Archive | July, 2015

Wanting Enlightenment

When we embark on a contemplative path committed to cultivating the Witness, committed to just witnessing our experience without consciously adding a conceptual over lay to it, we are following the path of least resistance. Many times I’ve encountered one obstacle after the next, and become aware that my resolutions have reached the point where I’m powerless to stop the impulse to struggle, to stop the resistance. During such times I’ve invariably received the counsel that if I would just surrender to the difficult times and allow the teacher within to lead, my problems would resolve themselves. The caveat is often added; such advice is meaningless however, since you continue to refuse to be led.

I still resist this teaching when I’m dealing with seemingly external obstacles. What has changed over time is there is now much more awareness of the futility of resisting the resistance. When we resist resistance, we now have another resistance, and more energy is put into the two resisting each other. There is merely an increase in the overall energy of resistance. Upon hearing this teaching, there used to be a voice inside me retorting, “I’m refusing to be led? Ok, now I firmly resolve to be willing to be led.” This reminds me of an old Zen friend relating the story of riding in a car with Suzuki Roshi in the late 60’s. He enthusiastically proclaimed to roshi, “I’m going to rededicate myself to your profound teachings roshi. No more indulgence in fantasies, no more indulgence in meaningless distractions, etc. He rambled on for some time, and when he pridefully glanced over to see roshi’s reaction, roshi was leaning against the car door, fast asleep, and beginning to snore.

So in contemplative practice, a recurring obstacle we will continually face is the deeply conditioned movement of the mind that wants to cultivate and preserve the separate self sense that now manifests as the endless search for the enlightened ‘me’. So much has been written about the use of drugs to induce mystical experiences, and how this aspect of our spirit of inquiry is conditioned by wanting to glorify the enlightened ‘me’ experience. This conditioned belief system we desperately cling to, the deep rooted belief in our separate bodies and minds being our actual substance and identity, isn’t this a kind of invisible drug in itself? With very few exceptions, aren’t we all egoholics stumbling around largely unaware of our addiction to personal gratification and suffering?

We’re often told that full enlightenment can’t be realized until we want nothing else; until there is a fully established centered quality to our prayer and/or contemplation that is no longer interrupted by any distractions. I watched the very first part of an Adyashanti video not too long ago, he was on stage being questioned by Tami Simon of Sounds True.  Adya had recently said, “I have very rarely met anyone on the spiritual path who reached the stage of no longer wanting anything else other than authentic spiritual awakening.” Tami inquired as to why this is so rare, the tone of her questioning and the feeling in the very large audience was one of how can we become one who no longer wants anything other than authentic spiritual awakening? I’ve been dealing off and on with this same dilemma for a very long time, and my questioning came to the point of asking myself, “How much can you actually want authentic spiritual awakening?”

When we relax and just become aware of our breathing, we can feel our breath breathing into and through our body by itself without any effort on our part. This power of our breath is a free gift from our life force, from spirit itself, asking nothing in return. Though it appears to want nothing, the power of spirit’s potential wanting is inconceivable. We ignore this when even in the most powerful revelations, there is still almost always the tendency to fixate on ‘I am this, this is what I really want.’ Only when that thought becomes, ‘been there, done that too many times already’ does the mind finally let go. I’m not saying this as someone who has let go completely. But it has become more and more obvious that my wanting to want nothing other than complete awakening, is wanting something else. This is still wanting some object of our mind, still wanting some idea of what complete awakening is that we fixate on. How much more liberating could the love and joy pouring through our being be, if the thought stream that is the little ‘me’ didn’t try to interfere?

Enlightenment experiences are powerful aids and milestones on our journey. However though they are partly experiential objects, they still are objects of our minds, and are meant only for the moments they are experienced. I still remind myself to let them pass by. This opens the way for us to more fully receive the free gift of spirit’s energy. And this opens the way for our spirit of inquiry to more fully flourish. Could it be that higher forces than we can conceive of are gently pushing us through the birth canal to finally be reborn as the truth of our being?


Witnessing the Self Contraction

When we rest as the witness, rest in our awareness of being present, we simply notice the self contraction. The self contraction is our conditioned tendency to make demands on the moment, to want to control how the next moment of our life unfolds. So rest as the witness, and feel the self contraction. When we feel the self contraction, we are already free of it, we are already looking at it, instead of identifying with it. We are looking at it from the position of the Witness, which is already free of all objects. We can feel the self contraction, just as we can feel the chair under us, and feel the earth, and feel the clouds floating by in the sky. Thoughts float by in the mind, sensations float by in the body, the self-contraction hovers in awareness. And we effortlessly and spontaneously witness them all, equally and impartially.

In this effortless state, while we are not trying to manipulate any object of consciousness, but simply allowing the flow of our experience to pass by, self realization may more easily flash forth. There is nothing we can do to bring it about. The most we can do, by way of temporal effort, is to avoid the two major mistakes of making the witness into an object to manipulate, and to try and get rid of the ego, or self-contraction. If this is practiced diligently, and with earnestness, it will bring us to the edge, to the very precipice, of self realization. Our usual tendency is try and adopt this saying as a belief to hold onto, to cling to, trying to control our wandering minds. Just be aware of, and welcome this tendency also. In a way everything is contained in the teaching of the masters. But they are nothing if we’re not open to receiving and giving the fullness of spirit that the teachings are exhorting us to embody.

It’s like traveling on a train. On the journey we pass through large stations, many towns and villages. Everyone of these has been indicated in the guidebook. But what is seen between the different stations, can it all be described in full detail? The trees and plants, the animals and birds, the tiny little ants that are met with on the way, could all these be delineated?

Infinite is the diversity of creation, infinite are its modes of being, its changing movements and static states, revealed at every single instant. The true joy and freedom of liberation is found in witnessing and learning to fully absorb and enjoy the small details of life, as well as the seemingly more important events and teachings. This is the process of allowing identity to transform from the confines of personality to identity as the witness and simultaneous source of our experience. 

This is how we feel the loving support of the mother of all creation. There is a painful beauty to it all, allow the ideas of pain and beauty to dissolve in the flow. The pain is our embodied self contraction, wanting to separate from the flow. When we witness it, we can actually feel the embodiment. And we can actually feel the oneness of the embodiment of the self contraction, and the embodiment of our desire and fear. Offering it all to our mother, how can our tears of suffering not be transformed into the loving bliss of the flow of our experience?

Free of our ideas, we’re free to embody the realization that the flow is all that is ever happening. No longer confined by our self contraction, it’s so much more alive than any desires or fears. The acceptance and love is all we’ve ever wanted, it’s all anyone has ever really wanted.


Witnessing Experience

The vast openness of reality can’t be known through the filter of thought. Reality knows itself by being here and now, being the present moment. Being reality, it is what is actually here and now. Being reality, it is our awareness of being present here and now. What is the ultimate meaning of our life as a human being? Being here and now is it. The analogy of a cinema screen if often used in pointing to the relationship between reality, or awareness itself, and its expressions. In the movie theater, we observe, we witness the many flickering images on the screen. We enjoy the movie to the extent that we are able to identify with, and get involved with the story on the screen. The pictures on the screen aren’t real to the extent that they are only light reflected on the screen. The screen itself is the actual substance and source of the pictures reflected on it. No matter how emotionally caught up we get in the movie, we know there is nothing real happening on the screen. The screen of reality, our awareness of being present, is the background and actual substance of our experience. Our seeing, hearing, feeling, and thinking are reflections of the presence looking out from our eyes. Of course the cinema screen isn’t a perfect analogy. We can form a concept of the cinema screen. Reality itself can’t be caught by any of our attempts to define or perceive it. It is what makes defining and perceiving possible, but it’s free of all definition and perception.

If we learn to just witness our sensory experience, we can begin to develop an intuitive awareness of this spaceless and timeless presence giving rise to all our experience. Thoughts come and go, sights, sounds, and feelings come and go.  They arise as a reflection on the screen of our awareness, but pass away in the continual flow of our experience. That which witnesses our experience is there before, during, and after any particular experience passes away. The awareness we are doesn’t come and go with our experience, it is the vast timeless expanse out of which all experience arises. Just as the cinema screen effortlessly welcomes and is unmoved by the many pictures flashing on it, the screen of our awareness effortlessly welcomes and reflects all of our experience as it flows by.

In meditation practice we learn to identify with our awareness of just being present. Meditation can be described as the refusal to attach to thoughts. All of our sensory experience is colored by our thoughts. As we learn to become witnessing observers of our experience by not making efforts to control it, we can begin to sense the presence of that which is unchanging amidst our ever changing experience. The simple awareness of being present is what doesn’t change amidst our experience. We can’t try to be this awareness of being present, because we always already are this presence before we try to be it. In fact the effort to be it, blocks our ability to realize we are it. The first mistake most of us make in practicing meditation is to make witnessing awareness into an object to be grasped, whereas it is simply the Seer of all objects that arise, and it is ‘felt’ only as a great background sense of Freedom and Release from all objects. Awareness itself is free of all the concepts we attempt to label it with. So the felt sense of our aware presence, the feeling of our aliveness, is not the feeling of a separate self, it is the feeling, it is the aliveness of spirit itself. In meditation, and in living our daily lives, we are receiving, finding, and learning to live as the aliveness of spirit in the form of a human being.

Resting in that Freedom and Emptiness, and impartially witnessing all that arises, we will notice that the separate self, or ego, simply arises in consciousness like everything else. We can actually feel the self contraction, just like we can feel our bodies, a chair, or any other object. The self-contraction is a feeling of interior tension, often localized behind the eyes, and anchored in a slight muscle tension throughout the bodymind. It is an effort and sensation of contracting in the face of the world. It is a subtle whole-body tension. Once people become comfortable resting as the empty witness, and once they notice the tension that is the self-contraction, they imagine that enlightenment won’t happen unless they get rid of the self-contraction. Just that is the second mistake, because it actually locks the self-contraction firmly into place. It is the ego that is trying to get rid of the ego. Ego is not a thing but a subtle effort, and we can’t use effort to get rid of effort, we end up with two efforts instead of one.

We assume the self contraction hides or obstructs spirit, whereas in fact it is simply a radiant manifestation of spirit itself, like every other form in the universe. All forms are not other than expressions of the alive support and love of spirit. Spirit is our awareness of being present that we share with all beings.


Right View

Right View

The first tenet of Buddha’s eightfold path leading to the end of suffering is Right View. Thich Nhat Hanh’s first mindfulness training is titled Openness. Both of these great teachers begin their map of how human beings can be liberated from suffering, and the illusion of being a separate self, with pointers to the fundamental nature of reality. Right view isn’t something for us to study exclusively with the mind. Buddha is referring to the actual embodied experience of life when we are open to seeing things as they actually are. The fundamental nature of things as they are is open. Have you ever considered the wondrous nature of infinite space? How can it be that no matter how many trillions and trillions of miles we could travel, we would still be surrounded by the same infinite, boundless, open space? And how could this not be the way things actually are? Whatever limitations we try to impose on space with our thoughts, at some point we can’t help but recognize their utter futility. There could always be something behind the thoughts. For infinite space, infinite consciousness, is what actually gives rise to our thoughts. The same incomprehensible reality is also true for time. No matter how many aeons we could travel into the past or future, there would still be the same infinitely expanding possibility of a limitless past and future.

This incomprehensible reality is always here. Being reality, how could it not be here? Being reality, how could it not be what has always been here, unchangeable in essence, in every single moment of our lives? What is it that has always been exactly the same at every moment? No labels capture it. The closest I seem to come is to say that it’s simply the awareness of being present. Have we ever actually been anything other than the awareness of being present? When we say I am present, what is the I other than an idea floating by as an expression of the awareness of being present? Right view is realizing that we are always the awareness of being present. When we realize this as our true identity, we also realize it is the true identity of all beings. So Right View is the view of our inter being with all beings.

We can have many intellectual insights about how we aren’t separate beings. But when the chips are down, and our deep rooted sene of separateness is threatened, we discover that on those levels of our being, we DO still believe we’re separate. This is the attachment to our personal views. The personal views aren’t the problem, but our attachment to them bind us. And they blind us, preventing us from seeing everything, including our ideas of our self, as they really are.

So when we are confronted with seemingly insurmountable obstructions, we need to first reflect back on the fundamental condition of reality itself. With the awareness of openness, we can begin to become aware of the confining nature of our attachment to our personal views. We can sit down in front of the obstructions, welcome their presence and begin to realize that they aren’t what we think they are. We can allow them to change as all things always do. We become more willing to view them from the perspective of openness, as not bound by our ideas about them. They are, like we are, expressions of the vast openness of reality. Snares and traps spring open when we’re willing to not offer them anything to resist.