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Receiving the Divine Presence

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I’ve written a couple of times about the great 20th century Indian saint Anandamayi Ma. She is considered to have been an actual incarnation of the Divine Mother in Indian lore.  She spent the last 55 years of her life traveling around India spreading her teaching of Bhakti Yoga to many thousands of devotees.  Many of them have said her most amazing characteristic is that for anyone who was fortunate enough to have spent some time in her presence, they couldn’t help but have the desire to receive the divine presence awakened, or further enhanced from inside their being. One of her most powerful teaching methods is that of kirtan, the singing of devotional songs to the Lord, the Hindu name for the divine presence.

I’m attaching her singing of ‘Hey Bhagavan’ which is Hindi for O’ Lord. The spirit of her song is the calling to the Lord to shower all beings with her love, while calling all beings to receive her love. If we just allow ourselves to open to her spirit, with persistent devotion, we will at least begin to have the actual living experience that there is nothing separating us from the love of the Divine Mother.

 

1

The Freedom to Love this Life

One saying that I find myself continually coming back to is one of Nisargadatta’s sayings. “When I look within, I find that I’m nothing, and that’s wisdom. When I look without, I find that I’m everything, and that’s love. My life turns between the two.” The nothing he refers to in looking inside, is not the nothing of an empty glass. It’s the fullness of being no-thing, having no ‘own being’ separate from the awareness we are. This is the awareness of just being present that we share with all beings.

Turning outward, the wisdom of being no-thing, the awareness of just being present, reveals the love and compassion of not being separate from anything. We realize are one with everything. This process of turning between the two is actually going on all the time within each one of us. The difference between a sage like Nisargadatta and us, is that in our self clinging we’re afraid of the world, and afraid of our inner no-thingness. We’re afraid of the intense loving energy of turning between these two aspects of our life.

As we learn to allow a sense of deep silence to emerge in our meditation, the awareness of just being present begins to reveal itself. We’re actually beginning to access a whole new state of consciousness –one that is quite immense. By giving our attention to it in the midst of turning between the inner and outer worlds, we make ourselves more and more available to the dawning of of this vast expanse where we can awaken out of the belief and experience of separation. We realize we are a deep well of awareness – an inner expanse that’s always here. Because it’s always here, there is no need to try and grasp or hold onto it, we only need to become aware of its vast freedom and love that is openness itself.

On entering the spiritual path, many people believe spiritual freedom is defined by what we are free from. In other words, we can be so transcendent that we are literally free from life. I’ve discovered that in this context, this is a relatively immature idea of freedom. Something more mature, something that develops and grows within us as we become more spiritually mature is not a freedom from, but a freedom to. Are we free enough and open enough to meet and occupy our life as a human being? Are free to suffer as well as free to experience joy?

Even though we’re not separate, even though the whole universe is contained within us, there’s still a human component, and individual identity with the capacity to allow spirit to flow out into the world. We can either open to this, or shy away from it. The real joy we discover in our surrendering to the wisdom and love of the life of our true spiritual identity, is that by opening instead of shying away, the depth of our intimacy with love itself is deepened immeasurably.

With the support of divine openness, we can begin to feel the freedom to deeply enter the question of ‘What is the experience of desire and fear?’ Can we find any actual substance to the experience? What is the experience of desire and fear actually made of? We can offer our experience of desire and fear to this divine openness, and in return our experience is absorbed back into spirit itself. We receive the love and freedom of the spirit of openness in action. It’s our activity, and is a divine gift enabling us to intimately know the freedom of loving this life.

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Free Will

Teachers I’ve studied with over the years seem to be saying that In order to fully realize the truth and freedom of our being, all we need is to allow the inherent power of our spirit of inquiry to fully express itself. One very powerful aspect of our spirit of inquiry is its freedom. We begin to realize our inherent freedom when we allow the full expression of our longing that merges with our gratitude for life itself. Our spirit of inquiry is free in that it arises together with the free presence that is always here and now; there is no separation. Presence has no boundaries of width or height, space or time, and is free of all conceptual labels. It is free of the confinement of thought altogether.

This means also being free to include thought, to include aliveness, to include love. Our spirit of inquiry enables us to freely ask the deep questions about life; who or what am I really? Is there an actual entity that we call me? What is the actual substance of the awareness that manifests the world, that manifests the idea of me? The ultimate question is to ask deeply: What is it really? Behind our wanting to know is a deep prayer from our hearts, our prayer of wanting to actually be freedom itself.

The question of whether or not human beings have free will has been an on going mystery for thinkers of all kinds for millenniums. In our Western culture, we put a stronger emphasis on the individual self than in the East, where many of the great contemplative traditions originated. When we ask whether or not we have free will, we are usually assuming that we are asking whether or not our separate self is free to choose on its own. Does our self as we think and experience ourselves to be have the freedom of choice? Or are the thoughts and other experiences we have predetermined by forces outside of our awareness?

With this type of asking, we are assuming that there indeed is a real entity that is our separate self. We assume that it is uniquely ours, and that there are indeed outside forces that can affect our experience of this separate self and its choices. Human consciousness has now evolved to the point where we now have the ability to deeply question and doubt this assumption of a separate self. When we develop the courage to stay with and test this deeply conditioned assumption in every aspect of our lives, we are tapping into the freedom of will that is much more powerful than we can comprehend with our mind. We gradually learn to surrender, and allow ourselves to be guided from within by this vast mysterious power leading us to the realization of what we really are.

Some masters describe will as the process of realizing that thought is actually energy. Another name for will is the motivation of human activity for experiencing. It is always arising with, and interwoven with thought energy. We know we aren’t just our thoughts, because we can be aware of thoughts. That which is aware of thought energy is free; it doesn’t belong to, or confined by any entity we call self. There is free will, but free will is actually free of everything, free to be nothing and everything at the same time. It is simply free of all ideas of self or no self.

There is free will, but there is no my free will. There is the phrase, ‘not my will, but thy will be done.’ God’s will being done, isn’t the result of self sacrificing behavior. God’s or Spirit’s will being done is just the way things actually are, it’s the way things actually are happening. We doubt this and it’s healthy to doubt it. After all, this is just another idea. If we doubt the thought ‘It’s all God’s will.’, it can be an opening into the aliveness of very deep questions.  As Zen master Hakuin said, “If you doubt deeply, you will awaken deeply.”

Free will is you, the living presence we actually are is free, and its manifestations are the manifestation of freedom. What we think we are is a tiny flash of this freedom of living presence, our egos aren’t freedom, and can’t express free will by themselves. Our egos don’t exist by themselves; they are only this tiny brief flashing our actual living presence of freedom. So ego consciousness is always a tiny expression of the freedom of our infinite living presence. By simply offering all of our experience of being separate to our actual living presence, we begin to tap into boundless and timeless free will.

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Gratitude

In Zen, gratitude is an important devotional practice. We can find a context for gratitude–which can make our practice come alive–by contemplating one of our Zen ancestors, Dogen Zenji’s sayings from The Shobogenzo: “When one attains the Way, the Way is always left to the Way.” When the Way is left to the Way, there is no need to add anything, seek anything or move away from anything that is happening. We are totally immersed in the Way, with the vitality of awareness. The Way is also called the great emptiness or the great fullness. The great fullness is so full that we cannot find anything separate from it. We cannot find any thing at all.

Brother David Steindl-Rast describes gratefulness as great fullness. We are grateful that the Great Spirit shares its great fullness of life with us. What a relief not to have any place to put our ego, it has no seaparate existence of its own. The ego can be thought of as a cipher, huge as an ocean within us that sucks up all our energy. What a relief to release some of that pent-up energy and offer it to the buddhas. As profound as our offering, so inexhaustible is the gratitude of the buddhas for our willingness to share our lives with them. With enormous fullness, they receive our offerings.

When we realize this, in the depth of our being we feel that all of our experience is welcomed as expressions of the wholeness of life. Realizing we are always unconditionally welcomed, we learn to welcome life unconditionally.

Of course there are some events we cannot summon up gratitude for; but these are truly opportunities to open up as much as we can to the great fullness. Regardless of our limitations, the buddhas are just as thankful for our best efforts. From the viewpoint of the buddhas, their fullness includes our limitations. We only need to cultivate the ability to see our catastrophes as opportunities.

So we leave the Way to the Way. And we can be grateful that the Way leaves us to us. The sun is an equal opportunity provider, rising each morning, shining on everything with its peaceful warmth, revealing everything just as it is. Likewise the light of the Way shines equally on all its creations, leaving us to us. As we learn to expose ourselves more and more to the gifts of this life, we gradually realize our oneness. We realize that in leaving us to us, the Way offers us everything.

Let our gratitude extend to the opportunities presented by others. Let us see how upset and frustrated we still become when someone offends us in a way that pushes our buttons of pain and fear. Let us see how taking offense is the same as giving offense. So we can cultivate a spirit of thank-you-very-much for providing this opportunity, painful as it may be. And thank you very much, buddhas, for providing others with a chance to give us these opportunities. Thank you very much, buddhas, for giving us a way to overcome our fears of exposure to the great unknown. Thank you, buddhas, for giving others the opportunity to receive the gift of our response. Confucius  has on old saying: ‘When you observes virtuous behavior, emulate it. When you observe harmful selfish behavior, look at yourself.’ May we all learn to heed Confucius’ advice, and in our anger or denial, look to ourselves.

Thich Nhat Hanh has a saying: The world of suffering and discrimination is filled with the light of the rising sun. Meditating with the light of the rising sun can be a wonderful opportunity to embody the depths of this saying. We can be grateful for our spirit of inquiry. We can be grateful for our willingness to embody the big questions of life, including our death. We are gifted with the ability to embody them in a lighthearted way, with our heart full of light.

 

5

The Compassionate Heart of Death

In talking about the willingness to actually be all experience in my last post, I later reflected on how this probably seems to be a very radical view to almost all people, including myself. I feel unworthy of making bold statements like these, though in my heart there is a growing sense of compassion for our predicament of realizing the necessity of saying what needs to be said in the face of fear. The need for courage is now even more evident given the recent horrors in Paris; the terrorists are so terrified in the depths of their being, that they rationalize attempts to sow as much panic and terror among their perceived enemies as possible.

I’ve been reading a bit about Krishna Das, the musician whose devotional songs have inspired so many people. His guru is Neem Karoli Baba, Maharajji, Ram Dass’ guru. He was gifted with a few days of precious time with him several months before his death. He related an encounter with Maharajji which speaks very powerfully to me of the presence of courage in the face of fear:

We were together with our eyes closed for a long time. All of a sudden Maharajji sits up, looks at me, and says, ‘Courage is a really big thing’. All I could think was, ‘What’s gonna happen? I don’t think I can deal with it!’

The other devotee present said, ‘Oh but Baba, God takes care of his devotees.’

Maharajji shot him a look, then looked back at me, and said, ‘Courage is a really big thing.’ And he closed his eyes again.

I had no idea what it meant. Not a clue. But there have been a few times in my life when all I had to hold onto was the memory of his saying that. There was no possibility of courage, no possibility of action, I was completely lost, completely drowning, but I had the barest memory of his saying that . . and it was enough.

When we can intimately relate with the experience of completely drowning with no possibility of doing anything, we’re touching our deepest fear, the fear of death, the death of who and what we think we are. We all have an intellectual realization that we’re going to die, but very few of us know it’s really going to happen, until some tragedy, or fatal prognosis makes it painfully obvious that it actually is happening. The willingness to stay present with this fear, is the gift of courage. The power of courage is the power to allow the transformation of fear into loving compassion. Sogyal Rinpoche, the author of the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying said:

When we finally know we are dying, and all other beings are dying along with us, we start to have a burning, almost heart breaking sense of the fragility, and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings.

I had never fully appreciated the depth of my father’s Christian faith until he was on his deathbed in 1986. He gathered his four children around him, we held hands, and he offered a deeply heart felt prayer to our heavenly father thanking him for his love in life and in death. He said ‘I’m not afraid to die, it’s ok I’ve had a good life.’ I still cry sometimes when I realize that the power of his prayer isn’t in the past or future, it’s now.

I was talking with senior Zen teacher Reb Anderson some years ago about death. He told me that his intuition is that whether there is rebirth or not after we die, the momentum of the practice continues. For me this means the momentum of our spirit of inquiry continues regardless of whatever we think happens after death. Reb said he realizes that because of sleep deprivation, rising around 4 am for the last 50 years, his life will probably be 10 to 15 years shorter than it otherwise would have been. He then told me, ‘That’s ok, I’ve had a good life.’

This gave me a still deeper appreciation for my father’s spirit of inquiry, I realized he also had a deep intuition of Sogyal Rinpoche’s saying death teaches us to become great compassion. For him, me and my siblings dying along with him, meant dying to the sense of separation from God’s love. His prayer was for us to surrender and receive God’s love as he had learned to do in his willingness to receive death. I’m grateful to have such a wonderful father, and to have such a wonderful Zen teacher, both of whom intimately know the compassionate heart of death. Yogananda said: ‘It’s ok to pray for things, and to be thankful for them. It’s far better to pray for God’s love, to pray for the courage to receive and give her compassionate love, and instead of thanking her for things, thank her for her love.’

 

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Ask for What You Want

The traditional definitions of prayer involve asking for something we want, involve a reaching out for something unknown in the sense that we don’t know how to attain or receive it by ourselves. Contemplative prayer includes and expands these elements, while involving an actual shift in our center of identity. If we pray to spirit from deep in our heart, with complete sincerity, distracting thoughts dissolve, we receive the power to center our thoughts on our actual relationship with a higher power free from the confines of our egoic identity. When the center of our consciousness shifts from our identity as a separate self, to the underlying reality we share with all beings, not just human beings, but all beings, this is the birth of a new aliveness wanting to embrace life through and as our total being. When we’re willing to receive this new aliveness and surrender our will to spirit’s will, we become a redeeming force in the world.

A powerful prayer for myself has been asking for what I really need to awaken from the dream of separation from the aliveness of spirit itself. I pray for the courage and strength to allow the loving power of spirit or God herself to perform my actions in the world. Once in a while I feel compelled to put prayer into conceptual form, and in a prayer circle, I offered the following prayer.

Infinite Beloved, I know you are nearer than these words and thoughts I’m praying with. How can I help others to dissolve their self concern?  What is actually needed to help them be more willing to receive your love and compassion? Behind every restless feeling, may I feel Your concern for all of us, and Your love. From this awareness manifesting me, may all beings feel sustained and guided by Your consciousness. May my love for You, enable me to realize and share ever more deeply Your love for all of us.

Afterward, I felt the thrill of my consciousness expanding, but soon the pressure, seemingly squeezing me from both inside and out simultaneously, became much more intense than I had encountered before. It felt as if I my body/mind was being ‘launched into outer space though I was still sitting in a chair. Thoughts raced through my mind: ‘This isn’t supposed to be happening, I’ve got kids, if I don’t come back, who will look after them?’ Along with these fears, was the certainty that all human beings would in some form pass through this very same fear of dying in the depths of their being. The pressure in all its intensity was telling me, ‘Not only is this universal fear of suffering and death, you are now experiencing  universal resistance to actually being the pain of all suffering.’

The most painful feeling was centered on my attempts to grasp onto thoughts about salvation, sayings of great masters, and thoughts of unconditional universal love. My attempts to grasp these thoughts, to figure what to do or not to do, had absolutely no effect on my condition, and in fact just increased my anxiety. At one point it even got to the point where I asked ‘Ok if I’m supposed to die now, let’s get on with it, die already! But clinging to those thoughts were just as futile any other form of clinging. There was simply no other choice than to just to surrender to the energy of what up to that point had been a very painful ride. I was receiving a deeper teaching of what it means to just ‘Stop’ everything, including dropping all effort of trying to stop. Finally it dawned on me; there is another level of surrender, another level of receiving and acceptance that has nothing to do with any of my efforts, that is completely independent of any self conscious sense of separateness.

 I already had an intuitive realization of this truth of my own powerlessness. But it became more clear to me that I had not yet learned to fully live that truth, it was still at least partly dependent on an intellectual intuition. At that point I finally realized, that this experience is what I asked for, it is what I really needed to further the process of awakening from the dream of separation. Adyashanti says ‘When you really pray with complete sincerity from the depth of your heart, be careful what you ask for, you might very well get it.’

When our spiritual evolution reaches the point where the necessity of receiving the willingness to be the whole works, to actually be all the most blissful joy, and all the most agonizing suffering, when that necessity begins to deeply saturate our hearts, we will feel the depth of the fear of suffering and death. It is scary because in our attachment to our small container of self that we imagine we are, we also imagine that this container we think we are has to be willing to actually be all the suffering by ourself. We imagine that we by ourselves could actually experience all the suffering in the hell realms if we surrender our defenses.

But we aren’t the most painful or the most exalted blissful human experiences by ourselves. We existing by ourselves is nothing more than an idea in our mind. Our actual being, which is timeless spaceless awareness, is all experience as an expression of the whole of creation. The whole universe is what we are together with all beings and all their experiences; we and all beings, we and all experience is what we actually are. And we and all the experience of all beings is constantly changing, being absorbed back to our source, and then being manifested anew. When we fully surrender to actually being all of it, we actually are all of it. We learn to accept life on life’s terms, not our own terms and conditions. This is the transformation of our suffering, and is our willingness to be a redeeming force in the world.StuartSchwartz_illjump

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Constant Prayer

Many senior teachers tell us that constant contemplative prayer, constant surrender to the spirit without interruption or distraction is necessary for a full realization of our true nature. Ramana Maharshi said surrender itself is a mighty prayer. The prayer of surrender is the willingness to deepen our continually receiving our life force, receiving unconditional love that is freely offered from infinite consciousness. Of course our seeking minds take this surrendered prayer being constant as a goal for us to achieve. I spent many years beating myself up for not being able to accomplish the intention of being in the state of constant contemplation of the deep question ‘what is THIS?’, or ‘what is the actual substance of the presence looking out of our eyes right now?’

But then as Baker Roshi stated, in Buddhist philosophy the formulating and articulating of an intention is equivalent to accomplishing that intention. In other words, the essence of the intention of authentic spiritual inquiry is to simply be here now. Being here now is already always the case; before, during, and after we formulate the intention.

So we formulate the intention for prayer of surrender to the presence we are. This is enough, faith in just the awareness of being present is all we need. All else is mere imaginings of the mind. We need to drop all faith that is merely expectation of results. Constant evaluating like ‘Am I present now, can I notice just being present without clinging to desires of anything else other than just being present?’, is useful in that it reminds us of our intention. But trying to self consciously accomplish this intention through comparison of others’ accomplishments, or our own perfectionist standards, is based on our attachment to results.

Faith in just the awareness of being present is not a result, just as the awareness of being present is not the result of anything. They aren’t the result of any self conscious effort. Awareness is its own result in the sense of it having no absolute beginning or ending. Awareness is always present before the idea of a beginning can arise; it is the source of ideas of beginning and ending, but it is not bound by the ideas of beginning and ending. The absence of awareness, and the beginning of awareness itself are just thoughts in the mind, based on our attempts to define and limit awareness. As Nisargadata said, ‘There is no such thing as nothing, nothing is just an idea based on the memory of something.’ There is no such thing as the absence of awareness, the absence of awareness is just an idea based on the memory of the idea of awareness.

So rather than take the practice of constant prayer and surrender to spirit as a goal to attain, we learn to just pay attention to the constant prayer that is always here. It is simply the constant flow of our awareness, the constant flow of our experience. Constant timeless prayer is manifesting the source we are at every moment. We formulate the intention to surrender to the sense of ‘I Am’, and just notice the sense of ‘I Am’, without clinging to ideas of I am this, or I am that. This doesn’t mean to exclude the awareness of dishes that need to be washed, or to exclude the awareness of the details of child care that need to be attended to. The intention to surrender to the constant prayer of just being present, is surrender to the dishes and child care as just being present. We intend to see beyond the conceptual haze of our opinions and judgments about the details of our life, and just let our attachments to them be present.

This morning there is a cool autumn breeze as I write in my hammock. Many bright colorful leaves are effortlessly and joyfully dancing in the breeze as they fall to the ground. This free flow of our experience is like a constantly flowing river, and nothing can ever interrupt it. What could ever possibly interrupt or distract from the sheer joy of our alive being? When seen and experienced clearly and fully, our self conscious efforts to cling to our thoughts, to control the energy of our thoughts and experience, are merely different expressions of the same delightful energy of the dancing leaves!

The mere witnessing of our self conscious attachments, is the joy of the constant prayer of surrender being present as the manifestation of the details of our life. Why not just allow the river of experience to flow by? In this way, we are learning to experience our attachments clearly, and to experience them free of our opinions about them. And we realize they have absolute value as expressions of awareness, of spirit itself. So rather than ignoring the details of our life, we feel energized and vitalized in their expression of the spirit we share with all beings, and we naturally want to care and express love for them as we would for our own selves.

In our contemplative practice, constant care and love for all beings is becoming one with our constant prayer for union with the divine spirit we are. This prayer includes the prayer for the union all of creation with the divine spirit of creation itself. We and all beings together are becoming the constant prayer of surrender free from all mental fabrication, and free to love and care for all beings.

5

Allow Spirit to Be You

Even though everything we write and speak is just words, and even though words by themselves can never fully express this reality, we have to keep trying. The wisdom teachings are here to show us that there really isn’t any thing holding us back. By trying continually, we gradually realize this. To me, what we normally think of as things, seem like mysterious stepping stones on our journey to self realization that we can never fully comprehend. So perhaps there will always be feelings that we can go higher, and become freer on our journey to realizing our actual being. The more deeply we’re able to absorb and surrender to this truth, the less likely we are to remain bogged down in delusions of finally being done with it.

A famous verse written by Zen master Tozan Ryokai is called the Jewel Mirror of Awareness. One line has captured my attention over the years, and I’m still pondering its meaning as I try to contemplate and absorb the actual reality of our lives.

It is like facing a jewel mirror;
Form and image behold each other—
You are not It.
It actually is you.

When I visited my first Zen teacher Richard Baker Roshi this year, he quoted this line. For me it’s very powerful in practicing how to occupy our life as an expression of infinite spirit, while living the life of a human being. This line gives rise to very alive questions to many on the path of spiritual inquiry.

When we look in the mirror, there is no need to try and manipulate the images we see. Every movement is a pure reflection of our actions. The mirror just reflects, it doesn’t hesitate, think or judge. When we observe ourselves in the mirror we can more easily see our reflection objectively; however we appear, or act, we can see our activity as just happening, free of our thinking about it. We can see it as just a collection of sights, sounds, feelings, and thoughts arising moment to moment.

The being we think we are is merely fragments of thought just arising and changing constantly along with the rest of our experience. When master Tozan wrote this verse, he is using the word It as an expression of our true nature, the awareness we are. It is like facing a jewel mirror, It includes our body and its reflection in the mirror. What we consider the outside world is also like a mirror in that all its manifestations are reflections of the awareness we actually are. Everything is happening as an expression of the being we are.

Tozan says “You are not It”. What we think we are as a separate being, what we experience doing by ourselves is not It. Our experience of being separate is nothing more than thoughts and feelings of being separate. “It is actually you.” It, our true nature, the awareness we are, includes everything. It is what our experience of being human actually is.

I recently finished reading a book by Paul Brunton entitled The Short Path to Enlightenment. He wrote several wonderful books in the middle of the last century, and was one of the pioneers in bringing Eastern spirituality to the West. The title is a misnomer, it is not about shallow short cuts on the path, or about spiritual bypassing. The title is an enticement to introduce deeper teachings, and I highly recommend the book to those with a serious interest in spiritual inquiry.

He recommends an awareness exercise in the book that I hadn’t directly encountered before. It is in essence the practice of living our life as much as possible as if we are already totally enlightened. It’s the practice of just ignoring all thoughts to the contrary. To me it is just allowing It, or spirit, to be you. In doing this practice, it’s especially important to not harbor thoughts of ‘me by myself being It’. So a better way to say it, is that it’s an awareness practice of allowing complete enlightenment to be you, rather than practicing as if you are totally enlightened.

Many of the greatest masters of the Bhakti yoga teachings on opening to divine love, say that all we need for the full realization of enlightenment is to renounce the attachment to the notion of individuality, nothing else. It all comes down to our shared Being, there is nothing other than being, we’re all the same being. Why not resolve ourselves to simply allow it to be so,?

So if you train yourself to just pay attention to the awareness you are, this is allowing spirit, the aliveness of being, to be you. When have we ever been anything other than simply the being that we are? Gradually our attachments to being separate, our selfish preoccupations, begin to more and more stick out like a sore thumb, and this is how we become more willing to let them dissolve. This is training our body/mind to be willing to receive and share the love and compassion of our true being.

4

Embracing Compassion

The sage Nisargadatta said, “Of all the ideas you cling to preventing the clear realization of what you actually are, the idea that you’re the body is the worst.” I think if people really are willing to look at what our body actually is, they can at least intellectually grasp that we are not in our body, our body is IN our awareness. We are aware of our body, therefore what we are is not limited to the body. When there’s no awareness of ‘I am’, there’s no body. We can forget all attachment to thoughts about the body, and look at it, but then it is no longer our body, it’s just another physical object in our awareness. Then it is no more ours than the tree outside the window. Of course we aren’t really aware of what an infinitely small fraction our body is of our total being, unless we actually live and express that awareness in our daily life, unless we allow our deeply conditioned preoccupation with our body to dissolve into awareness of our true identity, our true body of consciousness itself.

Sometimes people say but my body follows me around everywhere, and if it’s hurting, I’m hurting! When it moves, I move. But the body can only do these things because the consciousness we are, is also always here manifesting the body in action. Our awareness is here when we’re asleep dreaming, the body is not. Our awareness is still here in deep dreamless sleep, though very few of us are able to pay attention. Apparently for some reason the stress of maintaining our sense of separation from pure formless consciousness, almost always prevents us from getting the rest and rejuvenation we need if awareness of formless consciousness is present during deep dreamless sleep.

The same analogy of the body being in our awareness, also holds true for a house we’re in. We’re not in this house, this house is IN our awareness. We are the pure witness in which this house is now arising, just like we are the pure witness in which our perception of our physical body is arising. So the invitation is to just be this awareness, be consciousness. If we look outside the house, to the scenes of nature, a big part of the earth, and the sky, if we look in short, at the universe appearing out of our eyes – and if we rest as the witness, as the formless awareness of ‘I am’, it becomes obvious that we are not in the universe, the universe is in our consciousness. Therefore the invitation is to be consciousness.

We can also extend the analogy to our bodily experiences. Our body is in our awareness, bodily pain isn’t in the body its in our awareness giving rise to the perceptions of the body. The awareness we are is around the pain, it’s vastly more immense than pain. Pain arises in awareness, is embraced by awareness, then resolves, dissolves, and is absorbed back to its source of awareness itself. If we meditate thoroughly on the absence of what we think about pain, on the absence of our story about pain, all suffering born from pain is alleviated.

As obvious as it is that we are mysterious awareness we can’t capture the fullness of with any labels, it’s just as obvious that we are alive, and are completely embraced by, and moved by the aliveness of the mysterious awareness we are. Another saying that keeps coming up for me is ‘God is the electricity, we human beings are the light bulbs.’ All of our experiences, every sight manifesting in the world of form, every sensation, every sound, and every thought are like sparks of light being constantly lit up and flashing, endlessly, again and again. I know almost nothing about the workings of magnetic and gravitational fields, or the dark mysterious power of black holes, etc. But the power of the current manifesting creation is way beyond our comprehension, and if we continually offer our attachments to flashes of thought energy, our offerings are accepted. More and more, all of our experience begins to harmonize with the joy of the cosmic current.

Many of us have had profound glimpses of this super consciousness alive with the power to create and illuminate galaxies of stars. As we continue on the path, our consciousness expands, and feelings of very deep compassion for all creation arise simultaneously. Ram Dass describes compassion as “seeing another’s emotion as one’s own, with the wisdom of oneness.” We care more as the wisdom of oneness illuminates our life, and we realize the caring is the expression of the divine current’s love and compassion; it’s much deeper and fuller than any energy expressed in a limited way by an individual body/mind. It’s a paradox to ego consciousness that the more we allow this deep caring to express itself, the less attachment there is to the results of our caring.

In his wonderful translation of the Tao Te Ching, Guy Leekley expresses a beautiful verse on cultivating and opening to the flow of the ever serene spirit of life. This opening deepens our stillness, deepens all of our experiences, as our thought stream is more and more in harmony with, and expresses stillness in its spirit of vast inclusiveness. We can then more freely share our experience as ideas and feelings of fear dissolve.

Chapter 16:

By releasing completely

And cultivating stillness,

We can see how all things

Take on forms

That continuously dissolve

And then emerge again.

We can trace these forms

In all their abundance

As the appear

And then resolve themselves

Back to their Source.

This resolving of forms

Back to their Source

Deepens our stillness

And reveals our boundless nature.

There we finally release

Into illuminating Consciousness

If veiled from this pure Consciousness,

Our experience becomes delusion.

And we suffer.

Illuminating Consciousness

Opens our hearts to compassion,

And thus to the spiritual life

Of the sacred Way.

At one with the Tao,

We can shine on forever

In the eternal present moment.

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The Joy of Opening to Grace

For me grace in the context of spiritual awakening is the gift of our life force freely and unconditionally bestowed upon human beings. Every experience in life is a gift to us manifested by our feeling of just being alive and present. Everything in life is the gift of grace from the mysterious infinite consciousness we are. Our spirit of wanting to intimately know this life force as our very being, our deep desire to actually be the fullness of our life force expressing itself through our heart, is a gift of grace. Our willingness to surrender, again and again, to this deepest desire is our true joy. And our willingness to continually give grace away, is what allows us to realize the joy is always flowing through us, as us, with no beginning or end.

In my contemplative practice, I’m continually drawn back to particular phrases and verses. Each time I discover new implications from them developing new aides on the spiritual journey. One of these is from the 18th century mystic William Blake:

He who binds to himself a joy, does the winged life destroy.

He who kisses the joy as it flies, lives in eternity’s sunrise.

Blake is inviting us to love the joy while it’s here, even as it is always dissolving into new forms of expression. If we don’t cling to our joy, we can be all the more intimate with it while it’s here. Caught in the fear of losing joy, we are unknowingly obstructing its continual flow. Liberated from this fear, joy and freedom melt together as we kiss it all flying by.

Living in eternity’s sunrise is an invitation to live fully in the moment. Living fully in the joy of the moment without getting caught in anticipation of the next moment, is an expression of eternity. Eternity is not an incalculably long time period of time; eternity is beyond time, without time, timeless. This is the actual nature of each moment flowing simultaneously with all time and all space. We are always simply here and now. This becomes more and more obvious the less energy we put into clinging to our ideas of being separate from the flow of grace, from the flow of our aliveness as consciousness itself.

When we welcome the faceless tombstones of our personal attachments with the joy of our spirit of inquiry, our energies are directed towards our oneness with Infinite Consciousness. The more we do this, the more the grace of self realization is naturally allowed to saturate our awareness.

With Blake’s verse, we can substitute pretty much anything else we try to grasp and hold onto. This verse can be a profound teaching about holding onto power, love, money, suffering, self, pleasure, or personal free will. So we can say:

She who is bound to the idea of self, puts the winged life on the shelf. She who kisses self as it flies, lives in eternity’s sunrise. Or, She who binds to herself divine mystery’s will, reduces the winged life to nil.

Everything is flying by, the free flow of our experience is like a river, and we can never step into the river in the same place twice.  Our very being, our awareness here and now is the river.  I remember a story about a devotee of Ram Dass’s guru Neem Karoli Baba, called Maharaji by his devotees.  He said that what was so amazing about Maharaji wasn’t that he loved everybody. After all, he was one of India’s greatest saints, so people expected that he love everybody.  “But what was so amazing was that when I was in his presence, I loved everybody.” The power of Maharaji’s presence is so infectious because he has no resistance to the continual flow of grace, his presence simply is love.

Freedom, love, and grace arise together, and we gradually learn to embody them together.  When we simply are love, we simply are freedom, we simply are grace, and we freely express them as we freely receive them. As aspirants on the path, we don’t need to try to become freedom and joy, or try to possess them.  We simply need to pay attention to the unconditional love and freedom of grace that is always already here.

The cd Awake is now available, and I highly recommend getting it. It’s a movie/documentary about Yogananda bringing his Kriya Yoga teachings to the West from India. It’s very illuminating to see what’s changed, and hasn’t changed since he arrived on the American spiritual scene in 1920. Someone once asked him about Human Effort and Grace:

In the history of religion there is a perennial debate as to which is more important: divine grace, or human effort. The answer is quite simple, and the masters have tried to convey it to people in their teachings. Man must do his best, of course. His best, however will be crowned with success to the extent that he realizes that it isn’t he, as a human being, who is acting, but God who is acting through him, inspiring and guiding him.

To think of God as the doer doesn’t make a person passive. It takes great effort of will to be receptive to him. The devotee must offer himself positively and joyfully into the flow of inner grace. The power that is in you is your own, but God-given. Use it; God won’t use it for you. The more you attune your will, during activity, to His infinite will, the more you will find His power and blessing strengthening and guiding you in everything you do.”

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