Excerpted from “The Awakened Connection to Soul,” February 8-9, 2020 ~ Portland, OR.
It’s not at all uncommon that people today feel some sense of disconnection from their soul. I use “soul” in the sense of our experience of meaningful depth, something that’s vital to us, even if we don’t think of it in a religious context. It’s like a source of meaning you can’t put into words, but you can feel it—especially when you lose it. Everybody knows the experience of becoming disconnected from the source of meaning and deep connection within themselves.
We’re living in a culture where people are suffering mightily because of the loss of their soul—not only individually, but also culturally as a whole. This is a part of modern life that we haven’t come to grips with. It’s one of the things that leads us to look for some deeper connection, however we define that for ourselves. It could be meaning, it could be God, it could be awakening, it could be enlightenment, it could be peace, it could be love—all these are words that point to a certain kind of connectedness and sacredness inside.
All of the external means of entertaining ourselves and connecting us don’t really take the place of this inner connectedness. There doesn’t seem to be a technological stand-in for the soul, for that source of vital being and meaning that gives one’s life a sense of significance—not just in terms of accomplishment and what we can put on a resumé, but a much deeper sense of significance. A soulful significance.
Each of you has your own experience of how sacredness feels to you and when moments of sacredness have visited you. You’ve had those experiences, as hard as they are to explain or convey. You know the sense of words like vitality, source, meaning, and soul. These are all words that attempt to convey the actual human experience of the sacred, which is quite apart from the ideas of the sacred—although ideas, images, stories, and myths can all be part of transmitting a living sense of the sacred to us.
In spiritual awakening, we experience that the source of the sacred—the suchness of the sacred—is actually essentially ourselves. When we experience the sacred, we’re experiencing something true and profound about ourselves—if we understand the word “ourselves” in the biggest possible context. As a teacher, I think one of the things that is vitally important is to attempt to give people practical means to engage in this reconnection. Sometimes I’ll talk about this reconnection in the most essential possible way. Spiritual awakening, for instance, is one version of that, such as awakening revealing that the source of the experience of the sacred is not separate from your own innate self nature or true nature. At other times I’ll talk about the experience of soul connection. Whenever you experience a living sense of sacredness or timelessness, you are connecting with the soulfulness of your true nature. Our soul connection also gives us an intuitive sense of guidance. It is the inner teacher reorienting our attention away from the surface of things to their depth. And you don’t have to be spiritually awakened to have a connection to the soul—you just need to attentively and humbly listen to your silent depth. Your presence is deeper than your relative personhood.
It’s also important to have a sense of what it means to be connected in many small ways as well as noticing when you deviate from your soul—not according to an exterior standard, but according to your own inner and intuitive standard. Holding integrity with your soul is a profound, challenging, and wonderful practice. It’s essentially an inner listening and attuning to the presence of being. It’s choosing to live in one’s depth rather than in surface and conditioned mental and emotional reactivity. This is an essentially devotional orientation; it is more of the heart than of the head.
It would be extraordinarily arrogant of me to think that I know the means of your own connection to the sacred. My suggestion is to think of soulfulness as an instinct that even transcends spirituality per se—the instinct to connect, in great awe, with the mystery of existence. When I say “connect,” I’m talking about something visceral, not something abstract.
There are tiny moments throughout the day when we move away from embracing that which gives us the most vital experience of meaning there is. Every time we don’t listen to our depth, or inner presence, we take a little step away, but we can’t actually step out of our true nature even when it feels like we have. We cannot ever lose our true nature, because we are our true nature.
One of the most challenging things is to actually get all of ourselves, for a moment, into our immediate experience of being. We can think we’re being in our experience, but we’re generally running our experience through immense filters of assumption, judgment, and belief. Most people are not having direct experience that often—they are having experience distorted through innumerable mental filters. But when you see a thought simply as a thought, it becomes just part of the scenery and your attention can orient toward the awareness of the thought. This can break the trance of reactivity and open the heart to presence and clarity—a reconnection with the soulfulness of true nature.
When you look into a mirror, there’s an irreducible presence of being, a conscious intangibility, that can’t be reduced to the old memories, identities, and personality characteristics. This is where real spirituality begins—noticing that, encountering it, not even necessarily trying to understand it—and realizing that the same thing is looking through your eyes right now. It’s like an intangible presence, and the more you connect with that, the more your soul lights up and your heart opens. It’s a very simple, direct, and powerful practice.
Excerpted from “The Origin of Everything,” May 2, 2020 ~ San Jose, CA
There is an incredible spontaneity at the core of all of our experience that we don’t often notice. When we pay deep attention—the heart of real spiritual contemplative practice is paying attention—our thoughts just seem to appear, even the thoughts we have about ourselves, as well as other beings and the world.
We have no consciousness of how we’re beating our heart or exactly how we’re breathing. We don’t have to remember to digest our food well. All that is programmed into our biology, and it’s happening without our conscious knowing of it. What we know is just what breaches the barrier between the unconscious and the conscious. As soon as something from the unconscious breaches the barrier, all of a sudden we’re conscious of it—we recognize the thought.
Everything appears to simply happen, but it’s not as happenstance as that. There is an incredible complexity and intelligence operating underneath it all. Let’s just call it the totality for the sake of the moment—the essential, the essence of us, the essence of this moment. The conscious experiences are the tip of the iceberg, the part of the totality which is right now breaking through that barrier of unconsciousness and becoming conscious. So right now, the totality is there. It’s functioning. We’re aware of whatever part of the totality that has become conscious. A very important part of spirituality is widening that domain of what we’re conscious of, what we’re actually aware of.
There is a kind of realization, a shift of identification, where we experience our self to be the totality. We experience our self to be the very origin, and yet that doesn’t mean that we are suddenly conscious of the infinite interconnections that bring even one moment of experience into being. Those interconnections are too vast. They’re seemingly infinite in a world where everything is connected to everything else. Everything is part of what’s creating every other moment. No mind could track all of those interrelationships happening simultaneously. So even when we experience our self to be the totality in our essence, we’re still struck by the utter and amazing spontaneity of that totality.
Though it sounds quite paradoxical, any movement is actually the movement of stillness. Stillness produces the movement, the movement happens within stillness, and then the movement is resolved in stillness. In a similar way, the words I’m speaking are the origin and then are the totality of consciousness. They come out of that consciousness. They’re an expression of that consciousness.
Many great spiritual teachings and realizers have talked about how in our essence, the unknown is a way of trying to articulate the experience of the totality. Even the totality isn’t tracking every single interconnection every instant. It is being all of that. It is being That.
The potential sacred function of a teaching is to evoke something living in you, something beyond the teaching, something beyond the teacher, something that is a living part of you, a beautiful part of you, a part of us. We start to bring a greater consciousness to bear upon any moment, maybe every moment. We notice a commonality to anything that evokes the sacred—whether it’s a spiritual teaching or a great piece of art, or music, or a walk in nature—which is artistic beyond imagination. The natural world is the greatest work of art that we will ever see or participate in, where we are literally walking, living, and breathing in an unimaginably creative expression of being.
The element that lights it all up, that opens everything up, is our consciousness. It allows us to have the eyes to see the divinity of it all, even in the midst of everything that life is—including the tragedy, the difficulty, and all the negative parts. We don’t need to deny any aspect of existence in order to find this divinity.
Our consciousness, our awareness, has the capacity to see beyond the surface of things. It’s not an abstracted idea of some cosmic eyeball that’s looking at everything. But all of a sudden, our whole body-mind is part of the functioning of consciousness. We don’t just see our environment; we actually sense it, too. We feel it.
Our whole body-minds are actually a sort of sensory organ of the infinite, of true nature. Admittedly, most people do not utilize it that way, because it takes such attention and sensitivity to begin to do so. But nonetheless, this body-mind consciousness is a way that life or the cosmos experiences itself—and that’s extraordinary. Without a body or mind or consciousness to experience itself, the universe would have absolutely no experience of itself whatsoever. In one sense, it wouldn’t exist if it’s not experienced at all.
In spiritual teachings we’re encouraged to wake up from these bodies and minds, to break our identification with them, which is extremely useful and even necessary if we want to have the deepest realization of our true nature, and yet what we’re essentially doing is just breaking the restricted identification with them. That has nothing to do with the usefulness of this incredible organic mechanism of the body, the physical body, the subtle body. This is something of extraordinary value, because through this we are having our experience of life. This is how life is experiencing itself.
Excerpted from “Full Circle Enlightenment,” December 5, 2019 ~ Pacific Grove, CA
We have a certain idea of causality: “This happened because of that.” Or “I am the way I am because I was born in this particular family, in this particular culture, and raised in this particular way.” That does have a reality. It’s only an infinitesimally small part of the picture, but it’s the way we tend to live life.
We have this view of how things are caused—the reason anything is the way it is. Take a grain of sand, for example. Conventionally we’d say a grain of sand is there because ocean waves stir up the water, bash against rocks or rub against them at the bottom of the ocean, and particles collide. Occasionally little particles break off and wash up on the shore, and then you have sand. That’s all well and good; there’s obviously a truthfulness to it. But that hardly tells the story.
What does it take for there to be a grain of sand? It takes an earth. It takes colliding tectonic plates, currents, water, wind, exploding stars to make little hurling rocks like earth go into space, and huge suns for them to orbit around and be warm enough so life can form. All of those things depend on other things to exist. It would be an infinite regress to connect all the dots, but basically, without an entire cosmos, there would not be a single grain of sand. So our conventional idea that “this causes that” is rather silly. Actually, the cause of any one event is every other thing that has ever happened throughout all of space and time. Some of the effects are so subtle, so slight, so infinitesimal, that one could not possibly measure them or track them.
This is what interconnectedness really means. It’s not a fanciful spiritual idea. Even people who believe in interconnectedness usually think of it within certain narrow confines. They fail to get the immensity of the interconnectedness of existence. This is part of what spiritual practice is meant to help open our minds to. It doesn’t actually matter beforehand whether you believe it or don’t believe it. It’s best to live as a living, breathing question mark until something is extraordinarily clear.
It also takes a cosmos to create a single human being. Literally every moment is the product, the outcome, of an infinite variety of causes and effects throughout all of space and time. This moment is the outcome of innumerable, untraceable influences. The way that everything “inter-is” is unfathomable. When you really see this, it’s an immense thing to take in, to understand with your blood, bones, and marrow, not just your mind. It’s the release of a tremendous amount of energy. It certainly changes the way one sees the world, oneself, and each other. Then mountains and rivers are no longer mountains and rivers. A mountain includes all of space and time—each thing does, actually—a river, a squirrel scampering across the forest floor, whatever it is. Then our own idea of ourselves as something separate is toast. It cannot survive that seeing.
In spirituality, often there is a suggestion that we look for or come to our truer identity, a truer sense of being. Maybe all of a sudden one day there’s a shift, and we sense ourselves to be something more like awareness. It’s much, much freer to be awareness, to be consciousness, than to be some little idea floating around in consciousness. It’s more expansive. It’s generally filled with more positive feeling. We may think, “Ok, that’s it. I’ve got this whole thing nailed down. I’ve come to a preferable identity now.” That’s good—I’m not discounting that. But there’s more to the story than that.
“The interconnectedness thing” does away with so much blame: “Why did you do that to me?” “Because of everything that ever happened in all of existence.” That’s on a cosmic level. On a human level, even if you know that, it’s entirely appropriate to say, “I’m sorry for doing that to you.” You and I are not isolated pieces—we’re the happening of all that interconnectedness. That opens up an immense number of possibilities and ups the scale of responsibility immensely.
In the end, it’s as if you have one foot in eternity and the other foot in the relative world. In eternity it’s all connected sameness and it’s perfect, even with all of its absolute horror and disaster, as well as its beauty. There’s something that is perfect about it—not as a philosophical statement, but as an experience of being. We think of the Absolute as the unchanging, the undying, the unborn. I call it the domain of pure potentiality at the Ground of being. It’s true and it’s real.
The other side of the Absolute is that this is it, showing up like this. Therefore you, me, the world, and all that’s happening here takes on cosmic value, an infinite significance and unimaginable value in each being. A theistic way of saying that is not to believe, or hope, or anticipate, but to actually see that everything is the face of God. What happens if you really see that? How are you going to move in a world where everything is God? Where sometimes God is clear and sometimes God is confused? Sometimes God shows up in an infinite variety of ways.
Then that true nature has awoken in the human domain. Now mountains are mountains again and rivers are rivers, and they are not—they’re both. It’s like coming full circle. You’re back in ordinary life, right where you started. But of course, the journey changes the experience of it. Now ordinary life and the face of God are the same thing. The whole idea is to be unlimited. It means you can experience yourself as pure consciousness, and you can experience yourself to be an ordinary little sentient being. You can experience yourself to be the totality, and you can experience yourself to be a part of it. But you don’t have to only experience yourself as part, or the totality, or pure consciousness. You can experience yourself as all that at the same time. That’s really the most beautiful thing, when that within us which tries to fixate—“I am this as opposed to that”—when there is no more this and that. You aren’t limited anymore. That’s the freedom where nothing is left out.
Excerpted from “The Intangible Quality of Being,” February 12, 2020 ~ San Jose, CA
At the heart of your experience of being right now, there’s an attentiveness—there’s consciousness, and it’s innate. The idea of “you” or “me” being the one who is conscious, that’s an afterthought. It doesn’t exist until we conjure it into being in our minds. If we don’t conjure it into being, or if we just withhold conjuring into being someone who’s attentive, then we can actually come into immediacy, which is an understanding of what it is to be mindful—to be deeply grounded in immediacy. And that’s not quite as simple as people generally think, because “immediate” is before you can think a single thought about it. If you think a thought about it, it’s not immediate anymore—it’s already in the past.
“Immediate” also doesn’t mean you have to stop quickly and try to immediately get hold of something, or otherwise you’re going to lose the immediacy of the moment. The immediacy is also the timeless Now. Immediacy is timeless. It’s not something that lasts for the shortest possible amount of time.
Have you ever noticed there is no succession of “now” moments? There isn’t a now, followed by another now, followed by another now, that you’ve got to grab hold of so you can be in the now moment. By the time you’ve grabbed the now moment, it’s not now anymore, it’s the next moment. That’s not really an accurate understanding of Now. The Now is timeless, and timelessness isn’t like a spiritual fantasy or an image of timelessness. Timelessness is concretely what it says it is—no time.
Everything that ever occurs happens in this timeless Now. Thirty thousand years ago was the timeless Now. Thirty thousand years hence will be the timeless Now. This moment right now is the timeless Now. There’s something about it that’s quite literally timeless. It’s just the open field of Now.
Even the feeling sense of the passage of time is completely subjective. There’s no dependable sense of time going by. Sometimes a 30-minute meditation can seem to stretch out for hours. Or you might have a meditation where it seems like only a couple of moments have gone by and the bell rings, and it’s been 30 or 40 minutes. To the extent you’re totally absorbed in doing something, time goes by very quickly. When you’re doing something you really don’t want to be doing, and you’re not absorbed, time seems to crawl. But that has nothing to do with the Now. Now is timeless. Now doesn’t last any amount of time.
The timeless isn’t something “out there.” It’s the immediate moment experienced from the deepest, most fundamental dimension of being. The most fundamental dimension of being is timeless. It’s a domain of being where it feels like nothing ever happened, because it’s existing in the timeless Now, and so it’s free from time, even as another part of your being can very much experience the passage of time.
The timeless dimension of our being isn’t about having a timeless experience and leaving it at that. We’re talking about the very Ground of being, that from which all other experiences of being issue forth. They all arise from that timeless Ground, immense with potential, because in the end it’s responsible for the entire experience of being. Just think of how multi-layered and complex your experience of being has been throughout your entire life, including all of your perceptions and things you’ve seen, tasted, touched, felt, and all of that issuing forth from this Ground that seems at first to be quite nothing. I suppose that’s why we human beings look past it for so long.
We need to see even spiritual awakening outside of the context that it’s often talked about in terms of just moments—“a revelatory moment when I had an awakening.” That’s important, but we have to see it in a bigger context because that’s not all there is to it. You can say, “Oh, I had that revelatory moment, so I guess I’m awake,” but awakening is only meaningful in any given moment. In any moment, we’re either awake or asleep, and in that moment, it doesn’t care if we were awake yesterday, or a year ago, or even a second ago. What’s relevant now is “How awake am I in this moment?” That’s the only thing that’s really relevant.
The Now isn’t a moment. It’s a timeless happening, and there’s a dimension of spiritual awakening that isn’t defined as a moment. It doesn’t really have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s far, far deeper than that.
Excerpted from “Innate Knowledge of the Unknown,” November 2, 2019 ~ Oakland, CA
There is a power unlike any other power, force, or energy, when we’re connected deeply with the way our spiritual instinct communicates to us. You usually know it because there’s a kind of intensity about it. It’s an orientation—a spiritual instinct, you might say. When you get connected to how it’s speaking to you, and how you experience it without the veils of what we imagine it should be like, then we come upon a profoundly transformational energy.
There’s a way of listening to our spiritual instinct where we don’t leave ourselves in the listening. It’s to be connected or rooted in an intuitive way, into what’s often a very quiet dimension of being. We do need to stay rooted, but there are different ways of being rooted, of being connected. There’s being connected in a way that’s rigid—“My way or the highway”—being so rooted that one is rigid and can’t actually let anything in. A lot of people, when they’re open and they start to listen deeply, stop being deeply rooted and connected within themselves; they’re listening in an abstract way. And then there’s a way of being connected that’s very fluid and dynamic, where we’re actually rooted but open.
In order to come upon that which is really uniting, we just relinquish our grasp. What we relinquish our grasp on isn’t as important—we could say “on everything.” When we start to relinquish our grasp on any particular point of view, what we start to come into as a living experience of being is a very intimate connection with what in spirituality is often called the Unknown. The Unknown is actually a bit more simple, approachable, and available than people think it is. We make some extraordinary fantasy out of the great Unknown, when at least to begin with, the Unknown is right underneath whatever we’re clinging to.
We cling to things in direct proportion to how much doubt they cover over. The things we hold most tightly, we hold tightly because they’re concealing doubt. If there was no doubt, why would anybody hold them tightly? You don’t hold tightly to the idea of being a human being, let’s say. Most people don’t clutch to that particularly tightly. To them it simply seems to be so obvious that they don’t need to clutch to it.
When we begin to open, we begin to experience this potentially wonderful domain of not knowing. If you want to be united really quickly, just come into the domain of not knowing. Or let’s just call it uncertainty: “Maybe I’m not so certain about the things I think I’m pretty certain about.” Maybe a different kind of energy gets in there, a different kind of curiosity: “I’m not so certain.” The Unknown is actually the absolute necessary ground from which to engage in any deep form of spirituality—without that, it’s just a bunch of ideas.
The beginning foundation—even if it doesn’t sound like a foundation—is actually the willingness not to know, or at least the willingness not to be certain. We start to hold things a little more loosely. When we start to hold things less tightly, the veils through which we tend to perceive things just naturally start to settle. If it doesn’t start with some visceral sense of not knowing, we’re not going to get very far.
In our culture, not knowing is not highly valued, but spiritually, it’s one of the highest values there is. When we open ourselves to the mystery of being, that’s always the doorway—whether it’s the mystery of who you are, the mystery of life, the mystery of God, or the mystery of somebody who’s had a kind of spiritual opening and they’re wondering how they can embody it and live from it.
If you’ve never experienced yourself as a living mystery, a mystery unto you, give it a try. It’s actually very pleasant. It’s not the resolution of the question, of course, but it’s much more liberating than someone’s idea of themselves.
The Unknown is the entryway, the doorway. We let ourselves be oriented to the mystery of being—not because it’s a kind of technique, but because until we’ve had any deeper awakening, we don’t actually know. That’s the truth of the matter: until we know, we don’t know. But the way to know is to allow yourself not to know. That’s the paradox.
Excerpted from “The Immensity of Self,” November 6, 2019 ~ San Jose, CA
What does it mean for the Self—something that’s unlimited, without borders or edges or boundaries—to be embodied in a particular human being? That would mean the human being would have a greater and greater capacity to embody this immensity. It doesn’t mean, however, that the human being is going to be particularly impressive. We always think of enlightened beings in some way as extraordinarily charismatic, glowing human beings. We think if the immensity is being embodied in a human being, it’s going to be so charismatically obvious that you would want to throw yourself at their feet in worship. But that’s not what it really means.
The immensity of being can be deeply embodied in a very humble way, even a very ordinary way. It can be extraordinary and charismatic, but it can also be quite ordinary, something that most people might miss, yet it’s possible that for that being, the immensity of the Self is somehow embodied and expressing itself through them. Because the immensity of being can and does show up as this moment, without it being different or more extraordinary.
There doesn’t seem to be an end to that which is without limit, the Self, to how fully and deeply the unlimited can embody itself and express itself in any human being. There doesn’t seem to be any end to it. How could there be an end to it if being embodied is without limit? This is why at a certain point, we may say, “Okay, this is a fully awakened being.” What does that mean—a human being where the infinite, the unlimited, is completely embodied in a limited human incarnation? How could that be?
There doesn’t seem to be any end to how fully and deeply the Self can be embodied in any human being. At a certain point, the lines we think we’re going to cross and sort of graduate into full enlightenment seem to be what they actually are, which are creations of our egos. Because the ego often thinks in terms of accomplishment: “If I accomplish something—God-realization, enlightenment, full awakening or whatever it is—when I accomplish that, then I will have finally arrived, and then I’ll be okay, and I’ll be fully awake.” The whole thing is egocentric thinking to the extreme.
When we look at it from the standpoint of the Self, if one can do that, then the whole thing is much more “low to the ground.” It’s the endless ways that the unlimited can show up without end: ordinary, extraordinary, everything in between. There’s no graduation. There’s no certificate. Only our egos like to think in terms of end points and graduations because egos want to accomplish things.
This idea of accomplishment is brought into the spiritual realm, and if you’re not careful, you’re still trying to accomplish something. You’re still basically trying to become the person you think you should be. You’re trying to become a good little girl or boy, or the enlightened girl or boy, or whatever. This egoic idea of accomplishment can keep seeping into the spiritual impulse. That’s why the honed, practiced precision of discrimination becomes really handy. And the further you go with all of this, the more important it becomes, because the discriminations become more and more subtle, and the important things become easier to miss.
That’s why it becomes more important to be able to make these subtle discriminations, like discriminating between how the ego relates to the spiritual impulse and how the Self relates to the spiritual impulse. The ego thinks of it as accomplishments and end points and arrivals, but the Self doesn’t look at it that way at all. All of that seems completely remote to the Self because the Self is not going anywhere. It’s not accomplishing anything because it’s not actually becoming more of itself through being totally Self-realized. It doesn’t gain anything. It doesn’t become more of what it already is. But it does become more and more capable of being embodied and expressed through a particular human life—and there’s no end to that. So finish lines and all of those ways of thinking have to be seen through.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t different phases of awakening, different depths of awakening, because there are. The idea that all awakening is the same is ridiculous. Not all awakening is of the same depth. That can vary tremendously. But to touch a little reality is still to touch reality. We don’t want to underestimate the value of any degree of awakening. Any degree of awakening is actually extraordinary. It has an incredible value to it.
Awakening is not extraordinary in the sense that it makes you extraordinary or me extraordinary. That would be just another egocentric orientation. But it’s extraordinary in the sense of the Self, through a particular human being, becoming conscious of itself and embodying itself without end. At some point, that “without end” is no longer resisted. It’s the beautiful thing about it all. “Without end” doesn’t mean you keep endlessly seeking for something more, different, or better. If we’ve had a real awakening, the idea of something more, different, or better doesn’t make any sense. Like I said, if you’ve touched upon reality, you’ve touched upon reality. It’s not about something more, better, or all of those egocentric evaluations. It’s just the endlessness, the unlimitedness, of the Self that you are.
Excerpted from “Illuminating Presence,” August 14, 2019 ~ Woldingham, UK
Presence is a mysterious thing in a certain sense, at least when we reflect upon it. When we experience it, it’s not mysterious, but when we reflect upon it, it’s quite strange. We think of presence as a feeling, and in a sense it is a feeling, a tone—the way an environment feels, for instance. But it’s more than a feeling, especially when we start to awaken certain dimensions of presence within ourselves. Then it’s something that’s more immediate. The feeling is a byproduct, but the presence itself is experienced viscerally.
There are two fundamental dimensions of presence. One of them, you could say, is “presence as such.” You can walk into a church and feel the presence of a place of worship. When there has been deep and heartfelt worship or spiritual work going on, you can walk in the door and feel a kind of presence. You can also feel the presence in a negative sense. When something very violent has happened in an area or in a space, if you’re sensitive, you can pick it up. You can feel it in the atmosphere. It’s disquieting, though you may not know why you feel disturbed.
There’s a presence that we all share, a presence of true nature as such, and there’s also a kind of individual signature of presence. It’s almost like your personal essence or soul, as each person has their own quality of presence. There’s not just one quality—there are many facetsof how presence can be experienced, and each person has a very distinct experience of presence. They may not be aware of it, but if you’re sensitive, you can sense their presence, whether they’re aware of it or not.
Presence is a doorway. It is the visceral experience of various facets of our true nature. Don’t just be aware like a cold spotlight of awareness. Get the sense of it, the feel of it, viscerally in your body. Feel it, even if it’s subtle. If you have an experience of spaciousness, feel it, sense it, because these things arise first as experiences that we are having, or “I” as a “me” am having. That’s often how we get the little hints of these experiences. The foretaste of presence can be like a vast space of awareness, or it can be experienced as a kind of compassion. In the West, the old word for compassion was agape, selfless love, a love that’s just there. It’s not “I love you,” it’s “loving what is” and having a tender feeling for all beings. That’s a kind of foretaste. By giving attention to these experiences, that distance can collapse or just simply merge, where all of a sudden it’s not “me” experiencing awareness, spaciousness, love, stillness, emptiness, solidity—in a positive sense, it’s “I am those qualities.” Those qualities are a dimension of being.
By sensing something, you’re actually drawing yourself close to it. It’s like the difference between “Oh, hi, how are you doing? I can see you over there.” There’s distance. And then you come a little closer. “Oh, hi, how are you doing, let me shake your hand. Now we’re a little closer. I can feel you a little bit.” And then, “Oh, how are you doing?” and you’re giving a big hug. Now your distance is closing. There’s still distance in the hug, but you’re closer, and the closer you get, the more you sense and feel. You might even feel more of the subtle body about them, but there’s still “you” and “them.” There’s the possibility that there’s actually something closer even than a hug, where you might recognize true nature in them. True nature is, in one sense, an insight, but it’s an insight that comes from a visceral, immediate experience. And that’s just how it is for these foretastes of presence—the spacious, unconditioned nature of awareness. It’s right there. Be close with it. Be intimate.
Entertain the possibility that your own direct experience, whatever it is at any given moment—positive, negative, wonderful, difficult—is not a mistake. It is the way. Showing up for it, whether it’s beautiful or challenging, that’s the way. Always running away from it and towards something else is just a delay. So, maybe we can, all of us, even if we feel like we know this very intimately and truly, even if we know it deeply and have experienced it, maybe we can have an even deeper trust in our own immediate experience.
Excerpted from “The Great Expanse of Darkness,” May 23, 2019 ~ Tahoe City, CA
The Sandokai is a fundamental scripture that is chanted in Zen monasteries and temples throughout the world. “San” means “many,” “do” means “sameness” or “oneness,” and “kai” means to shake hands, as in friendship. So, it’s the many things and the One in relationship, which is a way of depicting true nature, or reality. It was written by a Zen master, Sekito Kisen, in the eighth century.
One of the themes that runs through the Sandokai is the theme of light and dark. In the West, we have a relatively surface understanding of light and dark. The light is thought of as good, and the dark is bad or evil, but that’s not the way it is used in the Sandokai. Sekito uses the sense of the dark for the great reality, that great unknown terrain where all things are unified, where they all come together in a single source. And light is being used as the light of our consciousness, which sees differences. When you open your eyes, a tree looks different from a rock, and the sky looks different from the ground. It’s the light of consciousness that discriminates. Mostly the light forgets the dark and gets stuck in its immediate perceptions of difference. It loses the sense of the source, where all things come together.
When you’re paying deep attention, you see that the dark is a metaphor for quiet, the silence, or the great ground of being. You see that all things and all experiences arise out of that dark. A thought simply appears. A feeling simply appears. Where it appears from, you don’t know. It comes seemingly out of nowhere, the great expanse of pure unmanifest potentiality. When you’re just sitting there attending to your own experience, each moment of experience simply arises, and then it passes and disappears into the dark.
The wonderful thing about Sekito is that his vision, his enlightenment, went deep enough to not be attached to either the source—the One—or the many. Of course, whenever we see and experience an aspect, a facet, of the jewel of enlightenment, we’re touching upon the whole diamond. In just the same way, when we have a realization experience, some facet of reality is revealed to us, and each facet feels totally complete. We’re filled with a kind of confidence of that completeness. And yet, there are high-level delusions, even in deep states of realization, or enlightenment. It takes quite a bit of real vision to see that and not get hung up on some of the high-level delusions that are innate in various forms of awakening.
One of those high-level delusions is that, because each facet of reality feels so complete, we may not allow any other facets of reality into our view; we may think they’re simply illusions. When you have an experience of the One—the all-encompassing ground of being—the world of diversity can look, at least for a while, like a flimsy illusion. It’s easy to conclude that the source, the ground, is real but the rest isn’t. It is real, it is the ground, it is the fundamental source, but each distinct expression is also a complete expression of the source, and so each thing is itself the great totality.
In essence, as Sekito would remind us in his sutra, we live in two worlds. One is the sort of pinprick of the known terrain of our life. What our light of consciousness recognizes, sees, and imagines that it knows is this small terrain of life that’s illuminated by what we think we know. The other is the world of the absolute, that immensity of existence that lies outside of what we’re conscious of—that which is generating our experiences and also our thoughts that just come out of the dark.
You can be sitting in meditation and all of a sudden you might feel like you’re encountering the dark, which often evokes a kind of fear. Whether the dark is of the exterior world or it’s the interior world, this is the terrain of our actual existence, of what we know and what we don’t know. It is the immensity of existence that is generating the life that we are conscious of. It can be generating your thoughts, your feelings, your reactions, and your dreams.
Where do your dreams come from at night? They come from this immense terrain of your unconscious, which seemingly knows no bounds. And that’s the culmination of the change to “I am not just what I think I am. The world is not what I think it is. It is not contained within the confines of the little piece of terrain that I’m conscious of, whether it’s what I think about myself, what I feel, what I imagine, my past, my history, or my hoped-for future.” All of a sudden you realize, “I’m not defined simply by this tiny terrain of the known. And the great expanse of the unknown is not some menacing, lurking danger outside of me. It’s actually simultaneously what I am—the totality of being itself.”
All revelation is born in the dark. When you let go of clutching onto the certainty of what you know and open your eyes like a newborn, as if for the very first time, you are surprised to find that the world you had imagined to be real was nothing more than a dream, one fabricated assumption after another. By stepping into the long-ignored silence of our aloneness and directing the light of our consciousness beyond the current frontier of our knowing, we allow the great unknown dimensions of life to find us and remain faithful to the work of our yearning.
Excerpted from The Most Important Thing: Discovering Truth at the Heart of Life Adyashanti's newest book published by Sounds True.
Transformation tends to happen when we stop or something stops us—a tragedy, a difficulty—and we reassess and realize that the way we are going about life must be redefined. Sometimes we will need to redefine our whole identity. This does not just happen to spiritually advanced beings—this is human stuff. These moments occur with some regularity, and if we recognize how important they are, when they come, we can see them as both great challenges and great opportunities. How we respond is important. Do we search for a quick solution, for a quick answer, or for somebody to save us from our insecurity? Or do we find the wherewithal to settle into those moments and meet ourselves? We can lean forward into what is occurring, into the human experience or unresolved quality—whether it is doubt, or fear, or hesitation, or indecision, or whatever our pattern is that causes us to not throw ourselves entirely into that moment.
We never know when these moments are coming. Some are big, and some are much smaller. We should not assume that the small moments are not as important as the big, obvious ones, because attending to the small moments is the way we build a capacity to attend to the big moments of crisis. It is the reason why most spiritual traditions have various ways of getting us to pay attention to our life, even when nothing significant seems to be going on. This comes from an acknowledgment, a realization that vital moments are current in our life and there are decisions being made—consciously or unconsciously—about how we are going to relate to them.
Do you relate to life as an unfolding mystery and an adventure of discovery? An encounter with your immense capacity for wisdom, love, and experiencing life with intimacy and vitality? We have extraordinary abilities as human beings when we begin to recognize the vitality of certain moments and we bring a consciousness to them. These vitality moments happen in our lives with great regularity and are opportunities for awakening and transformation. We must repeatedly embrace the insecurity of these moments and by doing so come to trust them and so ourselves. In these moments, all we need is knowledge of the next step and the willingness to take it. Paradoxically, the knowing of what the next step is arises when we have the capacity to rest in not knowing what the next step is and to recognize this is an intimate part of the process of transformation.
Excerpted from Adyashanti's London Meeting, August 18, 2019
When we turn within, it’s not just as simple as “I turn within, I meditate and get a little calmer, I’m more mindful, and maybe I become less reactive. Maybe my heart is more available.” I don’t mean to devalue that because it’s a worthy thing. It even has a nobility—but not only so that we have more benevolent ideas and behave more compassionately. There is a more significant turning within. This turning within, in its deepest sense, is when we start to peer underneath our most fundamental ideas. And of course, the ideas that are most fundamental to us are our ideas about ourselves.
We each come in with our own coloring of uniqueness. That’s the beauty of existence. That’s the energy of life expressing itself in all of its uniqueness and diversity while at the same time being life. But when something in us comes alive enough, we start to look underneath those ideas and have the associated feelings, because this isn’t all ideas. Some of the feelings have incredible emotional energy behind them. That’s a different matter. We tend to think of what’s real as what we think or feel, and if what we think and feel line up and are the same thing, that’s something that’s hard to see through—for any of us.
My mother used to say that when you go to a retreat it’s like going to a “Buddha boot camp,” because traditional Zen is very disciplined. I didn’t always like spiritual boot camp, but my intuition knew that it was pretty good for me, so I kept at it until I stopped chasing what somebody promised me or what I read in a book or heard in a talk. I started responding to the unique way that I was being called to that which I cared for deeply, even though I didn’t quite know what it was—a yearning to be in touch with the unique but very real and visceral quality of what motivated my spiritual life. That’s the call.
I realized that where I didn’t have it clearly defined in my mind, I had to go to its source, and we come back to this source—the generative source of being. That’s the discovery that’s there for all of us. And since it’s innate, it’s not necessarily like we earn it or deserve it. It’s perfectly virtuous trying to be a decent human being—decent human beings are nice to be around. They’re more benign. But there’s something more intrinsic even than that.
Yearning often feels like we’re yearning for something because we don’t have it—why would we yearn for something that we have? That we yearn for something we’re not conscious of doesn’t mean we don’t have it, and it doesn’t even mean we aren’t it in our deepest being. Things aren’t always as logically simple as we imagine. It’s useful at least to hold as a possibility that our yearning actually comes from a fullness that we may not be fully conscious of, that it may be coming from that which we are seeking. Often we can be yearning for something that somewhere inside us we don’t really believe could blossom in an ordinary human being. And what I’ve seen is when someone starts to let go of that idea, everything becomes possible for that person.
One day I saw myself sliding back down the trajectory of my yearning to where it came from. I traced it, not with my mind, but with my intuition and sense and feeling, and I sort of felt my way back into that place where it came from. The surprise of all surprises was that the yearning came from the fullness of what I was looking for.
There’s an idea in Zen that I didn’t understand for quite a while, which is that the yearning for enlightenment is the first arising of enlightenment in your experience. It’s like saying your yearning for God comes from God inside of you. It’s the first evidence of the divine presence in you. It doesn’t feel like it because it’s a yearning, but our spiritual yearning or orientation is the first evidence that our deepest and truest nature is breaking through into consciousness. Of course we don’t feel that when we first feel our yearning.
“I don’t know” becomes the doorway, whether it’s “I don’t know who I am” or “I don’t know who God is.” You don’t just think it, but you start to feel it, and you don’t push against it. You don’t grasp for more knowledge. You just let yourself not know, and feel it. It’s a relief when you’re not resisting it, like Ahh, I can breathe again! Sometimes it’s the time just to rest in that place, even before our questions. Questions are relevant, but sometimes it’s the time just to pay attention to that space, that consciousness that’s there before we ever have a question, and after we have a question. Then the trajectory of the spiritual instinct itself takes us that next little step.