This video was recorded during a live satsang as part of my Falling Open course. It starts with me responding to a participant’s question. The image is frozen during the first few seconds of the video. You can see the video by clicking this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3P8SqHe_n8 or the image above.
This new video was recorded live during the Falling Open course. The video starts with one of the course participants speaking to me. You can see the video by clicking on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eijEIVDsfKQ or on the image above.
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.
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.
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.
The Wisdom of Confusion
Our thinking is very useful for solving logical problems, figuring out the steps necessary to get from A to B. However, we often ask our thinking to find B, the good, our calling, our love. Should I take this job? Should I stay in or leave this relationship? Should I move to a different city? Yet thinking is completely unqualified to answer such questions. It can help list the logical implications of different decisions, but it can’t weigh their value. It can’t tell us what we should do. And no amount of intellectual ingenuity can get around this fundamental truth.
When we stick to a particular way of thinking about a question we may get a clear answer. “This job pays more – I should take it.” But this answer is being generated by excluding all the alternative perspectives (“I’ll have to sit at a desk all day”) and there is always part of us that knows we’ve just settled on a simplistic fiction to guide us. As we open our thinking beyond a particular characterization we find numerous competing characterizations arise. And the more we think about a question the more complicated, confusing, and impossible it seems.
We have been taught to stay away from such confusion. We often imagine that our confusion must be a sign of our stupidity, flakiness, or weak-mindedness. So when confusion comes up, it is easy to become uncomfortable and try to bring it to an end. Our minds can start desperately searching for a resolution; we might find ourselves turning to others to give us an answer, any answer. We are rarely invited to notice that this confusion is great wisdom revealing itself.
When the mind spins around a question unable to locate a solid perspective, the limits of our thinking are being revealed; the mind is too big and open to close on one viewpoint. We are being invited to fall open to guidance from beyond our thoughts. How this happens is hard to speak about without encouraging thinking to try and run the process. There is no instruction manual on how this unfolds. It is more an undoing than a doing. There is an opening to the richness and subtlety of our experience. We allow the heart, gut, wisdom-mind/god to speak. There is a surrendering, a softening, a deepening. There is an availability to feel the truth, a patient receptivity, rather than a frantic search.
It’s also useful to appreciate that our opening to guidance does not always generate clear answers to the questions that life brings up. Sometimes we just become clear that we do not know what to do. This is not a sign of failure or lack of wisdom. On the contrary, this willingness to be with not-knowing is an absolutely essential aspect of our surrender to the mystery of this life, and our capacity to receive guidance when it appears.
This month, during a delicious retreat with Jeannie Zandi, I found myself filled with gratitude for all the people who have shown up in my life at various points and revealed a new way of being and a new way of seeing that I could move into. These angels have given me gifts beyond anything I could conceive of, earn, or repay.
In one of the many synchronicities of that retreat, Jeannie closed by naming all of the people who had shown her “the keys to the bird cage.”
May we all be blessed with such guides!
The Power of Choice?
“If I say ‘things are happening through me’ what happens to my own power of choice, and the power of self-discipline? Aren’t I discounting personal responsibility and denying that we have the ability to have some say in this?” Anonymous Reader, U.S.A.
Every description of reality inevitably foregrounds some things and backgrounds the rest. So it can be very helpful to notice how our habitual interpretations of life also habitually discount and deny much of what is actually here.
When we insist on the power of choice, are we unwilling to notice that we never get to select our next thought? When we insist that everything is happening through us, are we denying our aversion to taking responsibility?
However, seeing the inadequacy of our descriptons of reality does not mean that we need to find a more accurate description or the perfect description. Yet our minds love to play this game. It makes our thinking seem so important. We will reach the truth through better ideas!
A question like “am I responsible for some things or is everything happening by itself?” can seem so important to the mind. But, if we look a little more closely, what is really at stake here?
Those who say “things are happening through me” still experience thoughts about what they think they should or shouldn’t do and still experience movements of the body and speech, just as those who say they have the “power of choice” do.
All the action in these debates is at the level of thinking. It’s just a competition to characterize what is going on. Yet, every attempt to find the words to accurately describe reality inevitably fails.
Every interpretation of what is happening just raises more questions. What is the “me” through which things are happening? What experience qualifies as a “choice?” Are you choosing to read these words or not? What do you look for to justify your answer?
The truth of what is here will never fit the symbols of the mind, no matter how creatively we arrange them. So we are welcome to give up the futile struggle to find the true philosophy, and instead allow ourselves to receive the truth just as it is. When we’re not trying to protect or find “my perspective” – and blind spot – we become available to, and guided by, the richer, deeper, more subtle truth that lies beyond our thoughts.
Nonduality and Accomplishments?
People have used visualization to accomplish things, like Roger Bannister running the mile in less than four minutes. But isn’t there an inherent conflict between experiencing the nondual space where nothing is needed and using visualization to accomplish things in my life? Anonymous Reader
When we feel incomplete or inadequate we quite naturally long for and strive for completion, a return to wholeness. We’ll struggle toward whatever seems to offer hope of satisfaction. Unfortunately, whatever we accomplish – running faster, growing our bank balance, winning positive attention – always fails to provide the satisfaction we seek. At best it may provide a brief respite from the search, until we realize this victory, like all our past victories, is hollow.
What we’re looking for, the experience of belonging here, of being at ease in our skins, is not found in accomplishments. It is found by directly exploring its apparent absence. All the ways in which we tell ourselves that we’re not what we’re supposed to be. And all the feelings and energies of the body that we withdraw from and try to be rid of, utterly convinced that they shouldn’t be here.
Am I good enough or not good enough? Am I broken or whole? As we look at these questions we can see how much we have to make up to answer them. What measure of goodness or wholeness will we use? What we are is beyond measure, beyond good/bad, broken/whole.
If we’re free of the burden of compensating for imagined deficiency, will we cease to accomplish anything? When our past accomplishments were driven by fear and shame it can be easy to believe that realizing the natural ease of existence will mean inactivity. But this is just another fantasy of the mind.
When we’re done with trying to justify ourselves our natural creativity and gifts can flow forth without hindrance. All the energy tied up in trying to correct imagined deficiency is released to serve a greater purpose. We are free to hear and follow the call of our hearts as it comes, without the distortions and confusion involved in “trying to be good” or “trying to be loving.”
When we relax into what we are and where we are, we cease interfering in the process of life moving through us. Even as we’re moving and changing we’re not engaged in a fantasy of how we really should already be somewhere else or different from how we are. We’re able to nurture the young parts of us as they develop rather than condemning them as slow, stupid, or hopeless.
What is Nonduality?
I’m frequently asked “what is nonduality?” I should know, right? After all, I do something called nondual teaching and run a non-profit called The Center for Nondual Awareness. And yet I can’t “know” what it is because nonduality is not an object of knowledge. It is not an idea, philosophy, or system of thought.
I often find myself saying things like “nonduality is what is here prior to our thoughts.” But of course nonduality is not really a state which is annihilated once a thought appears. I might say that “nonduality is simply this,” but of course I’m not pointing to any thing. If the mind interprets “this” to have any particular content, like “this space” or “this moment” then we’re missing again. Of course I can’t even really say that nonduality doesn’t have any particular content because nothing is outside nonduality. Not that there is any thing to be inside!
So why talk about nonduality at all, then? This type of question often comes up fast in a conversation that is directly revealing the limits of thought. Like thought is insisting that if it can’t be thought it doesn’t matter. And conveniently, what we think matters is always a thought – a made-up fiction. And we can’t even claim to have made it up ourselves because we can’t find any experience where a “me” makes a thought. If you think you are doing this – what will your next thought be?
At this point the mind might try to close again by coming up with some conciliatory thought such as “okay that’s interesting, now we’ve got that squared away let’s get back to what matters.” But another possibility might be that we remain open, available to “what is” without readily substituting our familiar two-dimensional thoughts for the rich, subtle, undefinable quality of direct experience. We might tune in to nonduality, the whole truth, rather than just believing our interpretations. The invitation to discover what nonduality really is, is an invitation to open beyond our thoughts again and again, to move our eyes from the image to the truth, to awaken from our thought-dream to the vivid aliveness of this.
Should I Try To Grow Spiritually?
It seems that I am not trying, which kind of scares me. Don’t I need to put in ‘effort’ to achieve? (Anon., U.S.)
We’re accustomed to struggling. Identifying problems and trying hard to solve them is, for most of us, our habitual way of life. We judge ourselves and our lives, deciding what needs to be improved, and then struggle to make reality conform with how we imagine it should look. And we typically treat spirituality as just another version of this game. We believe that we should be more spiritual, loving, and wise, then we try to make ourselves fit the image.
So it’s not surprising that we can find ourselves uncomfortable, even scared, when we’re invited to cease struggling. It’s tempting for us to imagine that the whole show depends on our efforts. But if we can turn our attention away from our fearful fantasies and just look at what is actually happening, we might start to realize that reality is taking care of itself.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t meditate, contemplate spiritual teachings, or go on retreats, but none of this need be accompanied by the slightest strain to be other than what we are. What if we don’t feel like doing any of these “spiritual activities?” Then don’t do them or do them, but there is still nothing to push towards.
So what if we find ourselves trying hard and struggling to grow spiritually? Should we try to change this? Should we struggle against our tendency to struggle? No. But this doesn’t mean that we should struggle against our inclination to struggle against struggling.
This whole game can come naturally to a stop when we witness its absurdity. This seeing of the truth and living from the truth requires no effort. Physical and mental exertion may happen at times, but we never have to make ourselves whole with our hard work. We were never less than whole. Our routine interpretation of ourselves as an incomplete work in progress is just a pattern of thinking, a tired repetitive narrative. What are you really? What is life really before we make it into a problem? If you just look at your present experience, without referring to your well-worn thoughts to give you an answer, is there anything announcing itself as needing correction?
Nonduality Versus Psychology?
In psychological work, I could ‘re-parent’ my inner child, acknowledge him and cherish him, bringing the feeling of wholeness. I’m not sure I’m ready for not having this inner child. On the other hand I don’t want to keep switching between the psychological point of view and nonduality and not follow through on either. What should I do? (Anon., U.S.)
When we hear nondual teachings about there being no self, nothing to do, nothing to know, etc., it can be easy to imagine that nonduality is a philosophical viewpoint that is in opposition to all our activity and all our conceptualizations surrounding these activities. How can we do re-parenting psychological work if there is no self to do it, no inner child, and nothing missing in the first place?
However, nonduality is not a philosophical viewpoint, and it is not in opposition to any viewpoint or activity. It is a word for the space in which all viewpoints and activity are happening. Teachings inviting us to look for a self, a need to do, or a need to know, are used to reveal what is here prior to all conceptualization. What is here prior to the thought that there is or is not a self? What is here prior to the thought that we need to do something or we don’t need to do anything?
Nonduality is the broader deeper truth in which all our conceptualizations and projects are happening. Nonduality doesn’t negate or oppose projects such as re-parenting or conceptualizations such as “my inner child.” It reveals the context-less context in which these are happening. It invites us to see that our concepts and projects are being made-up and allows us to appreciate that they are ultimately not necessary. And even a statement like this can be received very lightly, as just another made-up frame attempting to hint at this which is prior to all frames.
When we believe nonduality is in opposition to any activity it means that we are relating to nonduality as a philosophy, but as soon as we look for the meaning of nonduality we can’t find anything. What is the meaning of this moment? What is the meaning of awareness itself? As we look without finding, we might fall open to the vast openness, and yet nothing is being erased or denied. Could any thought or activity degrade this?
No Miracles in Nonduality?
Is nonduality a neutral point, not full of enthusiasm, miracles etc.? (Marsha, IA)
This type of question can often come up for us when we are invited to just experience what is actually here. Many of us engage the spiritual path full of hope and enthusiasm. We’ve heard many stories of spiritual peak experiences, we may have had some ourselves, and we want those peaks.
An invitation to merely be with what is here can seem underwhelming, dull, not enough. It can seem to threaten our hope for something much better. Although such hope might be useful in motivating us to go beyond our normal functioning and engage in nondual work, ultimately tuning into the truth involves seeing through our hopeful imaginings just as much as our fearful ones.
The belief that I should be experiencing something more wonderful is just another version of the story “I don’t want what is here.” Striving for something more, something extra, a state of transcendent bliss, a white light, a miracle, is just another way to imagine reality as inadequate and struggle with it.
None of this means that we need to denigrate or deny the incredible beauty and bliss of peak experiences when they arise. We can fully enjoy such experiences without trying to prolong them, make meaning about them, or creating a belief that this is how it is supposed to be all the time.
When we are invited to be with what is here, we’re being invited to directly experience the truth prior to the mind’s interpretation. Connecting with this truth can often appear miraculous when we’re so unaccustomed to this. But, any designation of experience as a miracle or “peak experience” is just adding a thought to that which defies description.
What is here now prior to our thoughts about what is here? Is this enough? How do we create that this is or is not enough?