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Desire for Truth, Devotion

The spirit of Great Doubt is the spirit of great devotion to our spirit of inquiry, to the great mystery itself showing us the way to self realization. Great Doubt is deeply doubting the actual substance of all of our ideas about reality, including our ideas about devotion. Deeply doubting the own being, the separate existence of all of our ideas, allows the opening of the heart to pour forth the aliveness of spirit living through us. We learn to practice offering all of our ideas to the aliveness of our spiritual heart, witnessing them being dissolved again and again. This process of surrender allows us to use our thought energy in the service of our inquiry into the truth of our actual being, rather than wasting energy on trying to control the direction and results of our devotion.

Freed from the confines of ideas and beliefs, our devotion naturally goes much deeper over time. We begin to deeply sense and intuit our intrinsic union with the great mystery. This arises together with our realizing the infinite support of spirit in our welcoming the challenges of human life in its most fundamental motivations. We begin to trust the fullness of our very being, and we spontaneously begin the process of surrender, wanting more and more to bow down to the great mystery we can’t comprehend.

One of our most fundamental needs as human beings is our relationship to a higher power. As children our parents ideally serve as the higher power we are most intimately connected to, and are almost totally dependent on. Though this relationship changes as we grow more independent, this fundamental need remains with us, and in its most evolved forms to date it expresses itself in our spirit of inquiry into the actual nature of our existence. Martin Buber called this the I – Thou relationship. In the context of spiritual practice, ‘I’ refers to the idea of a separate self, and ‘Thou’ refers to the infinite mystery of our source. The I – Thou relationship is an inherent part of any spiritual path, though perhaps not by the same name, as it is an inherent part of being human and living our lives with other beings.

Ken Wilber says some Eastern traditions seem to repress the I – Thou relationship, particularly some Buddhists. He uses the terms God in the first person, and God in the second person. The Great I AM is God in the first person – “I AM That I AM,” God’s answer to Moses. The great I AM has no other. All things are a manifestation of the supreme identity. You are God, and I am not is God in the second person. This is the I – Thou relationship, the separate self relating to God as other. Wilber states, “God in the second person is very important, for it is the relational aspect of spirit.

It’s harmful to repress our innate need for the relational aspect of spirit, just as it is harmful for a young child to be forced to repress their natural urge for the closest most intimate bond with their mother. It’s also harmful to cling to the conceptual form of spirit’s relational aspect, and to ignore the wisdom component. Wisdom shows us all things are free of our thinking, so our true identity is nothing, no-thing. Love shows us we are everything, as Christ said, “the greatest of the two is love”, but we need wisdom to fully enter the depths of love, to fully enter our being no-thing as the expression of everything.

Willingness to not find anything is one with the willingness to give up everything that interferes with merging with the true beloved, our true identity that is all things. And this willingness is the willingness to agree to be guided from within, to let spirit itself do our work. We’re learning to be willing to be participants in spirit’s work, while realizing that it is God or spirit that is actually doing the work. We care less and less about taking any personal credit for the work being done.

So we use the I-Thou relationship to let go of all attachments, including the attachment to the idea of the relational aspect of spirit, the personal story about our spiritual awakening. We learn not to close around, and not to solidify God in the first person, The Great I AM, and also learn not to close around or solidify God in the second person, ‘you are God, and I’m not. We are moving more freely with the life of spirit, free to immerse ourselves in the depths of our longing and joy, and free to immerse ourselves in the wisdom of letting it all go.

There has been more of a movement in contemporary Buddhist practice to embrace the more traditional forms of prayer. The Tibetan Buddhist master Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche expresses the essence of devotional inquiry that uses all of our senses and our entire mind.  Here I interpret the guru as God’s presence or universal mind, which can include the manifestation of the human guru.

Devotion is the essence of the path, and if we have in mind nothing but the guru and feel nothing but fervent devotion, whatever occurs is perceived as his blessing. If we simply practice with this constantly present devotion, this is prayer itself.

When all thoughts are imbued with devotion to the guru, there is a natural confidence that this will take care of whatever may happen. All forms are the guru, all sounds are prayer and all gross and subtle thoughts arise as devotion. Everything is spontaneously liberated in the absolute nature, like knots untied in the sky.”

Sometimes our relationship with a pet can serve as a constant reminder to express our deepest devotion to spirit by Just Being Loving Awareness. Rumi wrote a very deeply heart felt poem expressing the wonder, agony, and divine joy of our yearning for truth.

Love Dogs”

One night a man was crying,

“Allah, Allah!”

His lips grew sweet with the praising,

until a cynic said, “So! I have heard you

calling out, but have you ever

gotten any response?”

The man had no answer for that.

He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.

He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,

in a thick, green foliage, “Why did you stop praising?”

“Because I’ve never heard anything back.”

“This longing you express

is the return message.”

The grief you cry out from

draws you toward union.

Your pure sadness that wants help

is the secret cup.

Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.

That whining is the connection

There are love dogs no one knows the names of.

Give your life to be one of them.

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Desire for Truth, Great Doubt

Shankara was an 8th century Indian saint and philosopher who is regarded as the founder of the Advaita Vedanta branch of Hinduism. He wrote the following about the Witness.

Now I shall tell you the nature of this absolute Witness. If you recognize it, you will be freed from the bonds of ignorance, and attain liberation.

There is a self-existent Reality, which is the basis of your consciousness of ego. That Reality is the witness of states of ego consciousness and of the body. That Reality is the constant Witness in all three states of consciousness – waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep. It is your real Self. That Reality pervades the universe. It alone shines. The universe shines with Its reflected light.

Its essence is timeless awareness. It knows all things, Witnesses all things, from the ego to the body. It is the Witness of pleasure and pain and the sense-objects. This is your real Self, the Supreme Being, the Ancient. It never ceases to experience infinite release. It is unwavering. It is Spirit itself.

If we are aware of this screen, we are already completely 100 % saturated with this infinite consciousness. However as the great masters tell us, what good does this do us if we’re not aware of the infinite release of this realization? When we deeply ask the question ‘What or who am I, what is this infinite consciousness?’, we are allowing ourselves to become what Zen master Hakuin called The Great Doubt: “At the bottom of great doubt lies great awakening. If you doubt fully, you will awaken fully.” The Zen masters teach us that the fully awakened mind is always already fully present in its entirety, with nothing lacking.

When I first started practicing Zen, this statement became the object of my own great doubt. My questioning brought me face to face again and again with the reality that my thinking mind did not, could not, fully believe this statement. Gradually it became clear that there was no way to do away with the doubt. Great doubt is one expression of what we are. It became clear to me that to deeply ask the question of “Who am I?” was to allow myself to become the doubt itself. If there is self realization, it can’t be separate from the doubt itself.

Eventually I realized I had thought all along that I was doubting Buddha nature, doubting enlightenment itself. But when I finally left my awareness to itself, including all my ideas about it, I realized what is actually here and now cannot be doubted. For the awareness we are is doing the doubting! All this time, I had been doubting the truth of my ideas of reality. There is no truth to be found in the concept of enlightenment or Buddha Nature. So it is imperative to doubt the truth of our concepts about enlightenment, and at the same time to be aware what we are doubting.

Reality is not an it that can be doubted or affirmed. Reality cannot be grasped by making it into an object of thought. But we have to try. Indeed, our spirit of inquiry is deepened by our trying. It is deepened by our wanting to know. This is our role: not to know what reality is. Here and now is the source. Here and now is one hundred percent identical with every possible manifestation in the universe. If we doubt this idea deeply, we will awaken deeply.

There is a saying in Zen: with little doubt, there is little realization. With no doubt, there is no realization. With great doubt, there is great realization. What is great about great doubt is its all inclusiveness. It is the driving force of our spirit of inquiry leaving no rock unturned, no blade of grass not looked behind. We really have to look at whatever knowledge we’ve accumulated, whatever great realizations we imagine to have attained, and doubt them all deeply, being willing to totally throw them away. The greatest realization is just a shadow of dust reflected by spirit itself; it’s all conceptual, thought energy dissolving in the wind.

There is and an old Zen story about Bodhidharma, the great Zen master who brought Chan (now Zen) Buddhism from India to China. His spirit of inquiry is legendary in the history of Zen, and he is said to have sat in front of a wall for nine years arduously and deeply immersing his whole being in the heart of the Buddha’s teaching about the true nature of self, and liberation from human suffering. 

One of his closest disciples, named Jinko, intimately shared Bodhidharma’s deep yearning for truth. Life was very difficult in those days, even for monks who renounced the world. One day in a state of extreme desperation, Jinko came before his master and said “My mind is deeply agitated, please pacify it for me!” The story says he was so desperate that he had (or perhaps was ready to?) cut off his arm to show to Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma replied, “Show me this mind of yours, and I will pacify it for you.”

So Jinko returned to his room, and searched for his mind with all his heart. He really stretched his limits of will power, deeply contemplating the question of how much can I or anybody want to find the actual essence of what we are, what life actually is? He even spent all of several nights standing outside Bodhidharma’s room in the falling snow. Finally when he was completely exhausted, he returned to Bodhidharma and confessed, “Master, I have searched with all my heart and soul, but I cannot find my mind.” Bodhidharma said, “Then I have already put it to rest for you.”

We can’t manufacture great doubt like Jinko’s. But it is there in all of us waiting to be uncovered and surrendered to. Then it’s transformed from negating everything to affirming everything as the light of divine spirit. Our spirit of inquiry, our doubt, and our faith and devotion come together to show us what we really are.


Desire for Truth part 1

One day as a small child, I was suddenly struck by wonder. How amazing it is that we just show up in a particular body with a head we can’t see, looking out into the world. I kept asking what is this all about? I wondered if adults knew anything about how this all happened. To me it seemed they were unconcerned. Their replies were cursory: “God’s plan can’t be known. Don’t worry yourself over these things.” But I had to keep asking. All of us have the asking part of ourselves, even though it is masked by our daily difficulties and personal ambitions. When we allow ourselves to open deeply to our spirit of inquiry, we find the motivating force in our lives is the infinite spirit we all are, beyond the limits of what we can imagine.

Through years of contemplative practice, our spirit of inquiry takes twists and turns, but it always seems to come back to what the late great Zen master Suzuki Roshi once said: “The most important thing is to find out the most important thing.” For me the most important thing is asking the question who or what am I, really? Is there an entity we can call me? What is this awareness that manifests the world, that manifests the idea of me?

The ultimate question is to ask deeply: What is it, really? We step back from our intellect and our emotional attachments, and allow ourselves to come face to face with what in Zen is called our original face. Our original face is simply the totality of our being right here and right now. It includes what we conceive of as outside of us as well as inside. It includes all of our sensory experience, including the thinking mind. Our original face is what is here. It is the living spirit we are, eluding all labels, including this one.

At the end of Huston Smith’s autobiography, Tales of Wonder, he describes an experience his friend Ann Jauregui had as a young girl in Michigan, a beautiful merging of the spirit of inquiry with spirit itself.

In summer she would lie on a wooden raft anchored in the bay, listening to the waters lapping, drowsy in the warm sunshine. The warm day, the clear northern light, and the water’s gentle motion together worked a semi-hypnotic effect. Then suddenly Ann would snap alert and feel intensely alive, or rather that everything was alive and that she was part of it. The rocks, the rowboats on the shore, the water itself — everything seemed pulsating with a kind of energy. She found she could put questions to the experience. ‘What is my role in all this?’ she asked. ‘I want to know,’ she whispered. ‘Show me.’ The rocks, the trees, the water — all in silent chorus ‘answered’ – not in words, of course — that her wanting to know, just that, was her part of the pulsating landscape. ‘Creation delights in the recognition of itself’ is how she would later put it.”

Even though almost all of us have had such transcendent or mystical experiences, most of us tend to forget them or not attach much importance to them. When I’ve discussed mine and other people’s similar experiences, I’ve found one common denominator. Our wanting to know is revealed as the intense aliveness of the experience. As our wanting to know intensifies, we become aware that the aliveness we bring to each moment is the true knowing!

This spirit of wanting to know is our deepest devotion to the mysterious presence of life. As our wanting to know is revealed as the aliveness of spirit, devotion to our inquiry is revealed as devotion to spirit itself. So inquiry and devotion arise together. Great doubt and great faith. Each furthers the other’s development. We cultivate devotion to spirit through inquiry. We cultivate inquiry into spirit through devotion.

In the beginning stages of practice, we naturally embark on self-inquiry with our thinking mind. Questions can help us let go of thought, when we are open to the wondrous mystery that surrounds them. First we ask the question, and through our witnessing practice, we learn to deeply enter the mysterious field of the question through witnessing our experience. Deeply entering our experience is simply allowing it to be as it is without trying to control it by grasping onto thoughts about it. This is how the power of our questioning transforms from being centered in our thinking, into being informed by our intuitive spirit of inquiry. We’re learning to ask by merging with pure presence, we’re now asking from the very source of thought. And our desire for truth is revealed to be this pure presence.


Breath of Universal Life

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 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 confinement of the 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 stream of our life force, and when we commit to 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 stream of experience, aren’t really 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 streaming 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, begin to lose its solidity, the content actually begins to melt into the stream 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 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


Opening to the Light

When we contemplate the energy of our thoughts streaming by, we can sense it expressing our awareness of being alive. Thought is always expressing our aliveness regardless of what content it contains, regardless of what we’re thinking about. I’ve found an important question for me in my spiritual inquiry is wondering if the energy of thought is separate from the energy of hearing, feeling, or seeing? The energy of our life force does express itself in these four different ways. But our life force, the energy of our awareness of being here and now, doesn’t separate itself into different parts. It only appears to when we cling to the idea of separation. Free of the idea of separation, separation simply can’t be found.

We can also use the analogy of the ocean and its waves to describe the interpenetration of our sensory experience. Thinking, seeing, hearing, and feeling are different waves on the sea of our awareness. But they are all equally wet. They are all expressions of the same spirit, and free gifts from spirit to our human lives. They can be used to discover the boundless silent power of freedom and love in the depths of our being. Usually our human life is full of restless wanderings wanting to secure self centered pleasures and avoid suffering by being a big important wave. We jump from wave to wave hoping to find lasting happiness and meaning in our lives. But the biggest tidal wave is no more wet than the smallest ripple on the ocean.

We will finally tire of the ceaseless crashes on the shore, and the endless search for the salvation of our personal identity, we will eventually lose interest in wave hopping. We’ll be ready to ask who or what is it that actually fuels our constant yearning? We begin to seriously lose interest in our imaginary story of how life should or shouldn’t be for us to be happy.

Contemplative practice is essential for almost everyone in helping us to realize we can’t find meaning in our life through the thinking mind alone. Contemplative witnessing reveals the open nature of our consciousness that expresses the life of spirit through all of our experience. We can begin to intuitively sense the interpenetration of our sensory experience, like feeling the sound of a nearby train flowing by , or feeling a blissful sensation vibrating inside us with the serene call of a bird. Normally we need a forceful intensification of sound before we notice this. For example when your teenager plays their music so loud that it actually hurts your ears! And if we’re open to looking deeply, even people whose primary way of processing information isn’t visualization, will see visual traces of sounds and feelings, as well as thoughts.

When we’re witnessing our experience of being a separate self, that sense of separateness becomes our object of observation. Allowing thought energy to merge and mingle with our energy of hearing, seeing, and feeling, develops our intuition of sensing our true source. This is letting go of what we think we are. This is allowing our conceptual identity to dissolve into the light that actually animates our life, and is always shining through our experience. We realize this more and more as our personal identity surrenders its demands on the ongoing stream of our experience.

If we earnestly and continually witness of our efforts at control, our separate identity begins to be felt and seen as transparent to the invisible light that makes all of our experience possible. That spark that drives us to question, to deeply inquire about the actual nature of our human aliveness is all we need to realize what we truly are. The spark of truth can’t be grasped, it looks bright and feels warm, sometimes very hot. It is the light of divine presence warmly welcoming us. The spark is guiding us, and at some point we’re finally ready to allow ourselves to be guided from within.

It can be compared to a burning stick of incense. The fire is our spirit of inquiry. The stick is our attachments to our personal mind and body, that are being burned away by the fire of truth. The smoke is like the mind trying to make sense of what’s happening. There is simply no way to conceptually understand how and why we are being guided. Our intuitive sense of the divine presence develops as we allow it to reveal itself animating us right here and now. Realizing our true nature, realizing the way things actually are, we simply are what we realize.

Ask for the light to reveal itself, and allow spirit to choose how to manifest to you. Infinite love can choose what’s best for you much better than you can. We all need to be become aware of how we are still resisting divine presence.  Allowing our resistance into our full awareness, we can then offer it to the light, where it is always being absorbed and transformed. Liberation is realizing our wetness, our timeless and spaceless drenching with the undefinable substance of spirit, the life force of all existence.

We can describe this as a shift of awareness, but on a deeper level it’s also a shift of identity. We’re shifting from identifying with the confines of an imagined separate being, to the infinitely vast awareness that is our true body, our true identity. The invitation is always here to allow the shift, we’re always loved and welcomed. Realizing we’re always unconditionally loved and welcomed, we can actually learn to love and welcome life unconditionally.


Freedom of Thought

Thich Nhat Hanh’s 3rd mindfulness training is Freedom of Thought. To realize the inherent freedom of thought itself, we first need to cultivate mindful awareness of our thinking. We learn to welcome the experience of thinking with an attitude of acceptance. This frees us to witness thought as it actually is.
Then our inquiry naturally leads us to question, what is thought? We know our conscious experience is a continual stream of thoughts, our mind is always producing thoughts, just as our heart is always beating, and our body is always breathing. Thoughts think themselves, they don’t belong to an imagined entity we call ‘me’. I like to describe thought as a particular stream of energy flowing within our stream of experience that constitutes our aliveness. Our flow of experience is an intermingling of fleeting sights, sounds, sensations, traces and fragments of words, and ideas. They are all arising and constantly dissolving back to the source that is our awareness of being present.

One way to define thought energy is to say it’s the movement of our experience trying to label things. This enables us to talk about things as if they have a separate existence, an own-being with some essence or substance separate from other things. This is a very necessary aspect of our communication, and of our harmonizing with each other. However if we look deeply into the actual experience of thinking, we begin to realize thought energy doesn’t really establish any own being of anything we think about, or separate anything from the awareness we are. Thought is only an idea, only a movement of our aliveness. When we try to use thought to try and pin down what this movement of energy actually is, what thinking actually is, there is really only this movement of energy, this movement of the presence we are. Eckhart Tolle called it, “Seeing everything, seeing all thought as ripples on the surface of being.”

There is no real meaning in thoughts other than the continual flow of the ripples. There is no meaning in our attaching to the imagined conceptual content of the ripples. When this realization becomes deeply embedded in the muscle memory of our emotional life, thinking will no longer be any problem. And while our emotions may still be quite painful sometimes, free of the confines of thinking, they will also no longer be a problem.

We don’t really know what thought is, it’s a vast deep mystery. Being a deep mystery itself, how can thought define anything we see, hear, or feel so that they are less of a mystery? Everything in this universe is manifested by this infinite mysterious life force which is free of all labels. Things aren’t what we think they are. Not only are they not what we think they are, they are free of what we think they are. The absence of what we think about things, is the way they actually are. The absence of what we think we are, is the way we actually are.

Teachers sometimes say, ‘pay attention to the gap between your thoughts, how can this gap, this suspension of thought, not be your actual being?’ I try to label this gap by saying it is simply the awareness of being present, without the confines of any labels. It is what is always here and always now in every moment of our little lives, and it never changes. If we look a little closer, if we watch the stream of thoughts flowing by, where is the gap? The stream of thought energy is just an expression of the awareness that doesn’t change, and awareness isn’t affected in any way by the appearance and disappearance of thoughts; thoughts have never created any gap whatsoever. The absence of what we think about the awareness we are, is the way awareness actually is. There is no enlightenment other than this. A Zen master bangs his stick on the floor, shouting It’s just this!

When we are willing to deeply contemplate our actual existence in this way, our awareness is beginning to realize freedom of thought. It is not the cessation of the thought stream, but freedom from the confines of thought streaming by. We just let the thought stream flow as it wants to flow; that is all it is ever doing anyway. We are learning to be to free to use our thinking in service of our Self that we share with all beings. And we’re learning to be free from the compulsion to use our thinking to struggle with our desires and fears.

When we persevere in our practice of witnessing all of our experience, we will naturally begin to taste the freedom of thought itself, and the freedom of our real being, which is pure being. Suzuki Roshi said, ‘Purity is things as they actually are.’ Thinking as it actually is, is always arising and dissolving into and as the flow of our awareness. If we’re willing to continually observe this, to go with the flow, our awareness becomes informed by the whole of awareness, informed by the ground of all of our experience. We move right through the thought stream, into the vast quiet stillness and freedom of our true nature.


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.