Divine Spirit is Calling Us Home

Our spiritual ancestors tell us that we don’t need to try and attain enlightenment, all of us are already enlightened. In the absolute world where all separation isn’t real, there is no one more enlightened than you or I. And there is no one less enlightened than you or I. This is no less true in the relative world, where separation appears real. However in the relative world of self and other, of joy and suffering, there are different layers of belief in our ideas about enlightenment and delusion. The veil hiding our inherent joy in the freedom of our true nature obviously appears much denser and solid in some of us than in others.

I was having a private discussion with senior dharma teacher Reb Anderson about this very topic some years ago. I mentioned that when contemplating how to further deepen others’ realization, I was aware of a tendency to want to measure where I’m at, to measure how much can I be of help? He replied that right there, in that attachment to wanting is an attempt to unenlighten your Self. Sometimes it can be helpful to reframe our neurotic egotistical obsessions as attempts to unenlighten ourselves. This simply means we’re deeply conditioned to continually attempting to control and interfere with the divine life force always living in and through us, calling us home. And clinging to these self conscious attempts is what obscures the clear realization of our inherent freedom; this clinging is an attempt to unenlighten ourselves.

I was grateful for Reb pointing out to me the need to deeply contemplate and be aware of the components and implications of that self conscious wanting I was expressing. He pointed out that it is good that there was an awareness of the tendency. The pure awareness of the tendency is witnessing the wanting from a place that isn’t attached to the wanting, from a place that isn’t attached to the results of that wanting, from a place willing to just let the wanting be what it actually is. So the inquiry becomes what is the wanting really? What is the attachment to the wanting, and what is helpful as well as harmful about the attachment?

These are big questions, and any conceptual answers I talk about here are only true for me, they are only true in my mind. And they are only true in the minds of you reading them. They won’t necessarily be helpful to you. The main point for me is that it is important to be willing to more fully enter the questions, to allow ourselves to be more fully absorbed in the questions that are most relevant to each of us. This doesn’t mean becoming fully absorbed in the conceptual content of the questions, but to become more fully absorbed in the actual life of the questions which is free of all conceptual content. Excessively clinging to the conceptual content of our deep questioning is an attempt to deaden the aliveness of the questioning, an attempt to deaden the aliveness of our spiritual inquiry. We learn to allow the questions to stay fully alive by gradually learning to allow the aliveness of our yearning, the joy and sorrow, and trusting that our aliveness of inquiry IS divine spirit calling us home.

It is usually much easier for us to welcome our joy than it is to welcome our grief that comes up from absorbing ourselves in the aliveness of the big questions. We learn that attempting to cover up and deny our suffering will eventually lead to rude awakenings, and the more energy we put into denial, the more frequent and ruder the awakenings become. When we learn to be willing to embrace our grief, by just offering it to the mystery, offering to a higher power, we begin to realize that the deepest root of of our suffering is a profound sadness from the overall felt sense of being separate from our natural expression of unconditional love and acceptance. We begin to deeply realize that underneath all of our neurotic desires, is the desire for wholeness, our deepest desire is the desire for the innate wholeness we actually already are.

The great Indian saint Anandamayi Ma said the following about our willingness to yield to the Divine calling within.

When intense interest in the supreme quest awakens, ever more time and attention will be given to religious thought, spiritual philosophy, the remembrance of God as immanent in all creation, until thereby every single knot is untwisted. One is stirred by deep yearning: “How can I find Him?” As a result of this, the rhythm of body and mind will grow steady, calm, serene.

Suppose some people go to bathe in the sea and make up their minds to swim ahead of everyone else; consequently they will have to look back. But for him whose one and only goal is the ocean itself, no one has remained for whose sake he looks back or is concerned; (transcend and include, not exclude concern for others) and then, what is to be, will be.

Give yourself up to the wave, and you will be absorbed by the current; having dived into the sea, you do not return anymore (Attachments to the sense of a separate self just continually fall away). The Eternal Himself is the wave that floods the shore, so that you may be carried away. Those who can surrender themselves to this aim will be accepted by Him.

But if your attention remains directed towards the shore, you cannot proceed – after bathing you will return home. If your aim is the Supreme, the Ultimate, you will be led on by the movement of your true nature. There are waves that carry away, and waves that pull back. Those who can give themselves up, will be taken by Him. In the guise of the wave (sometimes in the wave of deep grief, sometimes in the wave of deep joy) She holds out her hand and calls you, come Come COME!

 

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9-11

The morning of September 11th 2001 is a day that all Americans remember where they were, and what they were doing when they heard the news that our nation was under attack. I was in a hospital room with my three day old first born child Nicky, getting ready to take him home for the very first time. Of course normally this would be a wonderfully joyous occasion, a lighthearted initiation into the rites of parenthood, a celebration of a new life for our family in the sanctuary of our home. The trauma of the shock of that morning easily comes back to me every September 11th since that day. I remember helping my wife into the car as she carried Nicky for the short drive home. Two and a half hours after the attacks, the Fort Lauderdale atmosphere was dark, deathly still, and oppressively humid. I felt like I was getting into a hearse instead of going to host a blissful coronation.

The question still arises, what could this mean for our lives that such a horrific event happened right in the midst of such an important event for us? My spiritual training has taught me not to get so caught in pondering the conceptual meaning of things; all things, all experiences are only true in the mind. Adyashanti said there is no such thing as a true thought. However perhaps almost all of us human beings experience at some point the profound transformative potential when shocked with the realization that the fear of the suffering of death arises together with the blissful arrival of new life from the deepest depths of the mystery of life. Death is part of life, and suffering is part of love.

There is a movie, Shadowlands, about C.S. Lewis, the famous Christian preacher, Oxford professor, and author of children’s books, that is very moving for me. He was a very deep thinker. In one of his literature classes, he talks of perfect love being perfect because of its unattainability. “The most intense love lies not in the having of it, but in the very intense desiring of it. Delight that never fades, bliss eternal, is only yours when what you most desire is forever out of reach.” In his sermons he preached that God wants us to suffer, for it is in our suffering that we learn to desire perfect love, love that we imagine is separate from and not part of suffering. He says this is how God teaches us that he wants us to learn to love and be loved in our deep desire for perfect love.

He meets his future wife, and her love for him reveals to her his deep childhood fear of love and suffering after his mother’s death when he was 7. She clearly intuits his defensiveness in his brilliance, and unconscious sense of superiority that alienates him from opening to an intimate relationship with her. It is only when she is stricken with advanced terminal bone cancer that he realizes she is the love of his life. They are married while she’s confined to bed, and then she goes into remission. However the doctors caution that this won’t last.

They decide to take a trip into the beautiful English countryside, and he realizes he’s found true happiness. He’s not worried about the past or future, he’s finally happy now in the present moment. His wife says, “You know this isn’t going to last. I know you don’t want to talk about it, but I need to talk about it with you”. He says don’t worry about me, I’ll get by somehow. She replies, “No, I think it can be better than that, it can be better than just managing.” He says, “Let’s not spoil the time we have.” She says, “It doesn’t spoil it, it makes it real. I need to talk to about it now, so I can be with you then when I die. What I’m trying to say is, the happiness now is part of the pain then. That’s the deal.”

When she dies, he’s quite angry and is forced to face his deep fear of the pain of loss. It’s so painful that initially he is unable to console his step son who has just lost his mother at age 7 as he did. Finally they have a deeply cathartic cry together, and he fulfills his commitment to look after him after her death.

The movie ends with him asking, “Why love if losing hurts so much? I have no answers now, only the life I’ve lived. Twice in this life I’ve been given the choice, as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.”

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Guided Meditation on Breath

 

Breathing in, I know I am alive. Breathing out, I smile to my aliveness. Notice that we don’t have to try to breathe; the breath breathes itself. Just notice for a minute that if we don’t make an effort to breathe, or to control our breathing, breathing just happens anyway on its own. Just noticing the breath, it naturally slows down and deepens. Allowing the breath to breathe in, we can sense the subtle pressure of our breath is a loving gift of the life force, asking for nothing in return. Allowing the breath to breathe out, we can sense that our breath is our intimate connection with this life force, our true sense of being alive. The invitation is always here for us to surrender to this aliveness, to the let the breath breathe through us, to allow the life force to live through us.

Breathing in, we are aware of the loving acceptance of all of our sensory experience, sounds, feelings, forms, and thoughts. Breathing out, we are aware of all sounds, feelings, forms, and thoughts peacefully dissolving back into the breath itself, into the life force itself. This is our life, the flowing river of our sensory experience is one with the flowing river of our breath. So enjoy our breathing, rest and be taken. Rest and be taken on this ride of living experience, surrender to the flow of our breathing, the spirit of acceptance and peace, and know that we are loved.

Offering Our Life to Our True Beloved

When we deeply penetrate the source of all of our experience and authentically ask ‘what is actually here?’, we won’t find anything in particular. We find many thoughts about what is actually here, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we realize the energy of thought can’t describe what is witnessing thought itself. What is actually here is that which is witnessing thought, witnessing sensations, witnessing sound, and witnessing our seeing forms, our seeing the world before us. These are our four senses, here I’m grouping smell and taste as various forms of sensation. Our experience as human beings is made of the interrelations of these four senses.

The witness is not a dispassionate, objective, and impersonal observer of our experience.  The witness is spirit, fully alive with the pulsing electricity of sensations, in all their fullness of the vitality of our being. While the energy of our sensory experience is always moving and changing, with the variety of experiences flowing together like a river, these movements are always arising as, and being expressed by a changeless background. This changeless background is the witness, effortless in its total acceptance and love of all our experience. Zen masters often describe the changeless as being very very bright, and very very clear. This is describing self realization in visual terms. I’ll often sense this clarity and brightness as I’m walking along the shore at the beach.

Yogananda also describes self realization in visual terms when he says “Just like the beam of a motion picture, so is everything made of shadows and light. That’s what we are, light and shadows of the Lord, nothing more than that.” When walking on the beach, you may have the experience of the primacy of the vast expanse of consciousness, timeless and spaceless. The sand, ocean waves, sky and clouds, may appear as mere reflections of this incredibly clear and bright light. You can notice your shadow following along with you, that doesn’t affect or limit you in any way.

What is the actual life force continually animating us? Yogananda also said, “God is the electricity, human beings are the light bulbs”. Our bodies are actually lit up with God’s electric current, our bodies themselves are made of Her light, and are mere shadows of the eternal divine light. As such their limitations and sufferings are in our imaginations only. When we gradually become aware of this pure divine light, we will never lose it, for there is nothing else. This light, this bliss and love, knows and loves our total being from inside, for it is our total being.

Our true beloved is always compassionately showing us where we’re still holding on to our imagined separate identities. We are always being called to offer all of our life, which amounts to all of our holding on, to our true beloved. Our calling is to just keep going forward, and not look back at the past, or imagine vain stories about our future. In offering it all to our true beloved, our real being is always being revealed.

Breath Sweeps Mind

Awareness of our breath is an invaluable tool in aiding our contemplative practice. The major component of mindfulness of our breath is allowing the energy of our breath to freely circulate throughout our gross physical body as well as our surrounding subtle energy body. We’re learning to witness and accept all of our sensory experience flowing together, letting thought energy dissipate without fixating on any ideas about what is happening. Gradually we notice a softening of mind created rigid boundaries between our imagined separate identity and our environment.

This is where our conditioned mind meets the unconditioned boundless awareness of our real being. We’re cultivating our willingness to receive the collective energy of being itself without self conscious interfering. This allows the beginning of our identity shift to the body of infinite consciousness, which is our true body. Practicing mindfulness of our breath with diligence and perseverance, gradually dissolves the sense of separation born of the limited and confined personal body and mind.

When we sit together in a meditation hall, the air circulating through our bodies freely mingles with air breathed by everyone. The air we’re breathing is infused with the energy of our life force. We are literally breathing each others energy, and absorbing each others joy and pain. Then we are offering our compassion, joy, and tranquility back to each other. This is one way we can transform each others and our own suffering, while offering all of our experience to the sangha.

Our breath is the continual flow of our life force, and when we commit to just stop making efforts to control the flow, we begin to intuitively realize that it is always freely flowing on its own. We begin to actually sense in our physical body that even our self conscious attempts to control the flow, aren’t controlling anything. Our attempts at control are just an expression of the free flow. We begin to actually experience this more and more as we just allow the thought energy of our effort to arise and dissolve while flowing by.

One practice I’ve used in dealing with resistance is to imagine my breath sweeping the mind. When we are fixated on a particular idea, combined with a painful emotion, at first this process seems like there is something substantial in the feeling and thought energy being swept away into the flow our breath. As we continue to mindfully witness this experience, the conceptual content of the experience, which is traces of words, ideas, and sensations, begins to lose it solidity, actually begins to melt into the flow of experience. Our spirit of inquiry is infused with a deep joy as the conceptual haze we’re so deeply conditioned to be bound to, bursts like so many bubbles on the sea of awareness.

Zen master Suzuki Roshi talked about the practice of imaging ourselves as a swinging door when we breathe during zazen meditation. He said, “What we call I is just a swinging door that moves when we inhale and then exhale.” When we say I breathe, the I is extra. As we allow the door to swing freely, we are uniting the inner and outer worlds, both of which are limitless and inconceivable. We are just a swinging door, expressing this unity. The thought energy solidifying as the idea of ‘I’ dissolves into the swinging of the door that we are.

The swinging door is the gateway to the breath of universal life. Each of us is a unique expression of the breath of life. When we sit peacefully with our breath, we will soon discover that its vitality- its nourishing, nurturing quality-is expressed as a true love of life on life’s terms. We can always join the party, drop our fear, and live fully in the spirit of universal joy and love. Joy will dance and expand within us and without. We will know this to the extent that we drop our ideas and opinions about it. When the many forms of aversion to this vitality are sufficiently loosened up in our bodies, there will be much less fear sharing it with others, and much more joy in its continually changing manifestations. The more willing we are to share with others, the more we allow ourselves to consciously breathe.

Leonard Cohen wrote a beautiful song, part of the lyrics express the joy of setting free all ideas of love.

A light came through the window

Straight from the sun above

And so inside my little room

There plunged the rays of love

In streams of light I clearly saw

The dust you seldom see

Out of which the nameless makes

A name for one like me

I’ll try to say a little more

Love went on and on

Until it reached an open door

Then love itself was gone

My Sister Nancy

I was driving home from a movie with my sons several weeks ago, when I noticed a call from New Mexico on my phone. My 60 year old sister Nancy lived in a small town outside of Santa Fe. It was her friend Gwen who informed me that Nancy had killed herself. Nancy had a long history of depression, her energy was chronically pressed down. A big part of the shock I felt was realizing that I shouldn’t be totally surprised that she felt she just couldn’t continue to helplessly fail in her attempts to face her life. She was so emotionally fragile that she felt imprisoned in emotional paralysis that prevented her from taking action on the most important decisions necessary to function in her daily life.

We grew up together in a quite disengaged family in terms of expressing our feelings with one another. She was seven years younger than I, so we didn’t have a lot of contact over the years. But we always knew we cared for each other very much, she was a very compassionate and benevolent presence. We had become quite a bit closer over the last several years; my other sister Mary Jo and I had found her a divorce attorney with whom we completed her second divorce, and we walked her through the steps of selling her expensive Colorado home with a real estate agent when we visited her in New Mexico a year ago.  She had taken us to the cemetery in her little town, and had said several times she wasn’t sure how much more time she had on earth.

As I was receiving the inevitably painful and heavy dreadful shock of her death, I realized that the most difficult part for me was that she had left her 38 year old daughter Lindsay with a one month old baby boy. Couldn’t she see that her loving presence alone would have been enough as well as necessary for Lindsay and baby Matisse to experience the wonders of Grandmother heart?? I at first felt some anger at her for abandoning her family at such a crucial time, but it didn’t last long. I knew that I couldn’t fully understand how dark the cloud of despair and helplessness held her in its grip.

There was still a part of me that needed to push away the horror of that despair, and I couldn’t yet clearly see that even in our darkest moments, we are deeply loved. I was reminded of what Nisargadata said when he was asked about sinners. “When I look at others, no matter what they’ve done, I don’t see an other, I see myself.”  To really deeply realize our oneness is to embody the BEING that is all beings. More and more I now only have love and mercy in my heart for Nancy.

The night before her funeral, I laid down and felt her presence with me. I sensed that she knew she was loved. I realized there was nothing I could have done to prevent this happening. I resisted her pain while she was with us, and it was clear now that I was really resisting my own pain. I was seeing her pain as other, seeing her as other. Now there was forgiveness in my heart, and I remembered Thich Nhat Hanh’s saying, “I hold you close to me, and I release to be so free, because I am in you, and you are in me.”

Meister Eckhart on Holding On

 

I watched the movie Jacob’s Ladder again the other day. It’s about a young Vietnam vet suffering from the trauma of war and fear of hell and death. Towards the end he’s receiving a healing treatment and asks his doctor if he’s dying, telling him he’s deathly afraid, and that he’s seen hell. His doctor tells him he should read some Meister Eckhart, the great 13th century German mystic.

He says, “Eckhart saw hell also. He said the only part of you that burns in hell is the part of you that won’t let go of your life. Your attachments, your memories, they are all burned away. But the burning away is not punishing you he said, it’s freeing your soul. So the way he sees it, if you’re frightened of dying and you’re holding on, you see devils tearing your life away. But if you’ve made your peace, the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth. So it’s all a matter of how you look at it.”

Meister Eckhart also said: “The eye with which I see God, is the eye with which God sees me.” Is there really a seer and the seen? Or is what is actually here the whole of seeing itself, which includes but isn’t bound by any ideas of the seer and the seen? We can’t find the seer, because we and God are always already the seeing itself. Deep down we all want to realize the ‘eye’ or the ‘Supreme I’ that is our true nature, that is what we actually are.

Of course, we need to learn to make our peace with the trials of our everyday life before we can make peace with the depths of the source of our desires and fears that are trying to hold onto to our personal identities. Just as all of our sensory experience is always dissolving, everything we see, hear, feel, and think is continually arising and passing away faster than we can comprehend. Eckhart’s teaching isn’t just about the actual death of our physical bodies, it’s also about surrendering to the ever changing flow of our experience. In this way we’re being freed from the confines of our trials while still living through our physical bodies. What is being burned away are our attachments to our life, freeing us to deeply live as the life of God’s spirit.

Zen master Yasutani Roshi said the reality of our true nature isn’t attained. It simply flows into view, when we allow it to. Making peace with our everyday life allows our true nature to flow into view on deeper and deeper levels. These deeper levels are the gradual realization that the painful trials of our life arise and pass as expressions of our own minds. And the ‘I’ with which we see our trials, and allow them to be transformed, is the ‘I’ with which God sees and transforms them. As we surrender and release our hold on our ideas about our pain, the pain and the trials begin to transform from punishments to lessons freeing our souls. We begin to fully realize that the devils are really angels freeing us from the confines of our earthly life.

Yogananda offered a powerful prayer, embodying the spirit that recognizes surrender itself as a mighty prayer:

DANCE IN ME THE DANCE OF INFINITY

O Mother Divine, I have learned to love Your dance of destruction! For I see, now, that what is destroyed is my own ignorance and folly!

You have shattered again and again with Your war-dance of destruction my fragile cage of bones and flesh, and consigned it to crematory flames. You have done so smilingly, to show me and everyone that our souls are ever free, and cannot be burned or broken.

With Your mercy You have stripped away – sometimes, seemingly with harshness, but always with loving purpose – the countless hardened, mud encrusted covers of delusion that coated us.

I now appreciate Your dance of devastation, Mother! Together let us cremate all attachment to my every desire, fraility, weakness, and finitude, forever and ever. I’ll join You, laughing, in Your dance of evil’s destruction.

O Mother, since nothing more is now left of my confinement by finiteness for You to destroy, dance in me Your Dance of infinity and of cosmic love!

We Don’t Have to Feel Good

Throughout the ages, many great teachers have used parables to powerfully illustrate the spirit of our true nature acting in the world. One story I told my kids is the scorpion and the frog. The scorpion talks the frog into giving him a ride across the river and he promises not to sting him because then they would both die. As they are both drowning after the frog is stung, the scorpion says I stung you because it is my nature to do so.

In Ram Dass’ book Be Love Now, I read an alternate version of this story. A saint is standing in a river while a scorpion is floating by. He thought to save its life and picked it up from the water, but it stung him with its tail, causing him immense pain. He couldn’t bear the pain, so his hand recoiled, and the scorpion fell back into the river.  Again, the saint picked it up, and the same story repeated itself. Someone asked the saint why he kept doing this, when the creature was causing him so much pain. The saint said, “It is following its nature. When such a creature does not leave its nature, why should I leave mine?” The moral of the story is that discomfort shouldn’t cause one to leave their true nature.

I wrote the two preceding paragraphs earlier this morning, and an hour later while driving out to the highway, I saw a turtle in the road. I stopped to pick it up and remove him from the danger, but as I leaned down, she tried to snap at me. My hand naturally recoiled, and this happened several times. Then I just thought anyone will see her there, and she’ll be ok. So I left her there and drove off. It wasn’t until some minutes later that I simultaneously felt and realized the synchronicity of what I’d written earlier.

I wrote earlier about deep prayer, and asking for what we really need to awaken from the dream of separation. I keep getting the same message again and again: I really need to be shown how I’m holding onto a sense of self protectiveness based on the deeply conditioned belief in separation, born of desire and fear. Sometimes we need to be shown the power of synchronicity showing us there are higher forces than we can conceive of guiding us on the way home. To me the lessons are revealing that even my willingness to surrender and be guided in this way, isn’t my willingness. It’s a gift from higher forces, it’s a gift given from the freedom to deeply feel anything and everything.

More and more I’m realizing painful sensations of themselves don’t cause suffering, no matter how intensely they are experienced. It’s our holding onto desire for pleasure and fear of pain that are so unacceptable in the midst of all painful sensations. Our agonizing traumas show us that we by ourselves are powerless to bear unbearable pain. But the presence we actually are, the open and all pervasive awareness that is the source of all experience, can endlessly absorb and bear what we conceive of as unbearable pain.

When we allow the willingness to become one with the pure witnessing of our deep suffering, our identity begins to shift to the all embracing awareness itself, and away from our confined ego-self. There is no longer the need to bear the pain alone, our true nature bears it with us. The invitation is always here to enter this bearing of the deepest suffering. Allowing the idea of unbearable to dissolve, we don’t have to feel good. No matter what our experience is, it is already being borne.

Deep Prayer

In his book Whispers From Eternity, Paramahansa Yogananda offers the following deep prayer.

“My eyes are enthralled, O Father, with the beauty of earthly flowers, with life’s passing scenes, and with the sailing, silent clouds. Everywhere, all I see hints at Your hidden presence. Open that eye in me which sees only You. With that gaze may I behold You above, beneath, all around, within, and outside me. Teach me in all things to see only You. Open in me that eye which beholds everywhere Your hidden but ever subtly reigning wonder.”

With this prayer, Yogananda is inviting us to open ourselves up to the spirit of our true identity, to ask for what we really want more than anything else. Deep within our very being, going beyond anything we can think of, or self consciously long for, is the revelation of imperturbable peace and love. We will all find different words to try and express this, to express what can only be hinted at with words. For me this prayer is expressing the depth of divine love and compassion. It is an inspiration to ask from the depths of our being to be given what we really need to awaken from the dream of duality, to awaken from the confines of our personal identity, and to open to the boundless silence of our actual being that we share with all beings.

When we’re willing to open ourselves to the entire universe, to be willing to actually die to our sense of being separate, the deepest layers of our resistance to this death will be revealed. Our deepest desires for preserving our sense of personal identity, and fears of losing control will be on display, and we will intuitively know we’re receiving exactly what we’ve asked for. We know, because in the midst of deep pain, revealing itself as the suffering of clinging to personal identity, the support necessary to allow clinging to dissolve is simultaneously revealed. We can begin to absorb and embody the spirit of a line from Rumi’s poem Love Dogs, “The grief you cry out from is itself the connection.” The vast mysterious power behind all creation unconditionally accepts all of our experience while revealing all experience actually is one with it. The loving welcoming and simultaneous dissolving of differentiation is revealed as what we really are.

This is a gradual process for almost all of us, even the greatest awakenings are only meant for the moment we experience them. There is always the sense that there is more to be revealed, and the eye revealing creation’s hidden reigning wonder will open more and more, the more we’re willing to surrender.  Yogananda expresses the deep wisdom of a lifetime of the deepest commitment to receiving and giving God’s love in the movie Awake, which is the story of spreading his teaching in America in the 20th century.

“This earth is nothing but movies to me. Just like the beam of a motion picture; so is everything made of shadows and light. That’s what we are, light and shadows of the Lord, nothing more than that. There’s one purpose, to realize the beam is you.”

We are Nothing Perceivable

The great sage Ramana Maharshi said:

“The mind is a bundle of thoughts. The thoughts arise because there is the thinker. The thinker is the ego. The ego, if sought, will automatically vanish. Reality is simply the loss of the ego. Dissolve the ego by seeking its identity. Because ego is not an entity, it will automatically vanish and reality will shine forth by itself. This is the direct method, whereas all other methods are done only retaining the attachment to the idea of the ego.”

The disciplined practice of searching for the separate self, or ego, is only complicated when we give in to our strong conditioning to attach to our thought energy in the search. We learn we can’t do anything about this strong conditioning, it will endlessly arise along with thought energy again and again, like the never ending waves on the surface of the ocean. If we’re willing to watch the waves of thought energy, the waves of sensations, arise and dissolve by themselves, we can’t help but begin to become aware of the alive presence of the ocean itself, our actual being.

Nisargadatta was asked: “If the ultimate itself has always been what I am, why am I not aware of it?” His reply was “Because you are attached to the idea that the awareness looking out of your eyes right now isn’t the ultimate itself.” What is the actual substance of the idea that our true identity is perceivable, describable, and can be limited and confined? Allowing our thought energy to dissolve is a powerful reminder that our actual being is nothing the can be grasped, that we are not anything that can be captured as an object of thought. So it’s said that enlightenment is the merely the end of error, the error of attaching to thoughts about ourselves as real.

One practice that I’ve found helpful is to imagine awareness as a serene ocean, absorbing the restless mind energy, allowing it to relax. Thoughts then drift of their of their own accord to the stillness within. This practice will allow us to find gaps in the stream of thoughts. What could the actual substance of these gaps in thought energy be other than our real being? What could the actual substance of thought energy be, that it could create something that isn’t timelessly there, free of all ideas of gaps? What is the actual substance of thought that could disturb our timeless, boundless serenity?