Strictly speaking, we can’t actually want what liberation is. We can’t want it because we can’t know it—we can’t project an idea onto it. You can’t describe it. I call it pure potentiality. That’s as close as I can get, because a big “void” experience is actually a projected idea of what pure potentiality is. That’s what I call eternity. Pure potentiality is complete nothingness. Because it’s pure and it hasn’t become form, it’s often thought of as a void, but not a void of emptiness because it’s also not spatial. All of our ideas of emptiness and void and big expanses of sky and space are not it either, because all of those are spatial references. It’s not in time and it’s not spatial, so you really can’t say anything about it. You’re stuck in a place of divine ignorance.
Some people have actually called it a state of divine ignorance because you can be something that you can’t know. Meister Eckhart sometimes called it “unknowing knowledge.” Unknowing knowledge is like when that immensity—not the “me,” but that immensity itself—has a recognition, “This is what I am.” But beyond that, it can never know itself more than that, because there’s no experiential quality to it. That’s why I say that the deepest impulse is paradoxically beyond rationality.
As I’ve seen over the years, many people have bumped up against this. They’ve had an experience, dipped their toe in, gone to the other side to some extent, and were pulled back. Usually it’s just an automatic response, a survival instinct. But I guess if you wanted to think of it as a benefit, the benefit is that the nonconceptual knot—the ultimate root of what both ego and self are—that knot lets go. And when that knot is even starting to let go, that’s when you feel like “I’ll be annihilated.” Because when that knot lets go, it’s not a knot anymore, and everything it’s ever known about itself was some version of contractedness. That knot, that contractedness, is just falling out of experience.
This knot lets go throughout one’s whole being, and a tremendous lack of self-consciousness is what comes along with it. You lose your inner world.
By inner world I simply mean that the gaze of consciousness or the gaze of awareness is trying to get us to pay attention. There’s part of consciousness that’s dedicated to what we’re doing, and then there’s a piece of it that is constantly doing a U-turn. It’s looking back inside. It’s always saying, “Well, how am I doing? How do I like this? How is this working out for me?” It’s the thing that refers back. The self is that contracted turn, and what it reflects back on is what we call ego.
So first you see through ego. And then you see through this self-turn. Then what’s inside when there’s no ego (if only temporarily), when it’s very mature, is a totally unified inner experience of being. When it goes to the ground of being, this arc straightens itself out, because what it was looking at is what falls away.
When it falls away, you’re no longer pulled, attracted, obsessed. The arc of consciousness straightens itself out, and then there’s just one thing going on all the time. Because the thing that we were turning in toward was produced by the imaginary qualities of self. We grow out of that just like we grow out of infancy. And when we grow out of that, it just falls away. As far as I can see, that’s why the Buddha used the word “nirvana,” which was like blowing out a candle flame. The definition of his enlightenment experience was something being blown out. It wasn’t the addition of anything, it was the subtraction. Something just stopped happening. And that’s what I call one’s inner world.
When consciousness is straightened out, it’s not like it’s no longer in touch with life—it’s just in touch completely directly. The intermediary falls away. There’s nothing to look at anymore and then you’re very in touch, actually. What you’re in touch with is fluid. There’s something extraordinarily affirmative and affirming about it. It’s far from negative.
Nobody even has to look for it. At some point you’ll start to be drawn in there. It can even happen to people who aren’t spiritual at all. Because in the end, we’re talking about the ground of our being. We’re talking about our truest and real nature. There’s always a thread that’s inclining you in that direction, even when you don’t know you’re being inclined in that direction.
Reality is reality in the sense that it’s not becoming. It’s not changing. In one sense, it’s not evolving. And at the same time, one’s human capacity to embody it is changing and evolving and growing without end. Because we’re actually embodying something that’s the infinite ground of our being, there’s no end to how deeply and fully it can be embodied. And that’s a continuous journey. Even Buddha is still becoming Buddha, but the difference is not becoming in the sense of looking for completion—just the adventure, the endless wondering, “How accurately can this be embodied?” And there’s no endpoint.
We get foretastes of it all along the way, those little moments when you bump into your own nothingness, when you can’t find yourself and yet there you are. There’s nothing to chase. And remember, it’s all good. It’s all natural. There’s really nothing to fear.
From Adyashanti's Tahoe Retreat, May2018
© Adyashanti 2018
Our senses need to become refined, and the way our senses become refined is by starting to live through our senses again. It’s a great spiritual practice—a great human thing, but especially a great spiritual practice—to really be connected to your senses. You go outside and you actually feel the cold or the warmth on your skin. You don’t just take quick note of it and you’re off to the next abstract thought that flows through your brain, but you actually feel the cold or the warmth on your skin.
You really see what you’re looking at. You see it because you’re actually looking at it. We can have our eyes open but not really notice very much. You can look at something without having any of your senses online except vision. It’s almost like a computer looking around: “Okay, I’m taking it in—blue, white, ceiling, floor.” People live most of their life doing something like that. Or you can actually feel and sense what you see. Your sense of seeing and your sense of feeling are now operating in a kind of tandem.
It seems to me that either what evokes this noticing or what actually brings it into operation is the capacity of the heart to experience life in a tremendously deep and intimate way. Of course, it’s easier when you look at a tree or some flowers, something with some beauty to it. If you’re looking at them with any attention at all, you’ll realize it evokes a sense, a feeling. Your vision and the feel of something are operating in one moment. You’ve got at least two of your senses cooperating.
Actually, I think all of the senses are meant to work as a coherent whole. Their original way of operating is where you see and feel and hear and taste and touch things all at once, like the great composer who could not only hear music, but see music in his mind’s eye. How many people see music?
At any moment when all of our senses come together and really start to work as a coherent whole, when they’re all intermingled, they actually create another sense. That sense is what I’m calling the heart. All of a sudden, life is experienced in a very different way. As the great Zen Master Dogen said, “It is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things.” It’s an interesting thing to be enlightened by the ten thousand things—meaning everything. It’s to be enlightened by what you see and hear and taste and touch and feel, to be enlightened by the world.
So this is the awakening of the heart. You can just do whatever you’re doing, look at whatever you’re looking at, and imagine that somehow there’s something in the heart that’s actually part of the process of what you see. You’re seeing from it. You’re looking from it. Immediately it will change your experience. It will become a more intimate experience of being. It really doesn’t matter what you’re doing if you start to do it from the heart.
From Perceiving from the Heart, Oakland, CA, March 2018
© Adyashanti 2018
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
In spiritual realization, if we mistake the first blush, the by-products of first discovery, for that which we’ve discovered, then we remain a kind of immature lover. An immature lover endlessly mistakes love for the experience of falling in love. In the same way, we may remain an immature realizer. We may have realized something, but we can remain in an immature state: “I want it to be this way all the time. I want it to feel like, ‘Oh, my God!’ all the time.” You’re not going to get past the threshold of the doorway of reality doing that. Experience teaches us that, and then we start to let go of it. We move beyond the ego mind into just being what we are.
That matures for a while. And then at some point, there may be a vast expanse of consciousness. It's like being a conscious, awake, alive, vibrant “nothing.” And it's a great nothing to be—a totally ascendant, transcendent experience. But it starts to dawn on you, “Okay, I am the nothing as opposed to everything else. Something doesn’t quite add up. There’s still some division. Maybe this isn’t the entire picture.” Not that you have to throw away what you’ve realized, but maybe there’s more to the picture. “Maybe it’s not just this stark duality that I have going, being the aware, awake nothing of consciousness and the everything of existence, the form of existence. That’s a fundamental duality.”
When that interest arises in you, it starts to help. There’s a clutching that you don’t even know is happening. It’s deep in the unconscious. It’s holding on to the new identity of formlessness. There’s a great tendency to want to stay there because it’s a kind of heaven. And you can understand why, because life’s a rough ride sometimes, and then you come into contact with something that’s never been harmed and can’t be harmed ever, and is always there, something that nobody can give you or take away from you. It is such an amazing relief and security to experience something like that. One is not quick to let it go, nor should we be quick to let it go. But it does arise that there may be more to this story.
That curiosity starts to loosen the unconscious holding on to the new identity as formless awareness. It’s not that the formless awareness identity has to go anywhere; it’s just that the clutching at it starts to loosen. And as it loosens, then the witness position relinquishes itself, and the witnessing collapses into the witnessed. When the holding starts to be relinquished, it’s the descending movement. It descends down into the heart. When this descent happens, the heart starts to awaken, and the witness collapses into the witnessed. Then we start perceiving through the heart, seeing through the heart. Then the witness and what is witnessed seem to be one. They’re the same.
It's a grand inclusion and the waking up of a perceptual capacity from the heart that sees the underlying unity of existence. Experientially, it’s like looking up at a tree and feeling as if the tree is seeing itself. Or you look up at the sky and it feels as though the sky is seeing itself. Or you touch something and you feel as though what you’re touching is feeling itself.
There’s no subject-object relationship going on anymore. There’s just one seamless thing, whatever you want to call it. Ramana called it the Self. The Buddhists call it Buddha nature. You could even call it the perception of life experiencing itself. “Oh, I thought I was apart from life. I thought life was something that I was in and trying to negotiate.” That’s the egoic perspective. “And now I see that I’m actually life itself, the whole of it, also appearing as a particular part at the same time.” You get to play both sides.
From Adyashanti's Mount Madonna Retreat, 2018
© Adyashanti 2018
Our primary cause of suffering is that we think deep inside we’re going to win the argument with what is. “What is” may be the world outside you, or you can be sitting all by yourself and you can be at war with yourself, saying, “The way it is, is not the way it should be. I want it to change.”
The problem is, the way you are at any instant is the way it is. That’s reality. Reality rules. It doesn’t change because you or I think it should be different. It’s very simple. And yet, when you really see it, you realize how easy it is to get lost in a literal state of insanity where your mind, your ego, is always telling life: “It’s not the way it should be. I’m not the way I should be. You’re not the way you should be. Something is wrong.”
That sense of wrongness has been around for a long time. But the only thing that’s wrong is that we keep believing there’s something wrong. And when we believe there’s something wrong, we treat the world badly.
You treat yourself badly when you think there’s something wrong with you. The more wrong you feel about yourself, the worse you treat yourself. We’re afraid to let go of that because we think unconsciously, “If we let go of that, then everything would spiral up and out of control. We wouldn’t feed the hungry and we wouldn’t pay attention to the needy and we’d all be self-absorbed. The world needs my argument with it. Otherwise it’s never going to become better.” It’s just insanity.
Where we are, we got here precisely because we argue with what is. And then our hearts close, and our minds close, and the inherent creativity of Spirit shrinks, and our options seem to diminish, and we’re walking in blinders. And the more we have blinders on, the more justified we feel in our reasons to oppose our lives.
At some point, something hits you: “Oh, that’s insane. That’s an argument I can’t win. I can’t win the argument with life. I can’t win the argument with myself. It has no validity to it, none whatsoever.” And then maybe it just starts to collapse.
And isn’t it when the heart opens, when the mind opens, that you and I join with right now? It doesn’t matter how “right now” is. Right now you might feel like a real disaster. You may feel absolutely horrible right now. If you totally join with even that, at the moment you join with it, it’s perfectly fine. It’s the cause of your freedom, just joining with life.
From Adyashanti's Asilomar Retreat, 2010
© Adyashanti 2010
The great spiritual author Alan Watts had a wonderful image. He said when a boat goes through the water, it leaves a wake in the water as it passes through. The way we understand things psychologically would be that the wake actually creates the boat, that the past is what creates the present moment. But of course, we know that the wake isn’t creating the boat; the boat is creating the wake. It’s the present moment that is creating the past. The present moment is what’s knifing through the water and the wake is just the recording of the present moment moving farther and farther into the past.
So if you look at it from that standpoint, the past doesn’t actually create the present even though it seems like the past is what gives us our present experience, which conditions the way we see life. There’s actually another way to see it, and that’s what the spiritual orientation is. The spiritual orientation is rooted in the revelation or the perception that there’s only right here and right now. And even deeper than that is that everything you think and feel and experience right here and right now is not actually the outcome of the past. It’s actually the spontaneous bursting into existence of the present. In a way it’s uncaused.
We’re taught to view life through the orientation that the past creates the present. The “here and now” orientation doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. And yet, not only in the realm of spirituality, but also in the realm of science and quantum mechanics, we start to see that life actually bursts forth uncaused, seemingly out of nowhere, seemingly out of nothingness. This is what some of our physics and physicists have observed, that the smallest particles of matter actually seem to burst out of nowhere, out of nothingness, and on an even more perplexing level, that our observation of life is what actually brings life into being.
This is really the deeper meaning of “spontaneous.” Spontaneity means uncaused. It’s not following the laws of causation. At the subatomic level, nothing happens until it’s observed, and as soon as something is observed, the observation itself is what brings it into being. So the observation and what is being observed actually arise spontaneously together.
This may all seem quite abstract. That’s why I like the image of a boat moving through water, because with that image you can see how it’s the present moment that’s creating the past, not the past that’s creating the present moment. Even though that may be hard to grasp, it’s really quite easy to have some rudimentary understanding of this by just imagining a boat going through the water and the simple recognition that it’s the present moment of the boat going through the water that creates the wake. The wake will be the past. That’s where the boat moved through the water, and that’s the signature of the boat moving through the water. But the past does not create the present.
From Adyashanti's True Spiritual Orientation, 2010
© Adyashanti 2010
I’ve been asked many times, “Adya, I’m experiencing this strange sort of fear, like I’m at the door of some void, and it’s just going to swallow me. And somehow I’m strangely, deeply compelled towards it, and absolutely terrified of it, because it feels like it’s going to be the end of me.” It’s very common in doing this kind of deep work that you can run into this.
Ultimately, in the end, we see through self, but at that point, self isn’t a thought and it’s not really a feeling, except for fear. It’s something you can’t identify, like some sort of presence of being that feels extraordinarily threatened. When this really opens up, you quite literally experience the disappearance of everything you know. It seems like the body, the mind, the entire world—all of existence blinks out of existence.
In a certain sense, the most real sense that there can be, you actually do go through a death. It’s not the same thing as a near-death experience—as transformative as those can be—it’s a death experience. It’s the thing we’re afraid of, because you think of your body dying, which is what most people are afraid of. But you’re only afraid of your body dying because you think that you are associated with the body. What is it that’s associated with the body? It’s you.
If you were 100% completely convinced that you survive your body dying, death wouldn’t feel like a threat to you at all. But since the identification runs so deep there, any threat to your body feels like a threat to your life—as a threat to your ideas can feel like a threat to your life. If you let go here, it feels like, “I will cease to be.” This is to experience the death of the entire ego identity. If it really happens all the way through, something doesn’t come back from it. There is an irrevocable change or transformation. The good news is that you aren’t what you feel is going to die. The only way to know that entirely is for it to die.
My hunch is that when the Buddha associated nirvana with extinction and cessation, this is what he was talking about: to yank identity up from the root. Because until then, it is the journey of identity: “I’m me”—whatever your sense of yourself is—“Oh, I’m not, I’m the aware space.” And then you have emotional identities: “I’m this open, wide, loving, benevolent presence. That’s what I am—beautiful.” Or “I am That—everywhere I look, there I am.” Or if you’re a little bit differently oriented, “Everywhere I look, there’s the face of God. Okay, now that is what I am. I’m a son or daughter of God.”
The fear of it is that it is the death of identity, which is almost impossible to contemplate. The journey is that the identity gets more and more transparent and boundless, until finally identity itself falls away. Then the question “What is it that I am?” is no longer there—not because you have an answer, but because identity is no longer relevant.
In conventional language, you may give it a name like “the infinite.” I call it “pure potentiality.” There are different ways the void is talked about, and this is one of them. Pure potentiality would necessarily be void if it’s pure—no manifestation at all—pure potential, pure creative impulse.
That doesn’t mean that you no longer have a personality, that you no longer have human things about you, that you no longer have a certain kind of principle that orients you—you may even call that an identity. But you no longer find self in identity, and so it’s freed up.
When the Buddha says “enlightenment,” one way of articulating it is that it’s the freedom from identity, from having to be or not be anything. Does that mean you no longer experience the oneness, being everything, seeing the face of God, your true being, or Buddha nature in everything? No, that’s still there. Things are still there, but there’s no longer identity in them. I don’t really know how to describe that, because the nature of it is beyond description. You can’t even think about it. It’s the borderline between being and nonbeing.
So this is just part of the journey: awakening at the level of mind, heart awakening to the unity of all things, and each one of these provides more spaciousness and openness. Your sense of yourself gets more and more transparent, therefore there’s less to defend. There’s less necessity to assert yourself in the world, which doesn’t mean you are not an assertive being. You can still be a very assertive being.
How does all that translate down into your human experience? There’s still a human being there. The human being hasn’t started to glow and become incapable of any stupidity. It hasn’t suddenly become God’s shining example of utter perfection. Each dimension of being exists within its own dimension.
In my experience, what it does is it frees these dimensions up so they’re no longer in conflict, and life is no longer about protecting and asserting a kind of ego structure. It’s about something different. There are still other dimensions of our humanness that need attention if we want to be able to function well and have what we’ve realized be able to flow out into all the dimensions of what it is to be a human being.
From Adyashanti’s Omega Institute Retreat, 2017
© Adyashanti 2017
Spirituality is about waking up, reaching in, finding, and identifying the things that are unconscious within you—things that you don’t want to see or deal with. If you want to come even close to enlightenment, you don’t get to hide from anything. You have that unquenchable thirst for truth and love, and you will look into anything in order to bring truth to it, in order to bring non-separation to it. There’s no hiding. No form of self-deception will work. All along the way, it requires this willingness to access your experience of where you are and what’s happening, and to make the necessary adjustments.
This is one thing that no spiritual teacher can give their students—they can’t give this kind of desire—the desire for the truth and nothing but the truth, all the way through, come what may. You either have it, or you find it, or you don’t. You can’t be in any kind of wish-fulfillment strategy with your enlightenment.
If we really want to live an awakened life, we’ve got to approach it in a very pragmatic way: What’s working? What’s not working? One of the illusions we let go of is just sitting around hoping and dreaming. This is a kind of resistance.
Just open your eyes and open your heart and encounter whatever is there. See what’s under it, and see what’s under that, and see what’s under that—until you see it all the way through. If you have that as a high value, then as far as enlightenment is concerned, you have the necessary and most important ingredient.
From Adyashanti's broadcast The Miracle of Any Moment, December 2017
© Adyashanti 2017
Our deepest spiritual experiences and awakenings are transcendent of self. It’s as if we’re leaping out of the domain of relativity and leaving it behind altogether, to go into the dimension of pure being, the ground of being.
The human dimension that you leap out of when you transcend it may or may not be that ultimately transformed by what you’ve realized. You will always be transformed to certain degrees. But closing the gap between your absolute and relative nature, between your deepest experience of being—whatever that might be for you—and your relative human experience of being, is getting those two dimensions of your being into conversation. Your depth of life translates into your relative life. This is essential if we are to have the experience of being unified beings, unified in the sense that all of you feels like it’s aligned in one direction.
By starting to explore this, the more unified you become, the more your depth and your relative life start to come closer and closer together. They begin to express each other, so that you have a deeper and deeper experience of meaning.
The absolute ground of being is transcendent of meaning. Meaning almost doesn’t make much sense there. But in the relative dimension of being, meaning is meaningful. It means something. Our humanity, if it has no sense of proper orientation or meaning, tends to be in a more chaotic state of being that is innately unsatisfied.
Part of our ability to translate more and more our deepest experience of being into a relative way of being is that it brings meaning back into life. I'm not talking about meaning in a philosophical sense, where you can tell someone the meaning of life. I’m talking about meaning as an experience of being, where you feel as if you’re in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing. Have you had that experience? It’s an experience where you just feel altogether that you're in the right place, doing the right thing at the right time. And you feel it. You don’t get there through analysis or conventional thinking. You get there when you’re doing the right thing at the right time. That is the sense, the experience of meaning.
Meaning in this sense is an experience of being, rather than an idea that you’re imposing upon life. It’s the experience where you feel that you are in alignment with the cosmos. It’s the feeling that your life feels right, it’s on course, and it’s in alignment with the cosmos. You’re in alignment with life. That gives life a sense of meaning—not a philosophical idea of meaning, but the experience of meaning.
The experience of meaning is in some ways similar to the enlightened condition. The enlightened condition is transcendent of meaning, but one way of describing the enlightened condition is always being in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing, totally inwardly aligned, undivided inwardly, psychologically and emotionally undivided. That’s the enlightened condition. And that’s a pretty good description of the experience of relative meaning.
From Adyashanti’s Online Course Taking the One Seat, 2017
© Adyashanti 2017
Ego believes it has agency and that it’s doing things, and constantly things happen that the ego doesn’t want to happen. In fact, the ego itself does things that it doesn’t want to do; yet it insists that it has agency. Strange, isn’t it? We bump into that over and over, even in one given day.
You hear it at retreats, like this: “How do I not have this thought? How do I not have this feeling?” As if you had agency. If you had agency you wouldn’t have to ask the question, would you? If we had this so-called free agency we’d just go, “Well, I don’t want to think—click. I feel bad, I’ve got free agency, I don’t want to feel bad—click—I feel good.”
We think the enlightened ones figure this agency thing out. They’ve got total agency, so they can choose bliss, joy, and happiness, and they’ve got something figured out, when actually it’s just the opposite. They’ve realized just the opposite: There is no agency.
Ego has no agency, therefore it has no freedom. That’s why it’s constantly frustrated; that’s why it constantly lies to itself. It keeps pretending that it does. It would be terrible news if we were our egos—because that would mean we are locked into a prison we could never get out of. But of course an ego is just a collection of thinking based on desire and aversion.
That vast unified field of being—whatever we want to call that: pure consciousness, spirit, unified field—as that gets more and more conscious, as that wakes up to its own nature, the experience as it gets very deep is that “Whatever is happening is what I want to be happening.” Because when you are only that field, you haven’t split yourself off; there’s only the One.
From Adyashanti's Online Course The Philosophy of Enlightenment, 2017
© Adyashanti 2017
Study Course Q&A Excerpted from "The Philosophy of Enlightenment"
My Dear Friends,
This letter is in response to several letters I have gotten during this course that have asked about how to deal with chronic pain and illness. Although this important subject is a bit outside the scope of this course, I feel called to respond to those who have written in about it. I have condensed my response to these emails into this one response, given that there were so many questions regarding this challenging topic.
There is an unavoidable tragic aspect to life. We will all experience the loss of loved ones, illness, and tragedies of various kinds and to varying degrees. As the Buddha said, in life there is suffering. No sugarcoated truth here; he was just stating one of the unavoidable facts of life. However, this is not the end of the story, it is just the beginning.
One of the greatest challenges of dealing with chronic illness is the feeling of isolation and aloneness, and experiencing something that so few understand. Many more people deal with chronic illness and pain than most people would imagine. There is also the challenge of experiencing something that you have little or no control over, which can elicit feelings of fear, rage, depression, and victimhood. One also becomes more vulnerable to the darker impulses of the mind as it struggles to adapt to the day-to-day realities of what often feels overwhelming.
Notwithstanding the necessity of caring for your health and physical well-being to the best of your ability, what I want to address here is the psychological aspect of prolonged illness and/or pain. It is very important to look closely at the difference between the body’s experience of pain and illness and the mind’s reaction to it. It is the mind’s reactions and the emotions that they trigger that are often more challenging than the physical experience of pain or illness itself, because the mind’s responses are optional.
Most of the ways that the mind responds to prolonged pain and illness elicit the fight-or-flight response in the brain. This response, which takes place in the most primitive part of our brain, underlies almost all of the emotional turmoil associated with prolonged pain and illness. It is the mind saying no to what is being experienced, while simultaneously trying to run away from it. There is nowhere to run to, because the perceived threat is not occurring outside of our bodies, it is occurring inside of our minds. The good news is that the mind and the emotions that it elicits are changeable.
The practice that is essential when dealing with the fight-or-flight mechanism of the mind is, first of all, to notice when it is happening and take immediate action to counter it. Because this is an email, I will condense my explanation of the practice here below.
1. Notice when the fight-or-flight response is happening. The symptoms that it has triggered are fear, anger, anxiety, resentment, defeatism, victimhood, and rampant negative thinking, to name a few.
2. Once you have noticed the fight-or-flight response is taking place, stop and take several conscious deep breaths. You are beginning to go against the tide of the fight-or-flight response, so you may experience some inner resistance to doing even this first step. Nonetheless, take the time to take a few conscious breaths. This will begin to biologically counter the fight-or-flight response in the brain. It will help the brain to reset its response to physical and emotional challenge.
3. Notice the negative thoughts that the mind is generating. Also notice that it is the negative thoughts that are generating the emotional turmoil. Pain and exhaustion are direct experiences, while emotional turmoil is a secondary reaction. It’s an add-on that has the power to elicit many reactive emotions. So take the time to notice that this secondary reaction is being generated by negative thinking.
4. Acknowledge that, while the pain or illness may be unavoidable, the resistance to it is optional and happens in your mind. Ask yourself, “Is it absolutely necessary for me to resist what is happening right now? What would it feel like to let go of these resisting thoughts?”
5. Take the time to let your body feel the shift from negative thinking to a more neutral mindset. Negative thoughts may still try to intrude into the moment, but just ask yourself once again, “What would it feel like to let go of these resisting thoughts right now?” Don’t resist the resisting thoughts, however; that will only keep you bound by them. Be patient and don’t try to rush it. Being patient counters the fight-or-flight response as well.
6. Be sure to let your mind and your body feel the space between and underneath the negative thoughts, which this practice makes available. I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough. This practice makes available the experience of neutral space in the mind and the body. When applied constantly over time, it resets the emotional triggering caused by the mind to a more peaceful and free state.
7. Illness and pain can also generate future thinking like “Will this ever end,” or “What will my life look like in the future?” Or, even more painful, “What did I do to deserve this, and why is God doing this to me?” These are also thoughts that are resisting experiencing this moment. They are generated by fear and resistance and in turn create more fear and resistance. You may also feel some fear in letting them go, as if somehow they were going to protect you in the future. You are not being punished; life is just like this sometimes.
8. Repeat the above exercise as often as needed, probably many times every day. It can take time, though it doesn’t necessarily have to, to reset the mind’s fight-or-flight responses. The more consistent you are, the faster these old conditioned responses can be turned around. But it does take consistent practice.
9. Also, take some time to meditate every day. You can work with the thoughts that come up in meditation in exactly the same way that I have outlined here. Meditation done correctly can help tremendously in freeing yourself from the fight-or-flight response, as long as you don’t restrict the practice only to times of meditation. And remember, this practice is not only for your mind, it is also for your body. So take the time to let both the mind and the body experience those gaps of neutrality and peace that this practice makes available to you. It can be life changing.
With Great Love,
The above Q&A is excerpted from an online study course with Adyashanti. Learn about his current course on the Study Course page.
Study Course Q&A Excerpted from "The Philosophy of Enlightenment"
Leslie writes: Several years ago, while on retreat with you, the insight suddenly hit that what I had thought of as "me" was just an illusory boundary. I laughed and cried as beliefs seemed to pop and dissolve like soap bubbles. Awareness or presence, well, just simply is.
A lot of seeking has fallen away, but the perception of unity or "Everything is one" still remains not really experienced. Any pointers or inquiries you would suggest for unity to move beyond intellectual understanding? I somehow intuit that it's another layer of "illusory boundary" that hasn't been seen through. Sometimes it feels like I'm trying to crack an unsolvable riddle!
Adyashanti: Here is the direct answer to your question: Simply contemplate the question “What is the world?” By contemplate, I mean to simply form the question in your mind. Don't think about it. Just present the question and relax your awareness as much as possible. That’s the “how.”
Experiencing unity is a bit like getting a joke. The "getting" of a joke is what causes the laughter. In a sense, the getting is the laughter. But we don't laugh because we have analyzed the joke and come to understand it; we laugh because the joke exposes something about ourselves. It removes the seriousness of the boundaries that we believe in and live by. It reveals that they are absurd and therefore funny. The same is true of the beliefs that cause us to experience boundaries. In a very real sense, beliefs are the creators of the experience of boundaries. They are absurd, even if at times useful, fictions, but only experienced as absurd when we see that they are absurd and worthy of a good laugh.
Every description, every name, every belief -- good or bad -- every concept, creates boundaries where there are in fact no boundaries at all. Even to say “I” instantly imposes a boundary upon what is actually a unified field of being. To say “I” instantly creates what is not “I.” “Big” is always in relationship to “small,” “up” in relationship to “down,” “good” in relationship to “bad,” “heads” of a coin in relationship to “tails.” Words imply that these opposites exist separately from one another, but they do not. They are simply different ways of looking at the same thing. You cannot have the crest of a wave without also having its trough; they are in reality one dynamic process.
As I have often said, each thing is its total environment. Remove the environment in which anything exists, and the thing will also not exist, which is to say that there is no such thing as a thing. To call something a thing, or to give it a name, is to conceptually impose boundaries upon it where they do not actually exist. A tree does not exist independently of its environment; it is its total environment. It takes a cosmos to produce a tree -- no cosmos, no tree. To say “tree” implies the entire cosmos. The same is true of you.
When we give any aspect of the cosmos a name like tree, or human being, or rain cloud, we forget that we are imposing boundaries where there actually are no boundaries. There are, of course, practical uses to doing such a thing, but practical usefulness does not mean that what we are naming actually exists independently from the dynamic process of life. Even to say that we are presence or awareness mistakenly implies that we are not what we are aware of. It is an intermediate level of realization, and is much more freeing than experiencing ourselves to be a separate someone, but is still defined and experienced as its own form of formless separateness. It is formless presence as opposed to the world of forms. But formlessness and form appear together, and beyond even together. They are ways of looking at one dynamic process. They are simply two different points of view from within that process.
When we drop whatever point of view we are entertaining, the illusory experience of separateness and having conceptually imposed boundaries disappears. Concepts, names, descriptions, beliefs, and opinions are nothing more than abstract ideas that have the power to create very real feelings and experiences within our bodies and alter our perception of the world to an extraordinary extent. So even though concepts are a part of daily functioning, and necessarily so to some degree (though not to the degree that we imagine), when we forget that the boundaries they impose upon our perception is an illusion, we take the conceptual game of naming and believing far too seriously and lose not only our sense of humor, but also any deep sense of freedom and love. We stop taking ourselves lightly and become like an unbendable blade of grass forever bracing itself against the slightest breeze.
In truth we are the All, as is everyone and everything else. There is simply nothing else to be. The All is not here to be understood as a noun; it is a process, and not even that. It is the process of existence and nonexistence as well. It cannot be known in the conventional sense, because all that is known is an idea, an object within consciousness. And by the way, ideas are it too. But it is not defined or limited by its ideas. The All that you are can only be lived, either unconsciously or consciously. It has a simple intuitive regard for itself, from within all of itself. If you want to find yourself, just open your eyes, and there you are. Or close your eyes, and there you are: something, nothing, someone, no one, everything, not-a-thing. Living, dying, smiling, crying -- one Self experienced as many selves. The entire cosmos awake to itself, and not even that, and all of that.
Quick now, where is the Buddha?
With Great Love,
© Adyashanti 2016
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