This new video is from the final session of the Falling Open course. The video starts with Joseph, one of the course participants, speaking to me.
This new video is a clip from a live workshop that I gave this Spring, as part of the Falling Open course. The video starts with Joseph, one of the course participants, speaking to me.
I’ve just returned from the delicious Portland retreat of The Center for Nondual Awareness, (the community of nondual teachers that I’ve led – with a lot of support – for last three years). There’s such an overflowing abundance of love and gratitude here, that is independent of any story or reason. Just a devoted willingness to serve love.
Abundant love to you,
Being Good and Right?
In response to something you said at satsang last night: What is there to be, if not “good and right”? – Julea D., Berkeley, CA
Are you “good” and/or “right” in this moment? Where do you look to find out if you are good or right? Do you try to assess all your past actions, thoughts, and feelings? Do you try to evaluate your current actions, thoughts, and feelings? What do you compare them to? What do you imagine you should or should not be doing, thinking, or feeling in order to be good or right?
“I’m reading an article when I should be feeding the hungry!” “I’m reading a nourishing spiritual article rather than drinking myself into a stupor!” Even when our judgments of ourselves are more subtle than these examples, they are still made up. What you are is never really good or bad, right or wrong. These labels are slapped on by the mind.
Most people judge themselves harshly as bad or wrong, or at least as not good enough. We typically hold some idealized image of what we ought to be and then berate ourselves for all the ways in which we fail to match the image. Other times we judge ourselves as good and right and find images of comparison to support these judgments. But even here, there’s always part of us that knows we’re making it up. We’ve got to keep our eyes fixed on this point of comparison and avert our eyes from anything that threatens to make us bad or wrong.
The whole game of labeling ourselves as good or bad, right or wrong, sets us at war with ourselves. When we need to be good and not bad, we must be constantly wary and struggling against anything in us that we associate with badness.
What if we feel things that the mind might label as bad like anger, sadness, anxiety, envy, neediness? How are we going to prevent or stop such feelings? Nobody gets to pick or even know their next feeling, so all our struggles are in vain.
But what if all our feelings are just innocently appearing? What if there’s no such thing as a good or bad feeling? What if the sensations the mind labels bad are just as valid as the sensations the mind labels good?
What if being here as we are is enough, regardless of what thoughts we have about being good or bad, wrong or right? What if everything that we are can be met with love, even the parts that we are most convinced are bad?
As you read this, I will have just arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area. I spent this last week in Macomb, my home for the last fourteen years, organizing my move and saying goodbye to many of my dearest companions. It has been heart breaking at times, and yet it remains clear that I’m called to make this move. This clarity is all the more surprising to me, given how few clues I have about what will happen next.
Follow Your Heart?
For many years of my life I found the phrase “follow your heart” completely incomprehensible because the heart didn’t seem to say anything. It doesn’t speak in words like thoughts do. But this is precisely the point of the invitation to “follow your heart.” We’re being asked to let something deeper than words guide us.
It’s really no different from “trust your gut” or “listen to your intuition.” We actually can’t say what this other source of guidance is because it’s the non-thing that includes all the things that the mind delineates. All these phrases are inviting us to feel into and be moved by the whole field rather than pretending, as we typically do, that our particular worldview is the whole field.
However, even when we have some appreciation of the nature of the invitation to “follow your heart,” we can often find ourselves wary of doing so. Thought, especially if narrow and familiar, can provide a reassuring sense that we know. When we believe our thoughts we erroneously believe we know the truth. Even though listening to the heart connects us with deeper wisdom, it often feels like not knowing, because we’re leaving behind the familiar ground of our repetitive thoughts.
The heart is mysterious and confounds the mind with its subtlety. The mind creates fixed images of the good life for us to move toward, but the heart is completely disinterested in the fixed and dead. Thought defines things as this or that, good or bad, black or white, but the heart receives all the nuanced undefinable flavors of life.
So even when we do feel into what’s here, it may not produce the clear “yes” or “no” that thought would like. Following the heart often means honoring not knowing rather than trying to grasp an answer. Not knowing is, in a way, the baseline state of the heart. We’re just innocently exploring and playing in the rich, ever-evolving field, having little sense of direction or of what will happen next. And yet, like a miracle, clues can appear to guide our next movement.
At the end of this month I will be giving up my apartment in Macomb, Illinois, my home for the last fourteen years, to live in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. There is both great joy and considerable sadness about this move. I sense that being in the Bay Area will further support the development of this work. But, I fully expect to continue travelling frequently, and offering live events in Macomb and other cities in that region.
Honoring Our Laziness
Most of us are typically ashamed and intolerant of our laziness. We’re convinced that we should be doing our projects even when we feel no energy for such doing. So we push ourselves forward dragging our body-minds through the activities, or we find ourselves avoiding them with distractions and procrastination, in which numbing and forgetting are an essential component. At the end of such episodes of avoidance we often feel shame for indulging our laziness and vow to be more forceful with ourselves next time.
But what if we honored our laziness? What if we really listened to the absence of energy for a project without prejudging it as a vice or failure? What if we interrupted the cycle of our compulsive doing and avoiding doing to inquire into what was really true for us?
Having learned to define ourselves largely by what we do (“what do you do?”) we shouldn’t be surprised to find an uncomfortable impatience with not doing. After all, who are we if we’re doing nothing? A nobody? A nothing?
If we can bow to our laziness enough we might be blessed with an opportunity to explore what we are prior to our doing. We might even realize that we can be be here without needing to do things to create and affirm an identity.
When most of our action has been the result of forcing ourselves forward, it’s easy to imagine that realizing we don’t need to do things would lead to doing nothing. But there is another source of activity that requires no self-bullying. It is fueled by spontaneously arising inspiration rather than fear. Like when we play tennis for the joy of it rather than because we fear ill health.
When we attune to where our action is coming from we start to hear how we are being called to move. We notice when there is abundant energy for our action because it is aligned with what matters to the heart. And we become sensitive to the contrast when the energy for the action is being manufactured by stern-sounding thoughts about the need to accomplish things and not be lazy.
Just as the eating of food happens in natural response to hunger even when we give ourselves full permission to be lazy, all actions that genuinely nourish can happen without the need to beat ourselves forward.
Receiving The Whole Gift
At an early age most of us were taught to distrust ourselves. We learned that some of our feelings were not at all welcome here, and that only parts of us were worthy of love. To cope with this we’ve developed habits of numbing ourselves, contracting our bodies, and hiding parts of us to try and convince ourselves and others that they don’t exist.
We typically find it hard to allow feelings of neediness, anger, or grief, and we rarely want to acknowledge how wild and unpredictable our feelings are. So we try to ignore what is being felt with endless strategies of distraction and pretend that our thoughts are in charge. We’d rather shut down and be dull, than be bad and unworthy of love.
But is it really true that what we feel can make us bad? What does your heart want for the one experiencing needing, frustration, or sadness?
We are invited to receive the full gift of life by simply opening to whatever we are given to feel. When we fall open to this felt experience, a deeper and more subtle universe of sensation appears that is far beyond anything the mind can grasp with its clunky labeling system. We get to fully taste innumerable flavors of life energy moving through us, mixing, and mutating without any regard for the mind’s “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.”
At this point, our trained distrust of our true nature often raises fearful objections, like “if we surrender to our life energy rather than asking our minds to move us about, what will stop us hurting or killing people?” Such questions can only be satisfyingly addressed by feeling the truth of our actual experience. It is only in such direct experience that we can start to sense how compassionate, wise, and authentic action spontaneously arises when we are available to everything moving through us.
Actions that are guided by the heart, and energized by the inspiration behind them, require no additional validation. There is no higher authority. Participating in such action is worth more than any amount of the goods that the mind pushes us to seek by cutting off parts of ourselves.
But believing all this is not the same as actually receiving the full gift. To receive, we simply turn to the gift that is here right now: these felt sensations, just as they are, regardless of whether the mind says “gift” or “yuck.” When we feel into what is really here we’re leaving behind the realm of what the mind thinks it knows, and exploring the fresh and wild terrain of this moment. We don’t need to establish any new mental categories of “feelings good” – “thinking bad.” Instead we can just taste full the flavor of the moment, regardless of whether thinking is happening or not.
I was haunted by a fear of loneliness for many years of my life. I imagined myself as needing to acquire and maintain relationships to avoid being lonely. This made getting, keeping, and monitoring my relationships serious work, fraught with anxiety about failing and ending up lonely.
But what is loneliness? It’s not an emotion that always occurs in the absence of company. It’s more like a sense of not belonging, of not being invited to the party, feeling like an outsider.
Unfortunately, trying to ward off this experience by “having relationships” doesn’t really work, because we can’t be at ease with others when we’re needing them to make us feel like we belong. It seems like if we open ourselves up we might be rejected and have our fear of not belonging confirmed.
This is why it’s quite possible to feel lonely even in the company of others and in “relationships.” When we rely on others to give us a sense of belonging we’re always living in the shadow of fear. “It’s not safe to just be myself. What if they reject me?”
However, is it really true that we need others to validate us as “belonging?” How could we belong here any less than anyone or anything else? People will, no doubt, have all types of experiences around us. Sometimes people will be attracted to us, sometimes repelled, and all the variations and nuances in between. But how can any of their experiences make us belong here more or less?
Our very existence means that we possess an unassailably valid ticket for the party of life, complete with backstage pass. Nobody else’s words, thoughts, or feelings can ever cast the slightest doubt on this. We never have to prove the validity of our ticket to anyone.
However, this is not to be confused with the “I don’t need anyone else” attitude that pushes away the tenderness of intimacy in an attempt to protect the imagined self. On the contrary, only the dropping away of the fear of loneliness makes us truly available for intimacy. Now we are free to open to others because we don’t need anything from them. Intimacy just happens organically in the absence of fear, not as a fraught project to avoid loneliness.
And when fear of loneliness does come up we don’t need to invalidate that experience or believe that it in any way means that we don’t belong. Instead, we can become intimate with our own experience. As we do this we start to realize that we are so spacious we can accommodate it all. We can meet our experience with infinite patience and compassion. We don’t need to abandon ourselves, even if the mind labels our feelings as bad, dangerous, or unevolved.
What To Do When Love Is Absent?
“I will be the first to admit that I have depended upon my mind almost exclusively and am indeed the poster child for what you have described in ‘I’m Not Loving Enough!’ But, what should we do when love isn’t easily available? You say: ‘The mind is not competent to teach love. When its efforts and judgments drop away, we immediately become more available to the movement of love through us.’ What does it mean to simply let go the efforts of the mind? The reality of such a sentiment is both highly desirable and incomprehensible to me.” – Sean, IL
The dropping away of the mind’s efforts is incomprehensible to the mind, just as love is incomprehensible to the mind. The mind views incomprehension as a problem to be solved through more thinking, but when the mind is presented with what is beyond it, incomprehension is completely appropriate and much better than the alternative of clinging to a belief.
So when the grace of incomprehension happens, it is possible for the grasping after a viewpoint to cease and we might find ourselves resting in incomprehension, not-knowing, no-mind.
Although we’ve been trained to be wary of incomprehension, and to pretend to know all kinds of unknowable things like who we are, what life is, etc., effortless incomprehension allows us to directly experience what is here before the mind’s interpretations. For many of us, we give so much attention to thoughts that we are quite unfamiliar with direct experience, life unmediated by a story about what is being experienced, or who is experiencing it.
This makes love seem like it “isn’t easily available,” because love is not a thought. When all our attention is on thoughts, it can seem like love is absent. We’re so busy attending to the thin dry slice of reality called thoughts that we miss the juicy richness of life. It’s like we’re trying to appreciate the scenery by reading the map.
The mind might still be saying “this resonates, but what to do?” Because the mind still wants to run the show. It wants a strategy to implement and some measures to indicate when love has been reached. This, of course, would just serve to feed the efforts of the mind and put off the fall into love, the fall into wonder, the fall into life.
There is nothing for the mind to do. I often recommend meditation, an invitation for the mind to do nothing, or at least an invitation to watch as the mind tries to do nothing.
When we see the mind trying to think its way to resting or to love, we can have infinite compassion and patience for the whole play, the loving innocent mind laboring in futility to find its way back to the love that it imagines absent.
I suffer when I am helpless to do otherwise. If I could liberate myself from suffering I would have already done so. My liberation from suffering always arrives as a free gift. Even if it is influenced by steady practice, the inspiration and capacity for this arrive as a gift. I have so much gratitude for the gift of liberation (as far as it has been received) and so much willingness to be a vehicle for this gift to be shared.
Love & gratitude,
I’m Not Loving Enough!
When we hear stories about the abundant compassion of Jesus or other saintly figures it’s easy for us to harshly judge ourselves or doubt our own hearts. We may come to believe that we’re not loving enough.
We might start asking, what would a loving person do, or what would Jesus do, as a way of compensating for the perceived deficiency of our own love.
My own tendency was to angle for the distant second prize of fairness: “I can’t trust myself to love, but at least I can try to be fair.” The mind loves “fairness” or questions like “what would Jesus do?” because they invite the weighing of different interpretations and ongoing analyses of our justifications. It’s like we can’t find or don’t trust the lover so we play lawyer instead.
Unfortunately, this is a very poor substitution. It might have us thinking we’re almost justified some of the time, but it leaves us a long way from the rich tenderness of love. There is simply no good substitute for loving. Love is our calling, our purpose, our passion. It is our only true satisfaction. And this is precisely because love is alive and well, yearning to be felt and manifest, no matter how much we’ve hardened over our sensitivity and ignored the cries of the heart.
We find our way back to the love that we are by simply opening to what is being felt now even if it feels the farthest thing from love. Instead of condemning what is here, running away from it, or asking the mind to somehow get rid of it already, we can meet what is here with infinite patience and acceptance.
We turn with love toward our experience even when the mind condemns it as unloving, unacceptable, or unworthy. We turn with love to our own repeated failure to love. We turn with love to our defenses, our numbing, our pulling away. We turn with love even toward the inner voice that condemns us so mercilessly.
Any such opening at once reveals the true vastness of our love and its endless capacity to redeem us.
In pointing to the movement of love I’m not suggesting that this is something that the mind can manage, that there is strategy or plan of action here. The mind is not competent to teach love. When its efforts and judgments drop away, we immediately become more available to the movement of love through us.