the menu to the meal itself, and in simply eating without thinking, there is no division between the food and that which eats. There is just one whole happening. Without the words, the confusion goes away. We don’t need to figure this all out. And truly, we can’t figure it out. All our words and concepts and maps are abstract approximations, provisional at best, not the living truth itself (although of course in a larger sense, EVERYTHING is the living truth—mapping, thinking and languaging included—there is nothing else).
Liberation is much more about seeing through delusion than it is about finding some “Truth” that we can formulate and grasp and put in a nice tidy package and carry around with us forever after like a security blanket. Liberation is letting the security blankets go, free-falling into no-thing-ness, being just this moment, not knowing what this is, being open, being no-thing at all (and being everything, just as it is).
And while this may sound daunting, in reality, there’s nothing to it. We can still use maps and menus, we can still enjoy movies and poems and Zen texts and great novels, we can still appreciate science. The tables and chairs don’t all dissolve into some psychedelic mist—we still know our name, we still remember the story of our life—we don’t mistake ourselves for our dog or our computer—we have appropriate and functional social and psychological boundaries. Life carries on as it always has. We’re just not grasping and trying to figure it all out or have some particular special experience. And when grasping happens, as it tends to from time to time, it is noticed and released. That simple. And if it doesn’t release right away, then we experience grasping—a movement of the universe, a waving of consciousness, nothing personal—just the weather of this moment, exactly as it is—nothing more, nothing less, Very, very simple. Awareness accepts it all. That is the nature of awareness, to be open, to accept everything—and this complete acceptance is always already the case. Everything always is allowed to be just as it is.
And then just SEE how the thinking mind rushes back in to complicate and confuse and create imaginary problems—problems like which comes first, the chicken or the egg, mind or matter? But, hey, what are we even talking about!? Which comes first, snarwapple or flippinpoppin? When we put it that way, we see the absurdity!
Awareness is a word like snarwapple or flippinpoppin. Of course, what the word awareness points to is not a word or a concept or a thing. What it points to is the undeniable awaring presence right here, right now, reading these words, being and beholding this present happening—our most fundamental and undeniable reality. There is nothing conceptual about it. But look for it as if to see it as an object, or try to grasp it, and there’s no-thing there! Just vast openness and EVERYTHING!
Whenever we notice that the mind is tangled up in trying to “get it,” or when we notice we’re trying to see something in particular or have some special experience or insight, or we’re trying to get rid of something (like the self), is it possible to simply relax and listen to the traffic…hear the birds…see the sunlight on the leaves as they flutter in the wind…feel the breathing…taste the coffee…? In other words, simply BE the awaring presence that we actually always already are, and BE this undivided present experiencing. Without thought, there is nothing to get and nothing lacking. There is no confusion and no problem and no self and no worry about birth or death.
And as this undivided wholeness, we can still call an ambulance if our partner suddenly keels over, and we can still think critically about the presidential election and express our opinion, and we can still write Facebook posts, and we can still go to work and do our job, and we can still have preferences and goals and ideas, and we can still feel compassion when we see people suffering or in pain—but there is also a bigger context in which all of this is happening.
There is a knowingness that ALL of this is one whole undivided happening that cannot be other than exactly how it is—a knowingness that although countless forms are continuously being born and dying, the ocean is neither diminished nor increased. Here / Now is untouched even if the whole world blows up. What we truly are is never born and never dies. Boundlessness, unicity, primordial awareness, GOD, intelligence-energy, beingness or whatever we want to call it cannot be destroyed. That doesn’t mean it can’t feel pain. It can! It does! The pain is a momentary shape that the ocean of being is taking.
Realizing that bigger picture (not just intellectually, but in a deeply felt, embodied way) doesn’t mean we don’t feel pain—in fact, we may become even more sensitive, not only to our own pain but to that of so-called others as well, recognizing there is no real separation. But that realization of the bigger picture reduces or eliminates the added pain of feeling separate from the pain—thinking and feeling that we are being attacked by something outside of us that we cannot control, feeling threatened by non-existence, defending ourselves against the onslaught and vulnerability of life, resisting and fighting against what is. When that illusory separation and sense of encapsulation falls away (not once-and-for-all, but Here / Now), then instead of resisting and fighting the pain, we are completely open to it, fully allowing it to be. We are no longer identified as a separate self that is being attacked. We know and feel ourselves as boundless awareness—the default state, the natural state, the stateless state—the wholeness of being. And the very nature of awareness (the very nature of Here / Now) is that it allows everything to be as it is. As awareness, this acceptance is our nature.
This radical shift from resistance to complete acceptance, from the illusion of encapsulation and separation (being only a wave, trying desperately to survive as that wave) to the felt-sense of boundlessness (being the whole ocean) is liberation—not in some big bang, once-and-for-all, dramatic finish-line, but Here / Now. The illusion may come back—it probably will—but it is only ever a momentary shape that the ocean is taking. It’s not personal. It’s not really a problem. The ocean doesn’t negate or deny the wave—it includes it—but in a bigger context that recognizes the wave as an ever-changing movement of the ocean, inseparable from all the other waves.
And out of that total acceptance, which might also be called unconditional love, intelligent and appropriate action arises naturally. So this acceptance doesn’t mean we can’t take an aspirin, get palliative care, change a flat tire, leave an abusive marriage, seek a remedy for social injustice, or do whatever we are moved to do—all of this is the natural response-ability of life. But we do all of that in a different way—it comes from a different place. And that difference is something we must each discover for ourselves. And it is rarely a one-time discovery. Usually, it’s a discovery we make again and again, always Here / Now. And it’s not an intellectual discovery, it’s an experiential one. We come upon it by giving nonjudgmental attention to Here / Now and by opening the heart.
What exactly do I mean when I talk about Here / Now? Am I talking about this particular place (New York as opposed to Chicago), or this particular time (morning as opposed to afternoon), or this particular experience that is arising right now (this bird song, this yellow school bus driving past, the aroma of coffee, these presently arising bodily sensations)? And when I speak of Here / Now being all there is, am I denying the reality of there and then?
Here / Now is the Present Space (the dimensionless point, the boundlessness) in which space and time both appear. You never leave this Eternal Present. You are always Here. It is always Now. Here / Now is actually what you are, what ‘I’ truly (most essentially) IS—this unbound awaring presence.
Whatever time of day it is, whatever season, whatever age you are, it is always Now. Memories of past and thoughts about future only happen Now. Now is timeless, eternal, ever-present. Relative time appears within it.
Likewise, you are always Here in this placeless place of presence or immediacy, right here, on the spot. Whatever location shows up, it always shows up Here, where you always are. Here is ever-present. You are always Here. Here is what ‘I’ IS. You can never leave Here, just as you can never leave Now.
Yes, relatively speaking, we can talk about now and then, past and future, here and there, Chicago and New York, morning and evening, babyhood and old age…and we can say that my meeting with so-and-so will happen in 10 minutes, or I was born 30 years ago, or I am flying to London from San Francisco next summer, or you are 500 miles away from me, or I am sitting over here and the TV is over there on the other side of the room, and so on. But all of these relative times and distances can only ever show up Here / Now, in this eternal, timeless, placeless, Present. Next summer, when I leave San Francisco, it will happen Here / Now. The airplane flight will occur Here / Now. When I arrive in London, it will be Here / Now. Planning the trip happens Here / Now, and remembering it years later will happen Here / Now. Every moment of my apparent journey from birth to death occurs Here / Now.
Relatively speaking, I am Joan, you are Tom…it is 2 o’clock…you are many miles away from me. But this whole appearance of Tom and Joan and this place and that place and the miles in between ALL shows up Here / Now. You are Here. I am Here. The astronauts in the space station circling the earth are Here. The people in Syria are Here. At 3 o’clock, it will still be Now. When later tonight happens, it will happen Now. Next winter will happen Now, just as last winter happened Now.
We never leave Here / Now. Seasons and locations come and go, but Here / Now is ever-present. Nothing ever appears outside of Here / Now. Here / Now is what we are—the boundless awaring presence in which time and space and the whole universe and all the ever-changing experiences appear.
You are always right Here, on this very spot. And it is always Now, this very moment. Here is the only true infinity, just as Now is the only true eternity.
God has been described as an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. God is another word for Here / Now.
Liberating Shifts and the Recognition of What is Beyond All Shifts:
There is a palpable difference between being hypnotized by and caught up in the drama of emotion-thought and the thought-sense of being a separate, encapsulated self and a knowingness of oneself as open, boundless presence-awareness—the whole show and no-thing at all. This shift from encapsulation and separation to boundlessness, and from entrancement in thought-dreams to presence, is a very important discovery, because it reveals where the gateless gate to liberation resides—and how it is possible to be liberated on the spot, not forever-after, but Here / Now.
But another equally important and arguably even more liberating discovery is that Here / Now (awareness, unicity, emptiness, the Self) depends on nothing. Like the movie screen, it is equally present in every scene of the movie, whether it is a scene with a felt-sense of open spacious presence or a scene of feeling like a separate self caught-up in the drama and suffering of emotion-thought. Here / Now is the common factor in every different experience. It is fully present in spite of what appears, not because of what appears. It is never the result of a cause. Just as no wave is any wetter or any closer to the ocean than any other wave, in the same way, no experience is any more or less an expression of Here / Now. Whether it is a big, stormy, violent wave or a small, calm, gentle wave, it is all the One Ocean waving. What we truly are (what everything truly is), the wholeness of being, is ever-present. It is unborn, undying, and never actually damaged or broken (just as the screen is never burned by the fire in the movie).
When this is realized, the thought-sense of “me” going back and forth between “getting it” and “losing it,” and “me” trying unsuccessfully to stay permanently in a state of open spacious presence and never get upset or feel like a separate person ever again—this whole movement of the mind drops away. All the different shifts and experiences are seen to be momentary, impersonal appearances, passing scenes in the movie, all ultimately as meaningless as cloud formations or waves on the ocean. And thus, we are no longer trying desperately to “be here now” all the time, or trying to get rid of the self, or trying to be constantly identified as awareness and not as “me,” because we recognize that Here / Now is impossible to leave, that the self is only a mirage, and that the mirage is nothing personal. It is not “my” mirage—that very notion is part of the mirage.
Ownership, authorship and separation are the great illusions. And when that is clear, then we’re no longer taking the movie of waking life personally, and we’re no longer trying desperately to improve the character in the movie. Yes, we may still go to the gym or see a therapist in order to function better or feel better, but we’re no longer doing it in the same way, as if perfecting “me” is the goal of life and the essence of enlightenment, or as if we hope to achieve some sort of permanent state of health and happiness. We no longer believe that “I” am in control, that “I” am authoring “my” life, that personal perfection is what matters, or that one-sided coins (like perpetual happiness) are possible.
Some teachings emphasize the shift from apparent separation and encapsulation to open spacious unbound awareness—being Here / Now. Other teachings emphasize that there is no way not to be Here / Now, that everything is Consciousness, that Consciousness (the Self, the One Reality, Unicity, primordial awareness, Here / Now, the Holy Reality, boundlessness) is all there is—that the separate self is never anything but a mirage-like appearance belonging to no one. In my expression of nonduality, I emphasize both of these realizations at different times because I find they are both very liberating and important aspects of this awakening journey, this journey from Here to Here.
But let’s be careful about all these loaded words like enlightenment and liberation and awakening. These words, misunderstood, can create so much suffering in the form absurd expectations and unattainable goals. People chase enlightenment, imagining a state of continuous bliss or personal perfection, and are then perpetually disappointed when they fail to achieve this fantasy. People compare themselves to others—am I as present as so-and-so, is my self as absent as so-and-so’s self, am I in a state of open-hearted, loving clarity as often as so-and-so is, and so on—as if liberation were something to be measured by weather reports and personal behavior.
But just as Seattle and Los Angeles have different weather conditions, each bodymind has different weather conditions. These conditions are the result of an infinite mix of nature and nurture—genetics, neurochemistry, childhood experiences, lifelong conditioning, trauma, brain injuries and other injuries, sleep apnea and the resulting oxygen deprivation to the brain and disrupted REM sleep, exposure to toxins, environmental conditions, explosions in distant galaxies, and ultimately, the whole universe. This moment is just as it is because the whole universe is just as it is. Everything is the cause and the effect of everything else.
In some bodyminds, for whatever reasons, the neurological sensation of being a separate person with free will may be stronger than it is in other bodyminds. For some, this sensation of agency and separation may be easily seen through, while for others, it may be an incredibly convincing illusion. Some people who have never heard of nonduality or Buddhism or Advaita or awakening or enlightenment are just naturally good-natured, easy-going, open-hearted, generous, loving people. And we’ve had plenty of Advaita sages, great gurus, Zen Masters, revered teachers and the like who have been hot-tempered, alcoholic, sexually abusive, cigarette smoking, irresponsible, and just about everything else you can imagine. Great teachers have suffered from depression and anxiety, some have even died by suicide. The state of the bodymind is like the weather in Seattle and Los Angeles—it is a result of infinite causes and conditions. Enlightenment may indeed bring about changes, but it doesn’t cure sleep apnea, change your genetic structure, wipe out a brain tumor, or erase all your conditioning. It won’t turn rainy Seattle into sunny Los Angeles. Nisargadatta Maharaj and Ramana Maharshi were both great sages, but their personalities could not have been more different.
And there are many, many things besides enlightenment that can have an impact on the weather of the bodymind—psychotherapy, Feldenkrais training, using a CPAP machine for sleep apnea, taking psychiatric medications, changing your diet, changing your gender, getting enough exercise, living in a healthy and nurturing environment, having meaningful and enjoyable work, falling in love, and on and on. EVERYTHING affects the ever-changing state of the bodymind one way or another. Enlightenment definitely reduces suffering. But don’t assume that it will therefore result in a calm, blissful person with no human flaws and no human problems. It may, but there’s a very good chance it won’t. Finding out that your guru or your teacher is a flawed human being just like you is actually an important part of the teaching. Then you’re no longer fixated on the pointing finger rather than on the moon to which it is pointing. And you’re no longer trying to become an enlightened person.
Because, of course, there is really no such thing. The whole notion of enlightened people is itself a kind of delusion, a kind of oxymoron. Enlightenment is just a word for the realization that “the person” is an event as fluid and inseparable from everything else as a wave on the ocean. It is the recognition that Here / Now is all there is, that this vastness is all-inclusive, and that there is no one apart from unicity who needs to attain or realize or embody it. Everything is already it. There is nothing else.
Yes, relatively speaking, we can certainly distinguish between enlightenment and delusion, and we can certainly say that Hitler was not enlightened and that Ramana Maharshi and Buddha were. And for practical purposes, if you’re checking out a teacher, it’s helpful to know whether that teacher is generally clear or totally confused, mostly awake or seriously deluded—but no human being is clear and awake all the time. Here / Now is ever-present, yes, and a teacher may sometimes speak as that wholeness of being and say something like, “I am always present,” but that doesn’t mean the teacher as a human being is always in a state of clear and spacious presence or that they are never lost in thought or overwhelmed by some emotional reaction. The “I” they are referring to as ever-present is Here / Now, boundless awareness, unicity—not Ramana or Nisargadatta or Jane Doe the person. Sometimes a teacher speaks as unicity, as the One Self, and sometimes they speak as the individual person—and when the listener mixes those up, that can lead to a great deal of serious confusion and misunderstanding.
So what to do? Well, ultimately, you (as the separate wave) can only do what the ocean moves you to do in this moment. You have no independent will and no separate existence. You as the wave cannot “decide” to head off in the other direction from all the other waves. You can only go with the flow. The flow is what you ARE. And it’s the same for you as a person. You can only think the thought that is presently arising. You can only want what the universe moves you to want. You can only be exactly as you are. Your every urge, your every interest, your every preference, your every intention, your every choice, your every decision, your every aspiration is the movement of life itself.
And as a movement of life itself, someone may tell you that it’s helpful to “be here now”—to come to your senses, to bring your attention to the sensory experiencing of this moment, to see how thought hypnotizes and confuses you—to wake up to the vastness that Here / Now IS, that you are. Or, as a movement of life itself, someone may tell you that there is nothing to do, that everything is already the Holy Reality, that this is it, that it could not be otherwise. Your response to either of these messages is also the movement of life itself and could not be other than exactly how it is in this moment.
Wherever you land and try to set up camp, life will eventually pull the rug out from under you. Liberation is not about arriving at some destination or having The Final Answer. The teaching that wakes you up in one moment may put you to sleep in the next. There is literally nothing to grasp. This is it—just this, right here, right now, just as it is. Ever-present, ever-changing, always complete. Nothing is lacking, nothing is left out, nothing is in excess, nothing stands apart. Nothing needs to be held onto or gotten rid of or transformed into something else. The mind will argue and protest. It will insist that this-here-now, as it is, can’t be enough. Thought will say, “yes, but…” and “what if…” and “this can’t be it” and “what’s next?” These thoughts are simply the ocean playing—waving, doing what it does. All thoughts are simply bursts of energy belonging to no one, as are the pictures they paint, the stories they tell, and the worlds they construct out of no-thing at all.
ONE WEEK UNTIL THE ELECTION: Relative and Absolute Views
Many terrible things (from a human perspective) have happened throughout history, and often these are the ground from which very good things (from a human perspective) emerge. On the level of form, life will always be a mix of darkness and light—the two are inseparable, and eventually, one way or another, life on earth will be wiped out and the sun will explode. And this is not bad news—it is what makes life so alive! No form survives or even exists in any persisting way—form is nothing but ever-changing flux—and yet at the same time, there is this ever-present, boundless, seamless wholeness that includes it all. This nondual wholeness has been called Here / Now, God, the Tao, Awareness, Consciousness, Unicity, the Self, emptiness, the Absolute, Unconditional Love and many other names. This wholeness is undamaged even if the sun explodes and life on earth is wiped out. And in the deepest sense, we don’t really know how this wholeness works or what “should” happen next.
We can discover in our direct experience that what we truly are (the “I” to which we all refer, prior to name and form and the illusion of separation and encapsulation) is unborn and undying—and that, as Nisargadatta so beautifully put it, “The heart of things is at peace.” Feeling into, glimpsing, and living from this bigger, more subtle, perspective liberates us from despair and terror in the face of climate change, terrorism and war, oppressive political and economic systems, racism and sexism, the possibility of a Trump presidency, and other things of that nature. In the deepest and most absolute sense, all is well no matter what happens, and whatever happens, it could not—in this moment—be otherwise. Ultimately, as the old familiar children’s song so wisely says, life is but a dream.
But recognizing the dream-like nature of life (the ephemeral, fluid, nondual nature of all appearances, the way all of it is Mind-stuff or Consciousness), that recognition doesn’t mean the pain doesn’t hurt. And that realization of absolute truth doesn’t prevent us from caring about and functioning within everyday relative reality in whatever ways life moves us.
And thus, I have been moved on several occasions to speak out on what I feel is a particularly important election in the USA. Most recently, I did this on September 22nd in a post urging progressives to vote for Hillary Clinton (even though she isn’t a perfect progressive), and urging everyone (even those identified as Republicans) to not vote for Donald Trump. In the comment section to that post, I put links to a number of articles and videos including The Nation Magazine on “Why Progressives Should Vote for Hillary,” Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson on “Why I’m Voting for Hillary Clinton,” Eve Ensler on the rape culture promoted by Trump, and Michael Moore making the case for supporting Hillary. If you’re on the fence about how to vote, I hope you’ll take time to listen to some of these voices and consider what we have to say.
I know politics is a contentious subject, one that many in the spiritual world prefer to avoid, but if you care about women’s rights and LGBT rights, if you think Black Lives Matter, if you care about the environment and the earth, if you value education and healthcare and the rights of working people, if you favor criminal justice and immigration reform—in short, if you have progressive values—then please, vote for Hillary Clinton and Democratic candidates for Congress (so she can actually get something done if elected).
I’m well-aware of the many flaws of the political, economic and electoral system in the US, and the many weaknesses of the Democratic Party (and Hillary) from a progressive standpoint—I speak as someone who spent years in the radical anti-imperialist left, someone who voted once for Ralph Nader, someone who supported Bernie Sanders, and someone who would love to see a much more progressive direction in this country. But if you can’t see any real difference between Trump and Hillary, or if you can’t see anything positive about Hillary, or if you think Jill Stein is actually going to win the election (or that she could actually implement her progressive ideas if she were elected), I hope you’ll look more deeply before voting and consider the consequences more carefully.
Like it or not, Hillary is the only candidate who can actually defeat Trump. And while she’s not a perfect progressive, I’ve watched her fight for healthcare and women’s rights and disability rights and so on over the years—and I’ve watched her evolve to more progressive positions on LGBT issues, environmental issues, and many other issues. So please, as progressives, let’s don’t waste our votes on someone who can’t win, and let’s don’t sit home on election day maintaining our progressive purity when the direction of the Supreme Court for decades (and everything it will decide) and so much more is at stake. Every vote matters.
Being the same age as Hillary and having seen what she’s been through over the years—the sexism she has faced, the right-wing smear campaigns, the losses and humiliations that would have destroyed many of us—I actually have a lot of compassion and respect for her, and so I endorse her not just as the lesser evil, but as someone who I think will in many ways be a truly excellent president. I see her as a moderate-progressive who is well-seasoned in how government works, who knows how to actually get things done in a contentious environment. Yes, she’ll do things I don’t like, as she has in the past, and yes, she’ll fail to do things I’d like her to do (such as standing up strongly for Standing Rock). She’s not perfect. But I believe she’ll do many things I do like. And many of the attacks on her and on the Clinton Foundation (the email “scandal,” blaming her for Benghazi, implying that she is fundamentally untrustworthy and dishonest and should be in jail, etc.) are simply bogus right-wing, trumped up attacks designed to confuse voters. And while she’s not perfect from a progressive perspective, she’s sure a lot better than Donald Trump!
Politicians have always been inclined to bend the truth and spin things to their advantage, but never before have I seen a candidate telling such enormous and vicious lies about their opponent as Trump has done. The overt racism and sexism of this campaign has been unusually toxic, and never before in my memory has a major party candidate so openly advocated and inflamed violence. Trump seems to me to be a deeply wounded, insecure, unstable, thin-skinned, sociopathic man, someone who I believe should never possess the nuclear codes.
If progressives don’t show up and vote, or if too many of us cast a protest vote for Jill Stein, Trump could still win—especially after this recent “October surprise” from the FBI director, and who knows what other bombshells might still emerge—so please let’s don’t be complacent. Let’s put Hillary in the White House and a Democratic majority in the Senate.
Of course, electing Hillary (or anyone else) to the presidency (or the Congress) isn’t enough—we also need on-going grassroots organizing and strong political movements putting pressure on elected officials, as well as a real transformation in consciousness—the latter being the usual focus of this FB page and the thing I feel is most critical for real change because it addresses the root problem—the false sense of separation, encapsulation and dualistic thinking. But once again, even though my primary work is spiritual in nature, I am speaking out about this election because I think the choice this year is so stark and so important.
Let’s send a resounding “No” to Donald Trump and the racism and sexism on which his campaign has been based—let’s elect our first woman president to follow our first Black president—and then let’s continue to work for progressive change in whatever ways life moves us to work, whether that is through meditation and awakening or social and political activism or creative work or whatever it is.
Finally, let me say that I respect people's right to a different opinion—I know people, people I respect, who disagree with me on this, either because they’re planning on casting a protest vote for Jill Stein or because they support deregulation, small government, fiscal conservatism and other libertarian (or Republican) ideas—and I believe that diversity of opinion and viewpoint is part of what makes a democracy and a society healthy. But embracing diversity does not mean that all ideas are equally correct—that we should, for example, give equal media time to those who favor slavery and those who oppose it, or those who support genocide and those who oppose it. Some things are just wrong, at least from a relative point of view. The Trump campaign has been built on racism, sexism, xenophobia, demagoguery, and neo-fascism. It denies the reality of climate change and promises to make that whole situation much worse. And while Trump once suggested banning Muslims from entering the country, he promises to fight for “religious liberty,” which (as we know) is code for opposing LGBT equality. So on a very personal level, I hope this will not be the direction America chooses.
If you do disagree with me on all this, you certainly don’t need to “like” this post. But please use your own FB pages to express support for third party candidates (or for Trump), or to tear down Hillary if that’s what you want to do. There is a place for constructive dialog, but I do not wish to host such dialog or debate here on my page—I don’t have time right now to engage in it fully—nor do I wish to have my page used to promote other candidates or to tear down Hillary. If people do post comments of that nature on this page, they will be deleted, so please don’t waste your time doing that. I simply feel moved to make one last pitch for Hillary and for defeating Trump.
And in closing, I want to circle back to where I began this post. I want to encourage all of us to remember that whoever wins this election and whatever happens next, there will always be a mix of light and dark in this manifestation, and that at the Heart of everything, being and beholding it all, is an indestructible light, a light that includes the darkness, a radiance and an unconditional love that knows that ultimately, all is well. This is not some abstract idea or some hopeful, pie-in-the-sky belief, but a living reality that we can all discover. Fear and hatred, bitterness and despair do not serve us in any way, while unconditional love and gratitude have tremendous power to transform and enlighten. May we all find the light in the darkness and the peace at the center of every disturbance. And whatever happens a week from today (and beyond), may we know that it is the Only Possible. Thy will be done. Que sera, sera.
What I Learned from Seeing the Wild Ride of Emotion-Thought During the World Series:
First, you need to know that I’m a long-time Chicago Cubs fan, as was my mother. As a child, my mother and I went to Cubs games at Wrigley Field. The Cubs last won the World Series when Mom was a year old, 108 years ago, and the last time they even made it into the World Series was 1945, before I was born. Ever since, in spite of many great players like Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Sammy Sosa, Greg Maddux, Ryne Sandburg, and so many others throughout the decades, the Cubs have basically been a symbol of hopelessness and defeat for as long as I can remember—the loveable losers of Wrigley Field, cursed by the goat. I remember when Herb Caen once wrote in his column in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Life is a losing affair. That’s why we have cemeteries and Wrigley Field.”
I was in Chicago taking care of Mom the first time she broke a hip when the Cubs almost made it to the World Series in the 80’s—my mother was in her early 80’s by then. And I was living in Chicago when the Cubs almost made it into the World Series in 2003—my mother was in her 90’s by then. My mother, the eternal optimist, died without getting to see our first Black president, or the Cubs winning the World Series, or (hopefully) the election of our first woman president—my mother once told Hillary to run for the presidency—my mother loved Hillary. So anyway, given this long history, you can imagine my joy when my beloved Cubbies actually made it to the World Series this year for the first time in my life. I was joyous for my mother as well. I felt like she was right here with me, cheering them on.
But after a few World Series games, it looked as if the Cubs were going down to defeat (“as usual,” the mind added). They lost one game in Cleveland, then they lost their first two home games, and by then Cleveland was only one game away from winning the Series. It seemed like the old familiar story. The loveable losers. I tuned into Game 5 at Wrigley expecting the worst, but the Cubs rallied and won the 3rd home game. And back to Cleveland they went. Could they win three in a row, which they’d need to do to win the Series? My rational mind, conditioned by years of defeat and near-misses for the Cubs, said no—that was impossible. Notice how easily we fall into defeatist thinking here—and how this applies not just to baseball, but to every area of our lives. The players and the manager all had to rise above this kind of thinking. They had to believe it was possible.
Expecting the worst, I tuned in for Game 6. And whoa! They won, and by a lot. And so then it was Game 7. I was full of energy and hope. This might actually happen! The Cubs started off with a home run and soon had a comfortable lead. Wow! Things looked very promising. I was on the edge of my seat, nervous but now very optimistic and energized. Then the manager pulled the starting pitcher, who I thought was doing well. And things started going south. Soon the game was tied, the big lead was lost. And I watched as my thoughts turned from hope to defeat. Old storylines erupted: the Cubs always find a way to lose….the ship is sinking…it always does…we’re going to lose. Again, notice how the emotional weather shifts, how emotion-thought colors everything, how predictive storylines begin rolling, how they hypnotize us—and how this relates to everything in our lives, not just baseball. Energy leaks out of us and a sense of hopelessness rolls in. We expect to lose. And as so many have noted, when we expect to lose, we often do. Self-fulfilling prophecies and all that, or as the great Olympic track and field star Carl Lewis once said, “If you don’t have confidence, you’ll always find a way not to win.”
Of course, the players go through similar challenges with the roller-coaster ride of emotion-thought, one moment buoyed up by the game going well, the next moment sinking into hopelessness and defeatism as it takes a turn for the worse. You can see it on their faces, and on the faces of the fans. One of the keys to being a good athlete in a competitive sport is not getting hypnotized by the story and the mood of defeat, being able to keep going even when it looks like all is lost, not losing faith, having that confidence of which Carl Lewis spoke.
Back at Game 7 of the World Series, it started to rain. The tarps came out. Apparently one of the Cubs players called the team together during the rain-delay and rallied them. When they came back out, they were fired up. And soon enough, they won! The Cubs had won the World Series!
I had seen my mind swing from hopeful thinking and an energized and positive mood to defeatist thinking and a de-energized mood, and then back again to energy and hope.
Interestingly enough, I was watching Chris Hayes (also a big Cubs fan) last night on MSNBC, and he described a similar learning curve for himself. He was in a bar watching the game, and he almost left when the Cubs started losing. He called an Uber and was outside the bar ready to go. But then his father apparently called him out on giving up and reminded him of Albert Camus’s essay on Sisyphus, and how the struggle is what matters, not the result. Chris came back in. He closed his show last night with this story. It was a slightly different way of realizing and expressing the same thing I saw so clearly in my own reactions during that final game.
This is a big life lesson, isn’t it? One we get again and again, it seems. I remember how I felt when Al Gore and then John Kerry were defeated by George Bush. I felt awful. I felt doom was descending. If Trump wins on Tuesday, and I hope that won’t happen, but if it does, there will be a strong pull in many of us toward despair, hopelessness, anger, fear, cynicism, bitterness, doomsday thinking, whatever it might be. If that happens, can we be aware of this pull? Can we question whether we need to go down this dark hole? Can we remember the Radiant Light that is always shining, the Radiant Light that we are? And if Hillary wins, as I hope she does, there will be plenty of other opportunities to see and work with the roller coaster of emotion-thought—on every level of our lives from personal relationships, to work, to baseball, to national and global events—what happens when we pick up the story of defeat? What happens when we expect to lose? What happens when we think we need to win to be happy? Where is happiness actually found—in the outcome or in the struggle, in the destination or in the journey (aka this, Here / Now)?
Also, so interesting to see the layers of identity, history and meaning that are contained in a baseball team—and of course in so many other things in our lives. The Cubs in some way embody my mother, my childhood, the city of Chicago, all my own struggles with being (at times) a loser, and so much more. Likewise, Trump and Hillary each have many associations, different for each of us—many layers of identity, history and meaning that are triggered or woven into the mix.
World Series baseball and presidential elections offer a great chance to notice how the mind works…to watch the powerful waves of emotion-thought and the storylines and beliefs that pop up and suck us in…to see how we do our suffering…and perhaps to discover the gateless gate and the ever-present possibility of being liberated on the spot. That possibility is always present, right here, right now—whether our team has won or lost, whether the boulder is being pushed up the hill or rolling back down.
And remember, if the Cubs can win the World Series, anything is possible! Never give up. Even the curse of the goat can be broken.
THE KEY TO ENDING SUFFERING AND BEING LIBERATED ON THE SPOT
If we truly want to end suffering and be liberated on the spot, at a certain point, like Jesus on the cross, we must move from our self-centered drama and the seductive storyline of “Why have you forsaken me?” to the open surrender of “Thy will be done.” That shift is the key to the resurrection and the light, metaphorically speaking. Holding on to anger, to resentment, to bitterness, to being right, to despair or self-pity, or to needing any particular outcome—that is suffering. (And if anyone had real justifications for holding onto stories of abandonment or mistreatment, Jesus certainly did!).
The key to being liberated on the spot is two-fold. First, it involves a shift of attention—a shift out of entanglement in and identification with the thought-stream—and into open awareness or presence—a shift from thinking to sensing and awaring. And secondly, it involves a surrender or opening of the whole bodymind, a dissolving of the felt-sense of separation, encapsulation and duality, a melting into the spacious immediacy of undivided, boundless awareness, a felt-realization that everything is seamless, undivided, luminous and inseparable. And let me stress, this is actually the natural state that is already present, although it may be clouded over and unnoticed, but I’m not pointing here to some exotic psychedelic experience that comes and goes. Rather, this is a noticing and a realization of what doesn't come and go, what is ever-present regardless of the experience that is arising.
When I speak of shifting from thinking to awaring, I’m not saying that all thinking must end. Functional and creative thinking will continue intermittently as needed, and even a certain degree of harmless mental gum chewing may happen at times without causing any real problem. What we’re waking up from or shifting out of is the ceaseless mental noise and the kind of useless, habitual, obsessive, compulsive, me-centered thinking that gives rise to and perpetuates suffering: I’ve ruined my life, you’ve ruined my life, I can’t do anything right, you can’t do anything right, the world is going to hell, I wish I could be happy, I need another drink, I should stop smoking, what if, yes but, if only, maybe someday, I had it, I lost it…and on and on. These thoughts are painful and destructive. They may also be pleasurable in the kinds of ways that any addiction is initially pleasurable, but ultimately, they are painful and destructive. They don’t serve us.
We can’t force ourselves not to think these thoughts. That’s just more thinking—thoughts battling with thoughts (as in, “I need a cigarette” battling with “I should stop smoking” – both are addictive thoughts that create and sustain the sense of “me” at the center of this drama – and that “me” is the fundamental addiction and the root illusion).
So instead of doing battle with thoughts and trying to suppress or control them, instead, we simply need to SEE these thought-patterns, to be aware of them as they show up. Awareness is the great solvent. The more clearly these thoughts are seen as thoughts, and the more clearly we realize that the true “I” is not the thought-stream or the mirage-like thinker (the separate little me who seems to be at the center of the story authoring the thoughts, but who is itself just another thought)—the more clearly that is realized, the less power these thoughts have to hypnotize us. They lose their believability.
So what I’m pointing to here is not thinking about thoughts or analyzing them, but simply awaring them—seeing them for what they are, being aware of the thought-stream and not entranced by the story thought is telling. Awareness doesn’t fight with thoughts or resist them, but it allows the attention to gently and naturally shift out of the abstract thought-realm and into the aliveness of sensory experiencing: hearing, seeing, smelling, touching, tasting. If we are awash in anxiety or depression, what happens if we stop and simply listen openly to the traffic sounds and the bird songs…if we notice all the colors and shapes and the beauty of the light… if we feel into the body as pure sensation and energy...if we feel this open, spacious, awaring presence that is being and beholding it all, this awaring presence that is unbound and unlimited, this presence that we are?
Surrendering is an opening of the whole bodymind, a dissolving of the solidity of the bodymind, a letting go into boundlessness. That doesn’t mean we lose all sense of individuality—we still have a functional identification as a particular bodymind in the play of life, we still have appropriate social and psychological boundaries and a unique personality, and so on. We don’t walk in front of buses or forget our name or become invisible. But all of that is appearing (intermittently, as needed) in a larger context—the open space of awareness. It is recognized that the true “I” to which we all refer is ultimately this unbound awareness that is being and beholding everything. In other words, we are not limited to the bodymind, and the bodymind is not really a separate, solid, autonomous “thing.” In fact, there is no real boundary between “awareness” and “the body.” The words seem to divide what is actually seamless and whole. So we don’t need to deny the body or the person or relative reality, but all of that is appearing in a much larger context, and all of that is really very ephemeral and fluid and ungraspable.
There are many other words for surrender: dissolving, opening, relaxing, softening, melting, letting go, resting, allowing, welcoming, not-grasping, stopping. What matters is not the word or some idea of this, but discovering this for oneself experientially. No one can do this surrender for us, and no one can tell us exactly how to do it. It’s like riding a bicycle or swimming. It can’t really be explained. Someone can help us get to the threshold—and they can maybe offer a few helpful pointers—but ultimately, how to ride or swim or surrender is a discovery we each have to make for ourself.
Once we’ve discovered this shift, it’s just a matter of doing it again and again, or more accurately, doing it now. And of course, the word “doing” is misleading because it suggests something too forceful, whereas surrendering is almost more of a not-doing. It’s more like we stop doing something that we have been doing—a kind of tightening or grasping or seeking relaxes, and there is a letting go, an opening—allowing everything to be as it is, not resisting anything and not trying to get anything. It’s like falling asleep—you can’t make it happen, but there are things you can do or not do that will help to allow sleep to happen. And here, instead of falling asleep, we’re falling awake. But again, the words can only point to what must be felt into and discovered experientially firsthand by each of us.
Is surrender a choice? I can’t say yes and I can’t say no. If we think we can “do” surrender on command, as an act of personal will, we will be greatly frustrated and disappointed—and subject to guilt, shame and blame. If, on the other hand, we cling to the belief that we can’t do it, that there is no choice, that we can only wait to see what happens, then we will be foolishly disempowering and ignoring the power and the absolute response-ability that is right here—awake and aware—being and beholding everything—and we are not other than that. So is it possible—right now—not to get stuck on either side of a conceptual divide that isn’t really there in direct experiencing? In other words, what happens if we don’t cling to an ideology, a belief or a formulation (e.g., that there is freedom and choice, or that there is no freedom and no choice)? What happens if we let go of all these descriptions, ideas and beliefs? What if we let go of everything that can be doubted? What happens if we simply stay with the living reality itself, right here, right now, just as it is?
That’s the great discovery. We discover, or consciousness discovers, how to end the trance of suffering, how to be liberated on the spot—not forever after, but HERE / NOW.
It’s relatively easy to make this shift in a quiet, pleasant setting…on a meditation retreat or in nature. It’s more challenging when we’re in physical or emotional pain, when we feel anxious or depressed, when we’re arguing with a loved one, when we’re in a war zone (literally or metaphorically), when we’re sick or under stress, when our buttons are being pushed, when the world isn’t going the way we think it should. And sometimes this shift doesn’t seem to happen right away. Sometimes the power of old habits wins out for awhile. We get lost in anger, depression, resentment, self-pity, self-righteousness, worry or whatever it is, and we overeat or light up or watch too much TV or get into an argument or whatever we do. It happens. And yet at some point, we wake up. The habitual movement ends. And then the challenge is to focus on right now, not on the story of how “I just failed again.” Because these apparent failures are not personal—they are movements of the whole universe. So can we love ourselves and the whole world in all our beautiful imperfection?
That unconditional love (or awareness) is big enough to include everything. Awareness is actually always awake, always allowing everything to be as it is. It never rejects or hates anything. And it is never really harmed or destroyed by anything that appears to happen in the dream-like movie of waking life. All the apparent darkness and all the apparent getting lost is always happening (or appearing) in this bigger, vaster context. It is really nothing other than that. To realize this is to be free from suffering. But pain is an unavoidable part of life. As I’ve said before, being nailed to a cross is going to hurt no matter how awake you are.
Being awake isn’t about ignoring or dismissing relative reality, and it’s not a protective shield against feeling pain or heartbreak. But it’s also quite different from being swept up in reactive emotion-thought, hypnotized by beliefs and storylines, and stuck in endlessly self-perpetuating wars (on any level). Being awake is a vulnerable, sensitive, open-hearted aliveness. Life presents us with endless opportunities to wake up, to let go, to open, to dissolve—to be liberated on the spot. We may find that this opening is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and to the whole world. It is the end of separation, the end of conflict. We may discover that love is infinitely more powerful than hate, that awareness is more healing than all our ideas, and that nothing is ever how we think it is.
I watched Hillary's beautiful and moving concession speech this morning, crying through most of it. She was gracious, resilient, optimistic, vulnerable but strong on what had to be the most painful and disappointing morning of her life—she acknowledged the pain, but she demonstrated how to come through it not only through her words, but through her very being. It was Hillary at her best, the Hillary I've always loved and respected (in spite of my serious differences with her on any number of issues). Obama followed suit from the White House—equally gracious. Even Trump was gracious last night in his short victory speech. I saw something in Donald's face last night I'd never seen before—a certain gentleness, love, humility, openness…something.
Don't get me wrong—I'm not naive about what is almost certainly coming from a Trump administration with Republican domination of both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court—and I'm deeply saddened by this outcome, which to my eyes will be a huge step backward, a step that will bring tremendous suffering to many people and to the planet. And I'm well aware that the gracious, charming, "presidential" Donald is perhaps even more dangerous than the loud-mouthed bully who was overtly sexist and racist. Someone who worked with him in the past said he is a great salesman…and I think he's proven that. So his ability to con large swaths of the ignorant public may continue. So yes, this is a dark day for America.
But nevertheless, I saw a light in Donald last night I hadn't seen before, and it's a light that's in everyone, and I agree with Marianne Williamson, who posted something on her FB page last night (see below) that was sent to me by a friend, that it's important to support that light—in him and in ourselves and in everyone—and not get caught up in anger, bitterness, and "leaking energy," as Marianne Williamson put it, but instead, continue working for progressive change in whatever ways we are moved to do, with dignity and love and grace. (And to be clear, supporting the light in Donald doesn't mean supporting his policies or actions if they are racist, sexist, xenophobic, or otherwise ignorant and harmful).
One thing I've learned from growing older is that change isn't a straight line. We take several steps forward, and then we go backwards. We lean one way, and then the other. But over time, often with backlashes and setbacks along the way, things do change. Perhaps this turn to the dark side in America will wake up a progressive movement like nothing else before. In any case, I'm grateful for the perspective afforded by age and the bigger context of nonduality.
It looks like Hillary, like Al Gore before her, will actually win the popular vote even though she lost the electoral college and thus the presidency. So this was not a landslide for Trump. But he won, and for all of us who wanted a different outcome, this is an opportunity, as all apparent upsets and obstacles are, to see our attachments, to question our beliefs, to open our hearts, and to find the light in the darkness and nurture the light.
SEEING DIFFERENT RESPONSES TO THE ELECTION AS ONE WHOLE TAPESTRY:
Someone cleverly linked 9/11 and 11/9 as two days that changed America. And as with 9/11, I’ve noticed that there are many different responses to 11/9, in myself and in others, sometimes clashing responses. I feel that many different responses to the election are equally healthy and valid and needed. I do think it’s important to find the light in every situation and in every person, to nurture the light, to give others the benefit of the doubt and to be open to things not going the way we think they will—to recognize that we really, truly don’t know what will happen next. I think it’s important to see that nothing is entirely black-and-white, that we all have good and evil within us—and not to get caught up in blaming and shaming others, reinforcing divisions and fueling more animosity and misunderstanding. I think it’s important to listen openly to others who see things differently—something at which I often fail—and to recognize that people can and do change. And at the same time, I think standing up to racism and sexism and all forms of bigotry and injustice is crucial. Openness and compassion does not mean rolling over and letting the Trump agenda go forward unopposed.
I think recognizing the absolute truth that all is well is very important—that is the ultimate truth, and that is more often than not the focus of this FB page. But at the same time, I don’t advocate getting stuck in the absolute, hiding out in the absolute, or being dissociated from human feelings. That has never been my idea of awakening or enlightenment. I feel there’s a place for grief and anger and fear, and that acknowledging and feeling our pain and heartbreak is important—not painting it over with a smiley face or doing some kind of spiritual bypass by rushing for the light and ignoring the darkness. And certainly ignoring the seriousness of what is happening is not the way—ignorance is not really bliss, or not for long anyway. But on the other hand, wallowing in the pain or sinking into despair or cynicism or bitterness is not helpful. Fear can be an intelligent alert, as it is designed to be, or it can be a source of useless chronic anxiety in which we scare ourselves over and over again with future scenarios that may or may not ever actually happen. Anger can be the healing fire that energizes action, hopefully channeled in ways that are constructive, but it can also lead to shooting ourselves in the foot and making a bad situation even worse. So it is a delicate dance and each of us will be moved to dance it in slightly different ways, with different emphasis.
I notice that some people are calling for Democrats to behave as the Republicans have been behaving—obstruct everything Trump tries to do, impeach him, refuse to acknowledge him as our president, and so on. That’s what the Republicans decided to do when Obama was first elected, before he even took office—oppose everything he did and make him a failed president—that was their stated goal. And it’s what they threatened to do if Hillary was elected—refuse to approve any of her Supreme Court nominees, start impeachment proceedings immediately, and so on. Some of Trump’s supporters were even threatening civil war and assassination if she won, and Trump seemed to encourage this at times. There is a big part of me that totally wants the Democrats to do exactly what the Republicans did—block everything. But that doesn’t really feel to me like the way beyond the deep divides in our country, and in the world. I think we need to see more deeply than that and behave more openly. Hate tends to generate hate, and love tends to generate love. Yes, it’s important to stand up against all forms of injustice and oppression, but let’s wait and see what Trump actually does before we automatically oppose it.
Bernie Sanders issued a statement after the election saying he would work with Trump "to the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country," but he said that he would oppose Trump "to the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies." That seems like a very appropriate response.
Bernie also said: "Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media. People are tired of working longer hours for lower wages, of seeing decent paying jobs go to China and other low-wage countries, of billionaires not paying any federal income taxes and of not being able to afford a college education for their kids—all while the very rich become much richer." I think that nails what many Trump supporters were upset about— along with ignorance and misinformation—they just wanted things to change and they fell for a great salesman and con artist. But it’s very important to recognize the pain that motivated them or we’ll never be able to reach these people with a more wholesome vision and possibility. We won’t win them over by hating them, belittling them, shaming them, or calling them stupid and evil. At the same time, it’s also crucial not to ignore the reality that racism, sexism and xenophobia were strongly in the mix of how Trump has come to power—and the fact that many people who were not overtly motivated by racism or sexism were nonetheless perfectly willing to overlook all the racism and sexism of Trump’s campaign and vote for him anyway is very troubling.
But it’s heartening and important to remember that Hillary actually won the popular vote—more Americans voted for her than for Trump—but because of our crazy and outdated electoral college system, he wins the presidency. There’s a petition circulating, which I signed, asking the electoral college to vote for her since that was actually the will of the people. I have no idea if that’s possible, but it seemed like one way to protest Trump, remind people that Hillary actually won the election and that Trump doesn't have any kind of mandate for his agenda, and call attention to the outdated electoral college system. It probably won't work, but maybe it's worth a try.
In any case, pain, messiness and upheaval are part of life. Conflict, tension, disturbance and disagreement are all part of life, as are setbacks and backlashes. If we’re trying to get to a place where none of that exists, we might as well shoot ourselves in the head.
An old college friend posted a quote from my first book, Bare-Bones Meditation: Waking Up from the Story of My Life, on her FB page in response to the election. The passage was written during the first Gulf War and the first President Bush, back in the early 1990’s:
“We want the black-and-white picture, someone to blame. So we blame George Bush or Saddam Hussein, or black people or white people, or capitalism or communism, or the left or the right, or human nature, but reality is something else altogether. I could be any of those people. None of their behavior is anything I haven’t—on some scale—done myself. If you see that, and any real meditation work will reveal it to you beyond the shadow of a doubt, then you cannot possibly imagine that there is a ‘solution’ to be found in fixing blame.”
So let’s get to work in whatever ways life moves us to work—for some that might mean sitting in silent meditation, for others it might mean protesting in the streets, for some it will mean building a grassroots movement, for others it will mean working in electoral politics to vote in a new Congress in two years, for some it will mean creating art or music or writing a book…some of us will emphasize anger, some will emphasize peace, some will focus on the absolute, others on the specifics of relative reality—but all of us together are part of one whole tapestry that needs all of us to be complete. And the truth is that this tapestry also includes Donald Trump, all the folks who voted for him, and all the right-wing movements going on around the world. It’s one whole happening. And it is the way it is.
As Leonard Cohen sings in his song Boogie Street, which I hear as a song about samsara, relative reality and the world:
“I’m wanted at the traffic-jam.
They’re saving me a seat.
I’m what I am, and what I am,
Is back on Boogie Street.”
We’re all here on Boogie Street in the traffic jam together, so what will we do? We can scream and honk and give each other the finger. And that’s fun sometimes. But maybe there’s another possibility. Let’s find out.
And finally, just so you all know, I’ll be mostly off-line now for several days as I move to my new apartment, so I probably won’t be able to respond to comments.
This is probably going to be a strange post. My body is exhausted from moving and my heart remains somewhat heavy from the election, which I have to say felt like a punch in the gut. And I recently had a rupture in a relationship with a close friend that has brought some sorrow. So, there is a heaviness tonight as I write. But I am loving my new home—I see beauty out every window—and I can walk to the Nature Center that I love. I unpacked the last box today. We've had fierce wind storms and rain here for several days, the last colored leaves are still clinging to the trees, and there is snow on the mountains.
The election has provided me with a new chapter in what has proven to be the great koan of my life, namely the reconciliation of my caring for the world with the nondual perspective that sees the world as a dream-like appearance with no fixed or inherent reality or substance—an undivided whole with no enduring form, in which nothing could be other than it is—and in which all the dramas that seem so monumental are seen to be momentary bubbles in a stream, a stream where nothing is ever lacking or out of place.
As a genderqueer lesbian woman with a disability who was born in the late 1940's, I know only too well what it was like in America before the Civil Rights Movement, before women had the right to a medically safe abortion, before the modern women's movement and the LGBT movement, before disability rights. That America for which many Trump supporters long is not abstract to me—it's very concrete. And as someone who spent a number of years as a political activist—including several years in the anti-imperialist socialist left—I am wired to see the world in political terms. I just can't seem to turn away or dissolve into the absolute as so many in the spiritual or nondual subculture have done.
My caring for the world seems at times like my greatest obstacle, and at times like my hottest and most easily pushed button, and at times like a vital part of my deepest calling. I often feel an element of reactivity—defensiveness, threat, anger and so on—when I am faced with world events and with others who see things differently.
I find it one of the most revealing aspects of reality that no two human beings see the same world. Even my closest friends see some things differently than I do. And when I think of the people who voted enthusiastically for Trump, the differences get even greater. And yet there is such a deep sense in each of us that the world we are seeing is real, that it's "out there" as an objective reality, and that we are seeing it correctly. And so, it is often infuriating, terrifying, or in some way profoundly disturbing or unsettling that others don't see it as we do, when clearly (it seems to us), it really is the way we are seeing it. Worthwhile to meditate on why that is so upsetting.
Since my move, I've had no TV, which I can no longer afford, and I'm enjoying that. TV had become a kind of addiction, I think. I still follow the news on-line, so I am not tuned out, but I'm not so submerged in it for hours every night. I feel the difference.
Many in the spiritual world see anything to do with politics as egoic and delusional. One spiritual friend of mine saw the upset many of us felt when Trump was elected, and the spontaneous protests that filled the streets, as a kind of "mass hysteria." But other spiritual friends were grieving as I was, and were (and are) deeply concerned about what lies ahead. Many were happy, as I was, that people were coming together and sending a message that racism, sexism, xenophobia, and bigotry are not okay.
My main teacher, Toni Packer, grew up in Germany during the rise of Hitler. She saw the power of a charismatic leader and a demagogue who promised people what they felt they had lost. Toni's mother was Jewish. The family survived the Holocaust only because Toni's father was a prominent scientist who was apparently valued by the Nazi regime, although there was evidence that had the war gone on longer, the family would finally have been taken to the camps. Toni lived through war and the bombing of the city where she lived. She lived through air raids. She lived through anti-Jewish bigotry and hate. She lived through the deep divisions among neighbors and family members. She lived through a genocide. All of these things left a deep impression on her.
When I was living at Springwater, the meditation and retreat center she founded where I was on staff, I remember that Toni called us all together one evening to watch a documentary about Rush Limbaugh. His radio show was relatively new back then. Toni was deeply concerned about what Rush was saying and how he was saying it. It reminded her of Hitler. She didn't live to see the rise of Trump, but I'm pretty sure it would have been chilling to her.
Of course, she would not have been hysterical or lost in despair or rage or hate. She would have known that the problem was not just "out there." She would have been very much aware of her own inner Trump, and she would have known that Trump the man was a product of his conditioning who could not be otherwise than how he is. And she probably wouldn't have gone to any protest marches or involved herself in any political movements—that wasn't her focus. But she wouldn't have tuned out either. She wouldn't have stopped paying attention or caring. She described herself as "an avid news watcher, passionately following political developments on TV and in print." (We didn't have on-line media and tablets and smart phones back then).
Toni was neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but she knew there was a good chance that humanity would wipe itself out, and that our only hope was a major shift in consciousness—something that might or might not occur in time. She dedicated her life to that shift, but not in a result-oriented way. She wasn't trying to save the world. It was just what she was moved by life to do. And she knew that even if the whole universe blows up, nothing is really lost (although she probably wouldn't have said it that way).
Toni asked, "Can we come back time and time again, with infinite patience, to what is actually taking place right now, this very moment?" And she wondered, "No matter what state dawns at this moment, can there be just that? Not a movement away, an escape into something that will provide what this state does not provide, or doesn't seem to provide: energy, zest, inspiration, joy, happiness, whatever. Just completely, unconditionally listening to what's here now, is that possible?"
In her last book, The Silent Question, she told this story:
"A few years ago I watched a news segment with Dan Rather reporting from Somalia. He had gone far out into the desert with a few soldiers where no visible habitation existed except for a small number of tents where some physicians from Doctors Without Borders were doing their work. He wanted to broadcast 'in the raw' the amazing operations they were performing. Just as Rather and his crew had arrived, a little baby was brought in whose skull had been severely punctured by bullets. The doctor appeared calm, doing what she could to bandage the tiny bleeding head. At one point she had to turn away to reach for an instrument on the table, and she asked Dan Rather to steady the baby for a moment to keep it from rolling off. Dan held the baby and, with incredible tenderness and just a couple of fingers, massaged a tiny foot. Two fingers were almost too big! He was visibly shaken by the whole thing and asked the doctor whether this baby would live. She didn't know. He repeated his question and her answer was, 'Maybe another four weeks; it's too hard to tell.'
"Here was this courageous woman in the middle of nowhere, carefully patching up a tiny infant's head, not at all certain that it would even outlive the month! She was truly not working for results but simply doing the work of this moment, without agonizing about yesterday or tomorrow. And so was Dan Rather: in tenderly massaging the baby's toes, the famous anchor had totally disappeared.
"A lot of people have learned, and can learn at any time, that the despair gripping this organism with all its electrochemical currents can actually abate when something real is undertaken—when something concrete takes the place of just thinking about it. Maybe just going for a walk, or merely stepping outside the house to take in a breath of fresh air. These simple actions do not get entangled in the thought process of 'Is there any hope left for helping humankind?'
"Learning to clearly discern when we are stuck in a futile circuit of ideas and their verbalization is of vital importance, because the very way that we formulate the situation (of the world or of myself) has a tremendous impact on this bodymind….At any moment of waking up to now from story-life, we can ask, 'What is going on right now? Am I wrapped up in a story?' and 'Does it have to continue this way?' We may notice to our amazement that we feel a strong attachment to this story! We do not want to let go of it, even if it's a miserable and painful story! We cling to our descriptions as though they were the real things!"
--that was from the chapter "Despair" in Toni's book The Silent Question –
Like I said, this is a strange post. Writing is one of the ways I wake up. It's what I do. Tapping at the keys…
Listening to the night silence, the distant sounds of cars on the interstate...writing to myself and to you who are listening…
And when I went to post this, someone had sent me a link to Deepak Chopra's article on "The Real Cause—and Cure—of Trump Anguish," so I read and then posted that first. It carries a similar message as Toni's….
Today is Thanksgiving in America. On the one hand, this celebrates the harvest and is a holiday focusing on gratitude, a holiday where families and friends gather together to share a meal. But it’s also long been associated in American popular culture with a mythologized story about Native Americans and the early colonists from Europe happily feasting together, a story on which school children are brought up. This happy story of course overlooks the genocide of the Native peoples, the theft of their lands, and all the broken treaties and endless abuses upon which this country was founded. Thus, many Native Americans regard Thanksgiving as a Day of Mourning.
Right now, thousands of Native American water protectors and their supporters are peacefully and courageously resisting the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota. These protestors have been met with militarized police, pepper spray, tear gas, bean bag rounds, rubber bullets, sound cannons, and most recently water cannons being turned on them in below-freezing temperatures. Many have been arrested, often strip searched. If this is how Native Americans and peaceful protestors are being treated under the Obama administration, one can only imagine what lies ahead when Trump takes over. So, on this Thanksgiving Day, I hope we will all be aware of these people at Standing Rock. I want to express my deep gratitude for these water protectors and their courage and commitment. I pray for their well-being and their success.
I also want to express my deep gratitude to all of you who come regularly to this page, who listen and leave comments, who walk with me on this never-ending journey from Here to Here. We need each other, all of us. And of course, the deepest truth is that we are not separate from one another. We are not limited to, or encapsulated inside, these apparent bodyminds with all their different conditionings and all their different viewpoints and opinions. Prior to this dream-like world of seemingly solid appearances, we all refer to the same boundless “I” – the awareness that is being and beholding all of this. And all of this (everything perceivable and conceivable) is an ever-changing and ephemeral display with no fixed reality. This vast emptiness (or interbeing) includes the right and the left, the rich and the poor, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, war and peace, stormy weather and sunny weather, and we don’t really know what any of it means. The Heart that holds it all is unconditioned and free.
May we all find our way through and beyond the contractions of the me-system and what Eckhart Tolle aptly calls the pain-body. May we find our way through this darkness again and again, Here / Now, at every level from the personal to the global, and may we forgive ourselves and one another when we seem to fail. May we not ignore or turn away from the suffering of all beings, but at the same time, may we be awake to the bigger context in which all is whole and well. May we bring light and beauty into this world rather than more pain and despair. May we emphasize love and not hate. And when we’re not feeling the love, when our hearts are heavy and things seem bitter and hard and tight, may we attend to that painful constriction with an open, vulnerable, aware presence, allowing it to be as it is, feeling it fully, allowing it to dissolve in its own time into the light.
May we live in gratitude for every amazing moment of this wild ride. And perhaps on that note, I’ll end with the final words of Lester (in a voiceover) after being shot in the head, at the end of the movie American Beauty, screenplay by Alan Ball:
“I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me, but it's hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.”
-- copyright Joan Tollifson 2016--
The articles on this particular outpouring page are all posted on my Facebook page, where they originally appeared. They can be shared directly from my Facebook page with others on Facebook in the usual way. If you have a Facebook account, and you wish to share these writings on your Facebook page, please do so directly from my Facebook page to yours. If you don't use Facebook and you wish to share any of these postings on other blogs, please credit the author, mention that they were originally Facebook postings, and include links to both my Facebook page and this website with your re-posting. Thank you!
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