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The Life Force Within

The relative and the absolute, inside and outside, self and other, are reflecting each other and flowing together, if we are willing to observe how things really are. We can’t grasp this intellectually because in trying to grasp, we are just labeling the process we believe to be happening. While we can’t know with the mind that nothing is happening, we can open to the possibility that ‘happening’ is just a label we impute onto the way things actually are.  We can realize that what we think is happening doesn’t actually describe or limit the way things are. The paper is not the writing, yet it carries the writing. The ink is not the message, nor is the reader’s mind the message – but they all make the message possible. It is the same with our experience. For example, our experience of seeing things is made up of the seeing, the seer, and the seen. Seeing contains the seer and the seen, none of the three can be found on their own without the other two. They all arise together, and make seeing possible. We can’t find any entity called the seer, because we already are ‘seeing’ itself. When we look for the seer, we only find ideas of what it might be, or what we think we are. But whether we cling to these ideas of seeing, seer, or the seen or not, if we just witness our experience of seeing, there is just seeing. It includes all of our ideas about seeing, seer, and the seen, but can’t be identified by any labels. Seeing itself is free of any labels we impute onto it. The same is true of our hearing, our feeling, and our thinking. Thinking itself is free of the idea of thinking, the experience of thinking is a deep mystery.

Not finding any actual entities when we witness our experience is a finding in itself. It is the finding of an aliveness that is not confined, not defined, and not limited in any way. It is pure feeling, sometimes labeled as a current, shakti, divine energy, or bliss. It has no conceptual agenda, it just moves, it just welcomes, it just innocently loves. Thich Nhat Hanh has a saying: “The spirit of inter being is realized when the garbage and the rose both shine with the same light.” This light is within and beyond all appearances. Trusting and surrendering to this light, to the current of this boundless energy, is our willingness to flow with the river of life to the sea of our source. The source is reached in the flowing, the flowing of human experience is the waves on the surface of the sea. By some mysterious transformative process, as we allow ourselves to flow with the current of the waves of our experience, we eventually realize we are the water of the sea itself. As we turn between the no-thingness of being the sea, and the bliss of feeling the movement of the waves, we feel the stability and support of the ocean of consciousness itself. The ocean of awareness is what is always here in its vast boundless support. It is what produces and makes the waves of consciousness possible, as reflections of itself.

Many analogies have been made to try and describe the relationship between human beings and our source. One that occurred to me recently is that we can say the life force of the universe is the electricity, and human beings are the light bulbs. The bulbs may be infinitely varied in shape, color, and brightness. The actual power by which they shine, however is the same in all. We tend to get tricked by appearances, and say “What a beautiful person! What lovely hair. See the brightness of her smile! But when the electricity is turned off, where is the color and the brightness of the light bulb? It’s important to not forget the true source of our power that is the same in others, and all that we see around us. This current creates, enlightens, and enlivens everything simultaneously.

The power of deep prayer when we are actually feeling this oneness with our life force, can transform our relationship to our source. As Ramana Maharshi said, “Surrender itself is a mighty prayer.” We can ask for what we really need to awaken from the dream of separate existence, and then be willing to open to whatever comes next. What we need may be painful, and very well may not be what we want. When we learn to allow the peaceful loving current of the life force flow freely through us, we realize that it thoroughly saturates, enlightens, and enlivens the world as the expression of our innermost desire. This is the desire to know the truth of our life force as our innermost being. Thomas Merton expressed our innermost desire in one of his deep devotional prayers: “Lord, you have heard the cry of my heart, for it is you that cries out within my heart.”

Anandamayi Ma was a Hindu saint, who was considered to be a true incarnation of the Divine Mother. She fully embodied many different characteristics of the divine feminine, different aspects of showering unconditional love on all of creation. Her devotees offered all of their experience to her, realizing that she is everyone’s mother. When she was asked how mankind will progress towards a more perfect and enlightened future, her reply was “But everything is already perfect.” In her world, there simply is only perfection, all the waves on the sea of her awareness shine with the same peaceful loving light. Regardless of however the agonies of human suffering manifest before her vision, she is aware of her divine spirit continually absorbing and transforming it all as a reflection of her motherly love. Her presence simply is love. Her most amazing characteristic was how her mere presence served as a very powerful inspiration to develop or deepen the desire to follow the spiritual path.maa_photo


Our Spirit of Wanting to Know

Our spirit of wanting to know, inquiry into the actual substance of reality, of consciousness, expresses our deepest devotion to the mysterious presence of life. It’s a vast mystery, because who or what wants to know can’t be separated from reality, can’t be separated from consciousness itself. In all of the many contemplative paths, we’ll never find an actual entity that defines who we actually are. We discover this in our contemplative practice of asking, ‘where or what is actually asking the question’? One way to articulate this is to say our wanting to know our true self, is revealed as the aliveness of wanting to know. Whatever we are that thinks we are a separate being, we are alive. And we simply can’t trace this aliveness, this current of energy, to anything other than the presence that is always right here, right now. It is the aliveness of the present moment, now, and now, and now. As human beings on the spiritual path, we learn to open up to a fascination with what is this presence? How can there be relief of suffering? Can we cease making demands on this presence? Can awareness itself provide love, and compassion? The willingness to surrender, and let spirit consume all or our ideas about who or what we think we are, is a deep inquiry into these questions.

Thich Nhat Hanh says everything we need to be happy is already right here in the present moment. This means all the wisdom, all the bliss, all the most intense pleasures and pains are all ours here in the present moment. And it means that if we allow the flow of all these experiences to arise and dissolve as they always do, they can’t interfere with our happiness. Letting go of our restless thoughts and feelings, allowing them to be absorbed by the present moment itself, is trusting this aliveness of spirit to purify and transform our experience. It is learning to trust that in reality, the reality of the present moment itself is enough to relieve all suffering. The Buddha’s great teaching is that clinging to experiences of being separate, is our resistance to things as they actually are as expressions of the present moment. We don’t realize right here, right now, is always enough. This is because of our deep conditioning to struggle with and shape the present moment to how we think the present moment should be better than how we experience it right now.

True freedom is always right here and now. The present moment is free. It is the flow of our experience, and this experience is always flowing freely. Any ideas we have to the contrary are simply ideas, ripples on the surface of our being, on the surface of the present moment. Thinking things are bound and confined, is only thinking things are bound and confined. Ripples of thinking on the surface of being are expressions of the present moment as the expression of freedom. This is so because they freely arise unaffected and unconditioned by any imaginary entity or experience. The ultimate cause of everything will always remain a deep mystery. Freedom and the present moment arise together. Thay has a saying: the world of suffering and discrimination is filled with the light of the rising sun. And the rising sun is the expression of freedom. We, as we actually are, are the expression of freedom. We arise as our experience arises, and it is all arising freely as the present flow of awareness, as the present flow of spirit. Surrendering to this flow, we begin to feel lighter, spontaneity begins to replace labored deliberation. Freedom in expressing our emotions emanates from a spacious place in harmony with and compassionately embracing our environment. We learn to embrace others as we embrace the moment. We learn to embrace others as expressions of the moment, which is always embracing us.



In Emptiness Dancing, Adyashanti tells us that “Openness has no location. It seems to be everywhere. It has room for anything. There can be thought or no thought. There can be feeling or no feeling. There can be sounds. There can be silence. Nothing disturbs openness.” Openness here is the boundless spaciousness of our true nature—our awareness, our identity.
As we continue to deeply question who we really are, we discover it is impossible to confine the awareness of ‘I am’. We deepen our ability to relax into the vast spaciousness of our true nature, and no longer identify as strongly with the ceaseless activity of our mind. If we are willing to look straight into the eyes of our thinking, we experience thought as just another movement of energy, like feeling confused or hearing a sonata or seeing a bright light.
Gradually we discover thinking mind is not only an endless succession of energy impulses, but awareness. We cannot locate it in space or time; it does not belong to anything, any person, self or entity. Our thinking mind is a ceaseless flow of waves on the ocean of consciousness.  All manifestation arises as the birth of this vast openness. We are divine, expressing our nature in an endless succession of different forms.
None of these forms is inherently opposed to another. They rise and give birth to each other. Everything is causing everything. Or, as rapper Lauren Hill once sang: “everything is everything.” Openness cannot be identified or pinned down. It is the causeless cause of it all.  As our identity opens up apart from this imaginary entity called self, we begin to manifest divine openness. Openness lives through us. Openness becomes our identity. Openness is available to everyone right now. We need only stop for a moment and observe what arises. There are no limits to openness, it has no gaps whatsoever.
Even if we are in pain, the pain is a free expression of openness. We notice that openness accepts our pain. The sound of a flowing stream continues to express its nature whether our pain is there or not. The sun shines in its tranquility on all of our activities, whether we deem them good, bad or indifferent. If we identify with nature as our body, we can see our true identity as that of openness–the true dharma body of the buddhas. We can actually feel the essence of this human body and the essence of the world to be one hundred percent identical.
And even more amazing, we do not have to open at all to identify ourselves as this openness. As an expression of it, we are already as open as we are ever going to get. The awareness of this may be clouded by our clinging to the structure of mind, with its attendant fears and desires. Sitting still in meditation, we learn to cultivate a peaceful acceptance of the spirit of this openness. Ask for it continually.  It is there in your longing, it is there in your joy and in your pain. You may need to speak out your request at first. But gradually the awareness of your being, just as it is, becomes your asking. And your asking becomes God’s answer, the answer of divine openness.


Awareness of Suffering

Awareness of Suffering

Some of you may be aware that Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh suffered a serious stroke last November. He is now recovering at his home  in the south of France.  He has dedicated his life to spreading the Buddha’s teaching of compassion and love to relieve human suffering. His sangha is named the Order of Inter Being. He teaches that if we are willing to experience things as they actually are, we will realize that we ‘inter are’ with all beings and all phenomena. Our living presence is alive, and our aliveness is the spirit of inter being. Thich Nhat Hanh is referred to as Thay by our sangha. Thay means teacher in Vietnamese Buddhism. Thay offered us a song that we sometimes sing together as the sangha body:

No coming, no going, no after, no before

I hold you close to me, and I release you to be so free

Because I am in you, and you are in me,

Because I am in you, and you are in me

Buddha’s first noble truth is that life is suffering. The way we inter are with all beings involves suffering. He didn’t mean that life is always the experience of suffering for everyone. He meant that life is suffering under certain conditions. And those conditions according to Buddha are caused by our clinging. Suffering is caused by clinging to thoughts, clinging to sensations, clinging to sights and sounds. And it naturally follows that the experience of clinging is based on the strong sense of a someone who is clinging to something separate from what they imagine that they are.

The bedrock of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching is the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness practice is the practice of being aware of present experience, with the attitude of acceptance. This includes awareness of the experience of being something separate, and clinging to something else that seems separate from what we are. The experience of being separate is really just that simple, it’s not conceptual, it’s not some theory about the experience of separation. It’s just the experience of saying ‘there is that chair over there, and here I am, separate from that chair.’

The spirit of inter being is also just that simple. It’s not some theory of being. The reality of inter being is realizing that what appears separate isn’t really separate from the awareness that is observing it. The awareness looking out from our eyes right now reading this page isn’t separate from the words and the page itself. The same holds true for all of our experience. Awareness isn’t separate from the experience of seeing, hearing, feeling, or thinking. Whatever we see, hear, feel, and think is one with the awareness that we actually are.

Thay says that we free ourselves from suffering by learning to cultivate insight into the deep roots of our suffering. As Buddha said the deep roots of our self clinging is what keeps us bound to the seemingly endless wheel of samsara, the seemingly endless round of suffering of the world of birth and death. If we want to remove the weeds from our yard, we need to pull them out by the roots. Otherwise they just quickly grow back. When we are lazy, and don’t want to make the effort to get down to the roots of our mind weeds, we just push them away or indulge them without awareness of their roots. They not only grow back quickly, but we actually reinforce their hold on us; if we feed the energy of clinging to them, that clinging energy grows stronger. As Buddha said, the clinging to our experience is made possible by our clinging to this sense of being a separate self. The two arise together, and reinforce each other.

What is different about mind weeds and weeds in our yard, is that our yard weeds are removed by pulling them out by the roots. With mind weeds, we shine the light of awareness on them, and let spirit dissolve and transform them, rather than just trying to DO something with them. The spirit of inter being is always dissolving the roots of our self clinging, we only need to be willing to be aware of this, and stop our self conscious efforts to resist the process.

The fixed belief in the separate entity we call ‘me’ is the necessary mind weed by which we experience and cling to all of sensory experience as ours. So mindfulness practice is shining the light of awareness or spirit onto that sense of being a separate self. And it is the awareness of sensing a separate self with the attitude of acceptance. What is actually witnessing our experience is always just allowing it full expression. There is no attempt to manipulate any object of experience. Allowing the full expression of our experience is one with spirit’s continual dissolving and transforming it. Whatever we think, feel, see, or hear are not fixed entities. They are continually changing and transforming. We project the solidity of our fixation on being a separate self onto the world we imagine to be separate, and thereby fool ourselves into believing that it is solid. This is not something to try to believe. We will actually experience it through surrendering to the spirit of inter being showing us how things really are. The experience of ‘me’ witnessing, or ‘me’ attempting to manipulate the process is completely irrelevant to the process itself.

If we learn to be willing to join this witnessing, we will also learn to allow all experience its full expression. Witnessing consciousness can just allow every experience to just be as it is because there is no sense of a separate self to cling to the experience and try to hold onto it, or push it away. When we join this witnessing of our sense of a separate self with the attitude of acceptance, we begin to experience that sense of being separate as an expression of the witnessing awareness itself. That sense of being separate is beginning to be seen as it really is, free of separation from the witnessing awareness of all experience. This witnessing is always seeing through the separate nature of all experience. It is always dissolving the root of separation appearing as real to the clinging consciousness of a separate self. So clinging to a sense of separation to relieve suffering is like pulling off the top of the weeds in our yard, and hoping they won’t grow back. Self conscious effort, MY effort is the deepest root of our suffering. Just allow the light of awareness to shine on the sense of separation, where is the actual thingness of it?

For suffering to be real, there needs to be an actual painful sensation with the accompanying fixation on this sensation as being something bad. If we join spirit’s witnessing of our painful experience, we will begin to see that our fixation on something bad itself isn’t fixed. It changes and transforms along with the subtle variations of the flavor of the painful sensations themselves. This seeing, this sensing, is the seeing and sensing of the spirit of inter being’s continual dissolving and transforming of all of our experience. Just being aware of this with the attitude of acceptance is offering all of our experience to spirit itself. And it is the realization that all of our experience is a wonderful gift from the universal heart of inter being.

What if it is really really true that awareness itself is always already seeing through the separate nature of sensations? What if it is really true that the spirit of inter being is always deeply sensing, transforming, and loving all of our experience as a free gift to us? Can we be willing to trust this gift? Can we be willing to trust this gift on its own terms, not on our terms? Can we be willing to give up our bargaining with and for truth? Are we willing to receive this free gift unconditionally, just as it is being offered to us, free of any and all conditions? What else besides our living presence is actually truth worthy? What else is trust worthy?

Stay with the path for long enough, and finally we’ll begin to realize we’ve spent aeons trying to flee from this truth. We’ve spent aeons clinging to trusting what we think is real and true. And the whole time we have been enslaved by the suffering of clinging to our desires and fears, vainly attempting to make them the truth, vainly attempting to make them real. Clinging to vanity is always in vain, because the self that is separate and proud isn’t the truth, it isn’t real. Stay with the path long enough, maybe we can finally realize that this free gift really is free.

Seeing through the separate nature of sensation, seeing through the separate nature of all experience of being a separate self, is seeing from the viewpoint of unity, seeing from the viewpoint of the spirit of inter being. Spirit transforms the sense of separation from our experience, but this doesn’t mean we cease to feel the pain of sensations. The pain can actually hurt more, but bother us less. It bothers us less because we are learning to embody our inter being with the joy and hurt of all beings.