The great spiritual author Alan Watts had a wonderful image. He said when a boat goes through the water, it leaves a wake in the water as it passes through. The way we understand things psychologically would be that the wake actually creates the boat, that the past is what creates the present moment. But of course, we know that the wake isn’t creating the boat; the boat is creating the wake. It’s the present moment that is creating the past. The present moment is what’s knifing through the water and the wake is just the recording of the present moment moving farther and farther into the past.
So if you look at it from that standpoint, the past doesn’t actually create the present even though it seems like the past is what gives us our present experience, which conditions the way we see life. There’s actually another way to see it, and that’s what the spiritual orientation is. The spiritual orientation is rooted in the revelation or the perception that there’s only right here and right now. And even deeper than that is that everything you think and feel and experience right here and right now is not actually the outcome of the past. It’s actually the spontaneous bursting into existence of the present. In a way it’s uncaused.
We’re taught to view life through the orientation that the past creates the present. The “here and now” orientation doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. And yet, not only in the realm of spirituality, but also in the realm of science and quantum mechanics, we start to see that life actually bursts forth uncaused, seemingly out of nowhere, seemingly out of nothingness. This is what some of our physics and physicists have observed, that the smallest particles of matter actually seem to burst out of nowhere, out of nothingness, and on an even more perplexing level, that our observation of life is what actually brings life into being.
This is really the deeper meaning of “spontaneous.” Spontaneity means uncaused. It’s not following the laws of causation. At the subatomic level, nothing happens until it’s observed, and as soon as something is observed, the observation itself is what brings it into being. So the observation and what is being observed actually arise spontaneously together.
This may all seem quite abstract. That’s why I like the image of a boat moving through water, because with that image you can see how it’s the present moment that’s creating the past, not the past that’s creating the present moment. Even though that may be hard to grasp, it’s really quite easy to have some rudimentary understanding of this by just imagining a boat going through the water and the simple recognition that it’s the present moment of the boat going through the water that creates the wake. The wake will be the past. That’s where the boat moved through the water, and that’s the signature of the boat moving through the water. But the past does not create the present.
From Adyashanti's True Spiritual Orientation, 2010
© Adyashanti 2010
I’ve been asked many times, “Adya, I’m experiencing this strange sort of fear, like I’m at the door of some void, and it’s just going to swallow me. And somehow I’m strangely, deeply compelled towards it, and absolutely terrified of it, because it feels like it’s going to be the end of me.” It’s very common in doing this kind of deep work that you can run into this.
Ultimately, in the end, we see through self, but at that point, self isn’t a thought and it’s not really a feeling, except for fear. It’s something you can’t identify, like some sort of presence of being that feels extraordinarily threatened. When this really opens up, you quite literally experience the disappearance of everything you know. It seems like the body, the mind, the entire world—all of existence blinks out of existence.
In a certain sense, the most real sense that there can be, you actually do go through a death. It’s not the same thing as a near-death experience—as transformative as those can be—it’s a death experience. It’s the thing we’re afraid of, because you think of your body dying, which is what most people are afraid of. But you’re only afraid of your body dying because you think that you are associated with the body. What is it that’s associated with the body? It’s you.
If you were 100% completely convinced that you survive your body dying, death wouldn’t feel like a threat to you at all. But since the identification runs so deep there, any threat to your body feels like a threat to your life—as a threat to your ideas can feel like a threat to your life. If you let go here, it feels like, “I will cease to be.” This is to experience the death of the entire ego identity. If it really happens all the way through, something doesn’t come back from it. There is an irrevocable change or transformation. The good news is that you aren’t what you feel is going to die. The only way to know that entirely is for it to die.
My hunch is that when the Buddha associated nirvana with extinction and cessation, this is what he was talking about: to yank identity up from the root. Because until then, it is the journey of identity: “I’m me”—whatever your sense of yourself is—“Oh, I’m not, I’m the aware space.” And then you have emotional identities: “I’m this open, wide, loving, benevolent presence. That’s what I am—beautiful.” Or “I am That—everywhere I look, there I am.” Or if you’re a little bit differently oriented, “Everywhere I look, there’s the face of God. Okay, now that is what I am. I’m a son or daughter of God.”
The fear of it is that it is the death of identity, which is almost impossible to contemplate. The journey is that the identity gets more and more transparent and boundless, until finally identity itself falls away. Then the question “What is it that I am?” is no longer there—not because you have an answer, but because identity is no longer relevant.
In conventional language, you may give it a name like “the infinite.” I call it “pure potentiality.” There are different ways the void is talked about, and this is one of them. Pure potentiality would necessarily be void if it’s pure—no manifestation at all—pure potential, pure creative impulse.
That doesn’t mean that you no longer have a personality, that you no longer have human things about you, that you no longer have a certain kind of principle that orients you—you may even call that an identity. But you no longer find self in identity, and so it’s freed up.
When the Buddha says “enlightenment,” one way of articulating it is that it’s the freedom from identity, from having to be or not be anything. Does that mean you no longer experience the oneness, being everything, seeing the face of God, your true being, or Buddha nature in everything? No, that’s still there. Things are still there, but there’s no longer identity in them. I don’t really know how to describe that, because the nature of it is beyond description. You can’t even think about it. It’s the borderline between being and nonbeing.
So this is just part of the journey: awakening at the level of mind, heart awakening to the unity of all things, and each one of these provides more spaciousness and openness. Your sense of yourself gets more and more transparent, therefore there’s less to defend. There’s less necessity to assert yourself in the world, which doesn’t mean you are not an assertive being. You can still be a very assertive being.
How does all that translate down into your human experience? There’s still a human being there. The human being hasn’t started to glow and become incapable of any stupidity. It hasn’t suddenly become God’s shining example of utter perfection. Each dimension of being exists within its own dimension.
In my experience, what it does is it frees these dimensions up so they’re no longer in conflict, and life is no longer about protecting and asserting a kind of ego structure. It’s about something different. There are still other dimensions of our humanness that need attention if we want to be able to function well and have what we’ve realized be able to flow out into all the dimensions of what it is to be a human being.
From Adyashanti’s Omega Institute Retreat, 2017
© Adyashanti 2017
Spirituality is about waking up, reaching in, finding, and identifying the things that are unconscious within you—things that you don’t want to see or deal with. If you want to come even close to enlightenment, you don’t get to hide from anything. You have that unquenchable thirst for truth and love, and you will look into anything in order to bring truth to it, in order to bring non-separation to it. There’s no hiding. No form of self-deception will work. All along the way, it requires this willingness to access your experience of where you are and what’s happening, and to make the necessary adjustments.
This is one thing that no spiritual teacher can give their students—they can’t give this kind of desire—the desire for the truth and nothing but the truth, all the way through, come what may. You either have it, or you find it, or you don’t. You can’t be in any kind of wish-fulfillment strategy with your enlightenment.
If we really want to live an awakened life, we’ve got to approach it in a very pragmatic way: What’s working? What’s not working? One of the illusions we let go of is just sitting around hoping and dreaming. This is a kind of resistance.
Just open your eyes and open your heart and encounter whatever is there. See what’s under it, and see what’s under that, and see what’s under that—until you see it all the way through. If you have that as a high value, then as far as enlightenment is concerned, you have the necessary and most important ingredient.
From Adyashanti's broadcast The Miracle of Any Moment, December 2017
© Adyashanti 2017
Our deepest spiritual experiences and awakenings are transcendent of self. It’s as if we’re leaping out of the domain of relativity and leaving it behind altogether, to go into the dimension of pure being, the ground of being.
The human dimension that you leap out of when you transcend it may or may not be that ultimately transformed by what you’ve realized. You will always be transformed to certain degrees. But closing the gap between your absolute and relative nature, between your deepest experience of being—whatever that might be for you—and your relative human experience of being, is getting those two dimensions of your being into conversation. Your depth of life translates into your relative life. This is essential if we are to have the experience of being unified beings, unified in the sense that all of you feels like it’s aligned in one direction.
By starting to explore this, the more unified you become, the more your depth and your relative life start to come closer and closer together. They begin to express each other, so that you have a deeper and deeper experience of meaning.
The absolute ground of being is transcendent of meaning. Meaning almost doesn’t make much sense there. But in the relative dimension of being, meaning is meaningful. It means something. Our humanity, if it has no sense of proper orientation or meaning, tends to be in a more chaotic state of being that is innately unsatisfied.
Part of our ability to translate more and more our deepest experience of being into a relative way of being is that it brings meaning back into life. I'm not talking about meaning in a philosophical sense, where you can tell someone the meaning of life. I’m talking about meaning as an experience of being, where you feel as if you’re in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing. Have you had that experience? It’s an experience where you just feel altogether that you're in the right place, doing the right thing at the right time. And you feel it. You don’t get there through analysis or conventional thinking. You get there when you’re doing the right thing at the right time. That is the sense, the experience of meaning.
Meaning in this sense is an experience of being, rather than an idea that you’re imposing upon life. It’s the experience where you feel that you are in alignment with the cosmos. It’s the feeling that your life feels right, it’s on course, and it’s in alignment with the cosmos. You’re in alignment with life. That gives life a sense of meaning—not a philosophical idea of meaning, but the experience of meaning.
The experience of meaning is in some ways similar to the enlightened condition. The enlightened condition is transcendent of meaning, but one way of describing the enlightened condition is always being in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing, totally inwardly aligned, undivided inwardly, psychologically and emotionally undivided. That’s the enlightened condition. And that’s a pretty good description of the experience of relative meaning.
From Adyashanti’s Online Course Taking the One Seat, 2017
© Adyashanti 2017
Ego believes it has agency and that it’s doing things, and constantly things happen that the ego doesn’t want to happen. In fact, the ego itself does things that it doesn’t want to do; yet it insists that it has agency. Strange, isn’t it? We bump into that over and over, even in one given day.
You hear it at retreats, like this: “How do I not have this thought? How do I not have this feeling?” As if you had agency. If you had agency you wouldn’t have to ask the question, would you? If we had this so-called free agency we’d just go, “Well, I don’t want to think—click. I feel bad, I’ve got free agency, I don’t want to feel bad—click—I feel good.”
We think the enlightened ones figure this agency thing out. They’ve got total agency, so they can choose bliss, joy, and happiness, and they’ve got something figured out, when actually it’s just the opposite. They’ve realized just the opposite: There is no agency.
Ego has no agency, therefore it has no freedom. That’s why it’s constantly frustrated; that’s why it constantly lies to itself. It keeps pretending that it does. It would be terrible news if we were our egos—because that would mean we are locked into a prison we could never get out of. But of course an ego is just a collection of thinking based on desire and aversion.
That vast unified field of being—whatever we want to call that: pure consciousness, spirit, unified field—as that gets more and more conscious, as that wakes up to its own nature, the experience as it gets very deep is that “Whatever is happening is what I want to be happening.” Because when you are only that field, you haven’t split yourself off; there’s only the One.
From Adyashanti’s Course The Philosophy of Enlightenment, 2017
© Adyashanti 2017
There is an unavoidable tragic aspect to life. We will all experience the loss of loved ones, illness, and tragedies of various kinds and to varying degrees. As the Buddha said, in life there is suffering. No sugarcoated truth here; he was just stating one of the unavoidable facts of life. However, this is not the end of the story, it is just the beginning.
One of the greatest challenges of dealing with chronic illness is the feeling of isolation and aloneness, and experiencing something that so few understand. Many more people deal with chronic illness and pain than most people would imagine. There is also the challenge of experiencing something that you have little or no control over, which can elicit feelings of fear, rage, depression, and victimhood. One also becomes more vulnerable to the darker impulses of the mind as it struggles to adapt to the day-to-day realities of what often feels overwhelming.
Notwithstanding the necessity of caring for your health and physical well-being to the best of your ability, what I want to address here is the psychological aspect of prolonged illness and/or pain. It is very important to look closely at the difference between the body’s experience of pain and illness and the mind’s reaction to it. It is the mind’s reactions and the emotions that they trigger that are often more challenging than the physical experience of pain or illness itself, because the mind’s responses are optional.
Most of the ways that the mind responds to prolonged pain and illness elicit the fight-or-flight response in the brain. This response, which takes place in the most primitive part of our brain, underlies almost all of the emotional turmoil associated with prolonged pain and illness. It is the mind saying no to what is being experienced, while simultaneously trying to run away from it. There is nowhere to run to, because the perceived threat is not occurring outside of our bodies, it is occurring inside of our minds. The good news is that the mind and the emotions that it elicits are changeable.
The practice that is essential when dealing with the fight-or-flight mechanism of the mind is, first of all, to notice when it is happening and take immediate action to counter it. Because this is an email, I will condense my explanation of the practice here below.
1. Notice when the fight-or-flight response is happening. The symptoms that it has triggered are fear, anger, anxiety, resentment, defeatism, victimhood, and rampant negative thinking, to name a few.
2. Once you have noticed the fight-or-flight response is taking place, stop and take several conscious deep breaths. You are beginning to go against the tide of the fight-or-flight response, so you may experience some inner resistance to doing even this first step. Nonetheless, take the time to take a few conscious breaths. This will begin to biologically counter the fight-or-flight response in the brain. It will help the brain to reset its response to physical and emotional challenge.
3. Notice the negative thoughts that the mind is generating. Also notice that it is the negative thoughts that are generating the emotional turmoil. Pain and exhaustion are direct experiences, while emotional turmoil is a secondary reaction. It’s an add-on that has the power to elicit many reactive emotions. So take the time to notice that this secondary reaction is being generated by negative thinking.
4. Acknowledge that, while the pain or illness may be unavoidable, the resistance to it is optional and happens in your mind. Ask yourself, “Is it absolutely necessary for me to resist what is happening right now? What would it feel like to let go of these resisting thoughts?”
5. Take the time to let your body feel the shift from negative thinking to a more neutral mindset. Negative thoughts may still try to intrude into the moment, but just ask yourself once again, “What would it feel like to let go of these resisting thoughts right now?” Don’t resist the resisting thoughts, however; that will only keep you bound by them. Be patient and don’t try to rush it. Being patient counters the fight-or-flight response as well.
6. Be sure to let your mind and your body feel the space between and underneath the negative thoughts, which this practice makes available. I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough. This practice makes available the experience of neutral space in the mind and the body. When applied constantly over time, it resets the emotional triggering caused by the mind to a more peaceful and free state.
7. Illness and pain can also generate future thinking like “Will this ever end,” or “What will my life look like in the future?” Or, even more painful, “What did I do to deserve this, and why is God doing this to me?” These are also thoughts that are resisting experiencing this moment. They are generated by fear and resistance and in turn create more fear and resistance. You may also feel some fear in letting them go, as if somehow they were going to protect you in the future. You are not being punished; life is just like this sometimes.
8. Repeat the above exercise as often as needed, probably many times every day. It can take time, though it doesn’t necessarily have to, to reset the mind’s fight-or-flight responses. The more consistent you are, the faster these old conditioned responses can be turned around. But it does take consistent practice.
9. Also, take some time to meditate every day. You can work with the thoughts that come up in meditation in exactly the same way that I have outlined here. Meditation done correctly can help tremendously in freeing yourself from the fight-or-flight response, as long as you don’t restrict the practice only to times of meditation. And remember, this practice is not only for your mind, it is also for your body. So take the time to let both the mind and the body experience those gaps of neutrality and peace that this practice makes available to you. It can be life changing.
From Adyashanti’s Audio Course The Philosophy of Enlightenment, 2017
© Adyashanti 2017
Study Course Q&A Excerpted from "The Philosophy of Enlightenment"
Leslie writes: Several years ago, while on retreat with you, the insight suddenly hit that what I had thought of as "me" was just an illusory boundary. I laughed and cried as beliefs seemed to pop and dissolve like soap bubbles. Awareness or presence, well, just simply is.
A lot of seeking has fallen away, but the perception of unity or "Everything is one" still remains not really experienced. Any pointers or inquiries you would suggest for unity to move beyond intellectual understanding? I somehow intuit that it's another layer of "illusory boundary" that hasn't been seen through. Sometimes it feels like I'm trying to crack an unsolvable riddle!
Adyashanti: Here is the direct answer to your question: Simply contemplate the question “What is the world?” By contemplate, I mean to simply form the question in your mind. Don't think about it. Just present the question and relax your awareness as much as possible. That’s the “how.”
Experiencing unity is a bit like getting a joke. The "getting" of a joke is what causes the laughter. In a sense, the getting is the laughter. But we don't laugh because we have analyzed the joke and come to understand it; we laugh because the joke exposes something about ourselves. It removes the seriousness of the boundaries that we believe in and live by. It reveals that they are absurd and therefore funny. The same is true of the beliefs that cause us to experience boundaries. In a very real sense, beliefs are the creators of the experience of boundaries. They are absurd, even if at times useful, fictions, but only experienced as absurd when we see that they are absurd and worthy of a good laugh.
Every description, every name, every belief -- good or bad -- every concept, creates boundaries where there are in fact no boundaries at all. Even to say “I” instantly imposes a boundary upon what is actually a unified field of being. To say “I” instantly creates what is not “I.” “Big” is always in relationship to “small,” “up” in relationship to “down,” “good” in relationship to “bad,” “heads” of a coin in relationship to “tails.” Words imply that these opposites exist separately from one another, but they do not. They are simply different ways of looking at the same thing. You cannot have the crest of a wave without also having its trough; they are in reality one dynamic process.
As I have often said, each thing is its total environment. Remove the environment in which anything exists, and the thing will also not exist, which is to say that there is no such thing as a thing. To call something a thing, or to give it a name, is to conceptually impose boundaries upon it where they do not actually exist. A tree does not exist independently of its environment; it is its total environment. It takes a cosmos to produce a tree -- no cosmos, no tree. To say “tree” implies the entire cosmos. The same is true of you.
When we give any aspect of the cosmos a name like tree, or human being, or rain cloud, we forget that we are imposing boundaries where there actually are no boundaries. There are, of course, practical uses to doing such a thing, but practical usefulness does not mean that what we are naming actually exists independently from the dynamic process of life. Even to say that we are presence or awareness mistakenly implies that we are not what we are aware of. It is an intermediate level of realization, and is much more freeing than experiencing ourselves to be a separate someone, but is still defined and experienced as its own form of formless separateness. It is formless presence as opposed to the world of forms. But formlessness and form appear together, and beyond even together. They are ways of looking at one dynamic process. They are simply two different points of view from within that process.
When we drop whatever point of view we are entertaining, the illusory experience of separateness and having conceptually imposed boundaries disappears. Concepts, names, descriptions, beliefs, and opinions are nothing more than abstract ideas that have the power to create very real feelings and experiences within our bodies and alter our perception of the world to an extraordinary extent. So even though concepts are a part of daily functioning, and necessarily so to some degree (though not to the degree that we imagine), when we forget that the boundaries they impose upon our perception is an illusion, we take the conceptual game of naming and believing far too seriously and lose not only our sense of humor, but also any deep sense of freedom and love. We stop taking ourselves lightly and become like an unbendable blade of grass forever bracing itself against the slightest breeze.
In truth we are the All, as is everyone and everything else. There is simply nothing else to be. The All is not here to be understood as a noun; it is a process, and not even that. It is the process of existence and nonexistence as well. It cannot be known in the conventional sense, because all that is known is an idea, an object within consciousness. And by the way, ideas are it too. But it is not defined or limited by its ideas. The All that you are can only be lived, either unconsciously or consciously. It has a simple intuitive regard for itself, from within all of itself. If you want to find yourself, just open your eyes, and there you are. Or close your eyes, and there you are: something, nothing, someone, no one, everything, not-a-thing. Living, dying, smiling, crying -- one Self experienced as many selves. The entire cosmos awake to itself, and not even that, and all of that.
Quick now, where is the Buddha?
With Great Love,
© Adyashanti 2016
Study Course Q&A Excerpted from "The Philosophy of Enlightenment"
Lois writes: I have followed your teachings for many years. My question is, how do we adjust to living in this new world with all its turmoil? I know it’s all part of the dream, but then I wake up at 3 a.m. to rage, judgment, and fear, which carry through the next day. Which of these is the worst, and how do I deal with them? I find myself un-friending a lot of family and friends over this.
Adyashanti: This election certainly has stirred up a lot of emotion in people -- mostly fear and anger, as far as I can see. We are in a time of great cultural upheaval in both the United States and Western Europe. People on both the left and the right of the political divide feel disenfranchised, ignored, and threatened in so many ways. And it all boiled up to the surface during this election. It was bound to happen and in many ways necessary. Cultural turmoil brings change. The question is, what kind of change will it bring? This is the great unknown, and wherever people encounter the unknown, the most common instinctual reactions are fear, blame, and anger.
I feel that this is a time when we who seek to be more conscious, loving, and wise get to see exactly how deep our wisdom and love really are. This is where the rubber hits the road -- no more abstractions or high-minded ideas; this is where and when it is needed. This is where we come to see if we are still caught in the old ego-minded world of reactivity, anger, and fear, or if we have come upon the consciousness of wisdom and love. It is also a time when we can see if we are hiding out in transcendental ideologies of how unreal it all is as an unconscious defense against engaging with the world as it actually is.
There are important political and cultural issues at stake here to be sure, and we all have a stake in the outcome, which is why so many people are so fearful and angry. It's as if 50 percent of the population cannot possibly understand, or even care to understand, the other 50 percent. And human decency and sanity have gotten lost amid the angst. Sadly, we have stopped truly communicating in the process.
I have watched this growing in our culture over the last 25 years, and now it has boiled over. As a populace, we have stopped seeking to understand one another and have sought instead only to be understood; or, in many cases, insisted upon being agreed with. We have failed to take care of one another, to love, cherish, and understand one another.
There are very important issues at stake here: issues of poverty, inequality, political disenfranchisement, racism, sexism; the list goes on. But as each of us advocates for those issues that are important to us, we too must take responsibility for the breakdown of civility, decency, and unhealthy communication. No one forces our state of consciousness upon us. No one forces us to act out of fear, rage, and unconsciousness. We will either relate out of our conflicted mind states, or from the more evolved aspects of our nature.
I cannot say exactly how to relate with those who are caught in their own conflict, except to say that if we seek to understand as our first impulse -- and to respond from the wisest, most patient, and loving dimension of our being -- we will at least be standing on a foundation of sanity and peace. And our actions, whatever they may be, will then be expressions of the highest consciousness that we have attained, and we will have taken responsibility for our own feelings and impulses, and made the wisest choices that we have access to.
If we are inspired to advocate for certain causes, we will do so out of love for those causes, rather than out of rage against the perceived "other." Perhaps then we will become agents for sanity, peace, love, and the living of it in this confused world of ours.
With Great Love,
© Adyashanti 2016
Excerpted from Adyashanti's Online Course, "The Philosophy of Enlightenment"
Every spiritual teaching has a philosophical structure that the teaching rests upon. While the word “philosophy” may imply stuffy academic musings about the nature of reality, in the context of a spiritual teaching it refers to the ideas, principles, and metaphysical claims that are derived (ideally) from direct spiritual experience and insight.
The importance of the philosophical structure of a spiritual teaching is that it helps to orient you towards the proper relationship to have with the teachings as a whole. The philosophical structure of a teaching will also show you how that teaching, or teacher, interprets spiritual experiences and insights.
Often so much emphasis is given to having some form of awakening experience that we fail to investigate very deeply the myriad ways that awakening experiences can be interpreted, and what constitutes wise and useful interpretations as well as unwise and useless ones. These interpretations, often uncritically examined and unconsciously applied, become our new life philosophy that guides our actions as well as our relationship with all of life.
© Adyashanti 2016
Online Course Q&A Excerpted from Adyashanti's "The Way of Liberation Audio Course Q&A"
A participant writes: I am writing this with fear to do so. I have stayed in the background reading only nonduality books daily and listening to your CDs for the past four years. I am aware of this fear of abandonment and rejection from authority and yet also realize the fear keeps me creating and living what I fear.
When my husband passed away (four years ago) I had a profound clarity at his bedside before his passing. After, I had to be profoundly alone. I moved to CA by myself not really knowing anyone and have stayed alone for all this time. In a way, my only friends were nonduality books and CDs which I read and listened to daily.
Nine months ago, my Mom had a stroke and nearly did not make it. I had four brothers and three of them passed away in their 20s. Now the only family I have is my Mom and my one brother.
Somehow I isolate myself even though I also have this clarity. There is such a tiredness feeling that there is nowhere to go and nothing left to trust in this place we call the world. Perhaps I am afraid to love and be loved with having all the loss. The feeling is a feeling of loss, abandonment, rejection, trust, and also realizing and aware that this is the life I am creating from these deep core feelings.
It is huge for me to expose this as it feels like there is no one who is going to care and it just may be easier to not take the risk. It seems that I have created a belief there is no one I can trust to be there to care. I have put myself in a place where I no longer know how to be with the others in the way I once loved to be.
Where do I start to trust being alive again and trust life to be alive?
Adyashanti: Thank you for your question and your courage in opening up and asking for help. Sooner or later we will all experience the tragic quality of life. Perhaps this quality of life is brought to us through illness, or the death of a loved one, or losing a job, or an unexpected accident, or having your heart broken. But we will all experience this tragic quality of life in both small and overwhelmingly large ways over the span of our lives. Whether we want to face it or not, life, with all of its beauty, joy, and majesty, also has a tragic element to it. This is exactly what the Buddha saw, and it inspired his entire spiritual search.
It seems that most people look for various ways to escape from this tragic quality of life, but ultimately to no avail. There is no escaping it. And it must be faced sooner or later. The question is, when we are faced with this aspect of life, how do we respond? Surely, to avoid it only leads to denial, fantasy, life-numbing withdrawal, cynicism, and fear. It takes great courage to face the totality of life without withdrawing from it or trying to protect ourselves from it.
Paradoxically, to face the totality of life we must face the reality of death, sorrow, and loss as well. We must face them as unavoidable aspects of life. The question is, can we face them directly without getting lost in the stories that our mind weaves about them? That is, can we directly encounter this tragic quality of life on its own terms? Because if we can, we will find a tremendous affirmation of life, an affirmation that is forged in the fierce embrace of tragedy.
At the very heart and core of our being, there exists an overwhelming yes to existence. This yes is discovered by those who have the courage to open their hearts to the totality of life. This yes is not a return to the innocence of youth, for there is no going back, only forward. This yes is found only by embracing the reality of sorrow and going beyond it. It is the courage to love in spite of all the reasons to not love. By embracing the tragic quality of life we come upon a depth of love that can love “in spite of” this tragic quality. Even though your heart may be broken a thousand times, this unlimited love reaches across the multitude of sorrows of life and always triumphs. It triumphs by directly facing tragedy, by relenting to its fierce grace, and embracing it in spite of the reflex to protect ourselves.
In the end, we will either retreat into self-protection, or acknowledge the reality of sorrow and love anyway. Such love not only transcends life and death, it is also made manifest in life and death. You give yourself to life out of love, and it is to love more fiercely that you walk through the fires of sorrow that forge the heart into boundless affection.
© Adyashanti 2015
Online Course Q&A Excerpted from Adyashanti's “Experiencing No-Self” Online Course Q&A
A participant writes: As I spoke about my devotion at the recent Australia retreat, you said it was part of how I was made up. Spirituality for me is also about divine love. So my mind is rather disturbed by the descriptions of losing the self as “bland” and “blankness.” My mind is asking: Why would I want no-self when having a self means that I can experience or be love and devotion? I suppose I’m hoping you will reassure me that no-self is also divine love and not just blankness!
Adyashanti: The no-self state is not bland or simple blankness, although it can sound that way because it cannot be described in positive terms. It is much easier, and more instructive, to describe what reality is not than what it is -- although neither positive nor negative descriptions of absolute reality can ever convey its reality. Always remember that the ego and the self’s experience of God (absolute reality) is not God’s experience of God.
Self experiences everything through the medium of itself. To go beyond self is to go beyond experiencing life through the medium of self, in the same way that going beyond the ego is to no longer experience life through the medium of ego.
Absolute reality (the Godhead beyond God) is the source and substance of all, but it cannot be described as any particular expression it may take, not even love or bliss or being or any other expression of the Divine. That is why I say that no one can desire what the Absolute actually is, only what they think or imagine that it is.
Nonetheless, at the very depth of our being we are inescapably drawn to the Absolute, even though there is nothing for either the ego or the self in it. That is why I say that the true impulse for liberation is an irrational impulse -- irrational to both the ego and self, because it will eventually mean the end of both of them.
Of course, this all sounds quite negative until you remember that liberation is to experience life, reality, and the true nature of God without any medium. Strictly speaking this cannot be described, it must be lived. But I can assure you that nothing else holds a candle to life lived beyond self.
So follow your desire for divine love all the way until it takes you completely beyond ego, self, and even love, where all that is left is the Divine itself.
© Adyashanti 2015
Excerpted from Adyashanti's “The Way of Liberating Insight” Online Course Q&A
A participant writes: I have been sensing into awareness, but I have not previously thought of it as the ground of my being; it hasn’t had any spiritual connotation for me. I have, however, experienced it as a quiet alertness, warm, comforting, peaceful and loving, and somehow both young and old. Whenever I relax into it, all the stress goes away and my mood becomes softer.
If there is a problem, it is that I know I am aware but not that I am awareness. I also know that I am not my thoughts or emotions, or even my body. But when I consider I am that which is aware, so far I haven’t seen what “that” is, even though you and others have offered teachings to help me recognize it. I need to see.
Adyashanti: I appreciate your inquiry into the nature of yourself and awareness. It is true that we can never see ourself as a thing, or as an object of awareness. And we certainly cannot ever see awareness; we cannot see our own seeing. But there is a mysterious and profound way in which our true nature recognizes itself -- not as something “out there” that we can see or relate to, but as the totality itself recognizing itself.
Such recognition is intuitive, spontaneous, and immediate. And it happens when we no longer try to recognize ourself as apart from anything, when we are no longer looking for ourself as some piece, or part, or subject of our experiences and our perceptions. For there is no part or distinct subject who awakens; rather, it is the whole or the totality that awakens.
And all along we are the totality. Even our sense of individuality and human uniqueness is itself the totality appearing in a unique way.
© Adyashanti 2015
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