What we think of as spirituality is not limited to what we think spirituality is. Spirituality is innate to being. It’s to be involved in the enigma of being. It’s to crack that nut, to open up that mystery. I think so much of deeper spirituality begins when we finally have the maturity, whether it comes at five years old or ninety-five years old, when we have whatever it is that causes us to recognize how deeply and profoundly we are a mystery unto ourselves. You have to have a little gap in your constant judging and condemning of yourself to feel the mystery of yourself. You have to suspend judgment for a moment. It’s a very unique and pivotal point in someone’s life. This is the contemplative endeavor. It’s diving into the mystery of being.
Meditation, whether it’s done in a meditation hall or while you’re sitting on a porch in your front yard, is actually entering experientially into that enigma of being—not just to think about it and philosophize about it, but to actually enter into it. It’s not very far to connect with the mystery of being. It’s right there under the surface. When I started to notice all of this in my twenties, it was a weird thing, because when you get involved with spirituality, you get all these ideas of what a spiritual person is, and I didn’t seem to fit the model. The model of a spiritual person didn’t seem to be a highly competitive athlete who would run over your grandmother to win the next race. That’s not in the sacred scriptures. Someone like that does not receive the deeper spiritual insights, you might think.
The nice thing is that when you’re young, sometimes you don’t even put spirituality in a category. It’s not spirituality, it’s just life. Sometimes life shows up in an odd way, and all of a sudden your experience of it is very different. Maybe you feel deeply connected, or you seem to disappear into nothingness, or you seem to have a moment of connection with God that’s unusually profound and touching and life changing. Or maybe you sink into some spontaneous samadhi where you lose all connection to your senses, and everything disappears, and you’re like a point of consciousness. There are many, many different ways that the deeper dimension of being shows up.
I think it’s useful to think of spirituality in the most natural possible terms. Spirituality is just natural to a human being. It’s even natural to atheists. If you could listen to scientist Carl Sagan in his mystical awe of the cosmos, it was like listening to a mystic half the time, in rapt awe of the beauty of existence. He was a scientific materialist, but that was his doorway into experience, connection, and awe. He was somebody who didn’t believe in God, but he had a deep experience. Clearly his investigations brought him into something akin to a kind of religious or spiritual awe.
I mention naturalness because the sense of the naturalness of true nature or awakening to true nature is not just religious, and it’s not just spiritual. You can even have atheists who are deeply participating in a way of being that connects them to a greater dimension of being. So clearly, this is something that’s innate in all of us. And if we would just go immediately to whatever our felt sense of our own mystery of being is, just to dip for a moment underneath the evaluations, the ideas, and the judgments of being, it doesn’t take much attention—a moment, really—to connect with the sense of being this extraordinary, conscious mystery.
Of course, we don’t want to just leave it at that. There’s something deeper in us that wants more than simply to leave it all as a mystery. I’m suggesting that that’s the entry point. If you forget that entry point, you can do decades of meditation looking for something that’s actually completely innate. And so in the old, universal teachings among the esoteric inner dimensions of most spiritualities, the suggestion is to just go into that place where everything is an unknown.
Open to the unknown. Experience the unknown. Just stop for a second. There’s so much about you that’s unknown to you, it’s mind-boggling. What is it that’s walking, living and breathing, wanting what you want and not wanting what you don’t want? What is it that wants God or awakening or enlightenment, or just a little more peace and happiness in a troubled life? Every time we say “I,” what do we actually mean? We’re giving voice to something that’s immense, and the capabilities are astonishing.
From The Quiet Dimension of Being, 2019
© Adyashanti 2019
From the ordinary standpoint, which is where we all start out, spiritual practice has a quality of being a goal-oriented activity. We’re doing it for a particular reason. We’re hoping for a particular result. We hope it will help us to awaken or reveal the truth to us, or help us find peace or freedom. That’s entirely understandable. It’s a way of relating with whatever our spiritual practice is that feels honest. That’s a conventional view of practice, whatever the spiritual practice is.
The most important part of any spiritual practice is its authenticity, its honesty. And that’s something that’s often missed. The spiritual path is an embodied form of being really true and honest with yourself. That’s not an easy thing to do, especially at the beginning.
To be aware is to be confronted with whatever the reality of your condition is at any particular moment. That can roll off the tongue very easily, but when you go to do it, it can be very challenging to really show up in your life authentically for whatever’s unfolding at that moment. We’re always trying to change what is, or explain it, or justify it, or anything other than a direct encounter with the raw reality of our condition at any given moment.
It’s not easy for human beings to be really honest with themselves. It’s one of the most stringent, demanding practices that there is—to not knowingly, intentionally deceive ourselves or others. Just start with yourself. That’s enough for any given day. It's what needs to be informing our spiritual practice.
Spiritual practice becomes effective and powerful in direct proportion to how true and real and honestly it’s undertaken. That's authenticity. And so much of being honest and real with ourselves is realizing what we don’t know. Knowing that we don’t know takes a lot of honesty. A space opens within the mind and even in the body when we start to know that we don’t know. We open to uncertainty: “I’m not so sure anymore. I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what enlightenment is. I don’t know what God is. I don’t really know much of what I thought I knew.” Sometimes that can be tremendously liberating, when you let go of a painful idea or belief or opinion that was really burdensome. That can be very freeing, just to get that far.
From the standpoint of realization, practice looks very different. Practice is actually an expression of the state of realization. It's an embodied statement. At first, we can see something like meditation as a means to an end: “I hope this helps me get to where I want to get to.” But from a realized perspective, meditation actually becomes an embodied expression of that realization. It’s not the only expression by any means, but it’s one embodied expression. So then the practice and the realization become the same thing.
The underlying attitude that needs to inform our spiritual approach is basic honesty, sincerity, and truthfulness. To whatever extent we can become honest, truthful, and sincere right from the beginning, we’re actually participating in an embodied form of realization. So we can actually utilize aspects of realization far before we’re even realized.
From the viewpoint of realization itself, not only is practice an expression of realization, but it’s also simultaneously a way that realization explores itself, that reality explores itself. Again, it’s not a goal-oriented activity, because realization itself is infinite. Realization itself has no borders. It has no boundaries. Reality can always be realizing more of itself. When it’s reality doing the realizing, there’s no goal. There’s no end. There’s no anxiety. Strictly speaking, there's no seeking, because there’s no goal orientation. How could you make something that has an infinite capacity into a goal? Because if it’s infinite, by definition, you’re not going to get to the goal.
So practice can been seen from this other orientation, the orientation of a deeper realized state. And we can utilize some of that orientation, even if we don’t think we’re realized yet. We can use some of that attitude, you might say. In fact, it’s essential that we do use that attitude, because spiritual practice itself actually isn’t confined to specific spiritual disciplines. That’s another mistaken idea of spiritual practice, that when we're meditating, listening to a talk, or inquiring, we're engaged in a specific spiritual practice. But spiritual practice actually transcends all of those particular forms. It expresses itself through those embodied forms of spiritual practice. The forms are embodied expressions, but what informs all of those forms is something else.
What informs all of those forms of practice is the commitment to realization itself, which goes back to honesty, sincerity, and truthfulness. These are the primary spiritual practices. In that sense, they’re not limited to any particular form. They’re not limited to a time of meditation. You can practice honesty, sincerity, and truthfulness at any moment of your life, in any situation you might be in. Literally, these are the fundamentals of spiritual practice.
From Adyashanti's Authentic Spiritual Practice, UK Retreat, 2018
© Adyashanti 2018
True meditation has no direction or goal. It is pure wordless surrender, pure silent prayer. All methods aiming at achieving a certain state of mind are limited, impermanent, and conditioned. Fascination with states leads only to bondage and dependency. True meditation is abidance as primordial awareness.
True meditation appears in consciousness spontaneously when awareness is not being manipulated or controlled. When you first start to meditate, you notice that attention is often being held captive by focus on some object: on thoughts, bodily sensations, emotions, memories, sounds, etc. This is because the mind is conditioned to focus and contract upon objects. Then the mind compulsively interprets and tries to control what it is aware of (the object) in a mechanical and distorted way. It begins to draw conclusions and make assumptions according to past conditioning.
In true meditation all objects (thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories, etc.) are left to their natural functioning. This means that no effort should be made to focus on, manipulate, control, or suppress any object of awareness. In true meditation the emphasis is on being awareness; not on being aware of objects, but on resting as primordial awareness itself. Primordial awareness is the source in which all objects arise and subside.
As you gently relax into awareness, into listening, the mind’s compulsive contraction around objects will fade. Silence of being will come more clearly into consciousness as a welcoming to rest and abide. An attitude of open receptivity, free of any goal or anticipation, will facilitate the presence of silence and stillness to be revealed as your natural condition.
As you rest into stillness more profoundly, awareness becomes free of the mind’s compulsive control, contractions, and identifications. Awareness naturally returns to its non-state of absolute unmanifest potential, the silent abyss beyond all knowing.
SOME COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT MEDITATION
Q. It seems that the central instruction in True Meditation is simply to abide as silent, still awareness. However, I often find that I am caught in my mind. Is it OK to use a more directed meditation like following my breath, so that I have something to focus on that will help me to not get lost in my mind?
A. It is perfectly OK to use a more directed technique such as following your breath, or using a simple mantra or centering prayer, if you find that it helps you to not get lost in thought. But always be inclined toward less and less technique. Make time during each meditation period to simply rest as silent, still awareness. True Meditation is progressively letting go of the meditator without getting lost in thought.
Q. What should I do if an old painful memory arises during meditation?
A. Simply allow it to arise without resisting it or indulging in analyzing, judging, or denying it.
Q. When I meditate I sometimes experience a lot of fear. Sometimes it overwhelms me and I don’t know what to do.
A. It is useful when experiencing fear in meditation to anchor your attention in something very grounding, such as your breath or even the bottoms of your feet. But don’t fight against the fear because this will only increase it. Imagine that you are the Buddha under the Bodhi tree, or Christ in the desert, remaining perfectly still and unmoved by the body-mind’s nightmare. It may feel very real but it is really nothing more than a convincing illusion.
Q. What should I do when I get an insight or sudden understanding of a situation during meditation?
A. Simply receive what is given with gratitude, without holding onto anything. Trust that it will still be there when you need it.
Q. I find that my mind is spontaneously forming images, almost like a waking dream. Some of them I like, while others are just random and annoying. What should I do?
A. Focus attention on your breathing down in your belly. This will help you to not get lost in the images of the mind. Hold the simple intention to rest in the imageless, silent source prior to all images, thoughts, and ideas.
© 2011 by Adyashanti. All rights reserved.
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