If you will allow me to use language freely….
These days, it seems that more and more people are experiencing shifts in perception or initial realizations of Oneness or no self, much like a satori experience in Zen. The seeing or event isn’t always accompanied by bells and whistles. It isn’t always one grand moment where absolutely everything drops away into a deep recognition of Oneness. It may be more subtle than that, like a shift in perception that quietly dawns upon you.
But I’ve been around the awakening scene long enough to know that these experiences aren’t usually the end of the seeking entirely and that there is often more to see. Yet the “more” isn’t as much about seeking some later point in one’s story. The “more” is actually “less.” Stuff falls away gradually after these events, eventually leaving one surrendered in and as the flow of life, “living naturally in the present moment,” as they say.
Before one stabilizes, there is often a lot of stuff, emotional and psychological stuff, and even leftover seeking that arises. I call this “oscillation,” which is the seeming movement back and forth between the sense of “I am my thoughts and emotions and sensations” to “I am not these things, but they still arise.”
The road to freedom is often bumpy, confusing, and filled with doubts, shadows, and old stories of deficiency, “I’m not good enough” or “I’m weak” or “I’m unlovable.” Somehow the momentum of this old way of being in the world wants to stick around, almost as if it is hanging on for dear life.
And teachers aren’t immune from it either. I’ve seen in myself and virtually every other teacher things like competition, jealousy, shadows, fundamentalism, control, and at the more extreme end greed, abuse, and even cult-like behavior.
In my view, it all comes from this desire to say, “I’ve arrived” way too soon, simply because an event happened. It’s often a cultural thing. For example, if one follows a teacher who seems to sit in silence with a content, peaceful calmness or glowing smile, it gives the impression that there is such thing as “arrival,” like an end point where one never suffers again or experiences emotional disturbance. Sites like Liberation Unleashed have acknowledged that one needs “aftercare,” during this stabilization period following an initial event of seeing “no self.” Other teachings are providing that kind of support also. And I think this is wise.
Here are some of the things we speak about at Living Realization that pertain to this stabilization period:
Just because the “event” has happened, it doesn’t mean that the movement of self has been seen through completely. And the movement often comes up in shadows, projecting outwardly to other people the inner traits that we loathe and despise within ourselves. “It’s someone else’s problem” is the motto of the shadow. Shadows arise as harsh judgments of others who seem to have really negative traits. But the judgment is an unseen self-judgment quite often, for the one who sees the shadow is merely seeing a trait within himself that he had buried and projected outward onto another. Shadows are often positive in nature, a projection onto another of good qualities that we deny within ourselves. Shadows are easy to see through. Here’s the 3-2-1 shadow process for those that are interested.
The Living Inquiries:
The Living Inquiries are called the Unfindable, Boomerang, and Panorama inquiries. They deal with the sense of self in much more subtle forms that are not seen through necessarily in the initial “awakening” event. Relationship is a mirror and it is often a source of continued conflict, disharmony, hidden unearthed jealousy, judgment, seeking, and control. These inquiries work within the context of relationship. They illuminate the core deficiency story carried over from childhood into awakening. These deficiency stories are some version of “There is something wrong with me” or “I’m not good enough.” Once an awakening event happens, these stories can be even harder to see. In fact, they are often not seen at all. Instead, we find ourselves in conflict with others, feeling really uneasy about others or views that seem counter to our views, unable to recognize real unconditional love, unable to accept others as they are, and also very subtle forms of seeking acknowledgment, validation, and praise from others or trying to “one-up” everyone you meet. Conflict isn’t unhealthy. It can be just the right medicine that reveals where one’s self belief lies. What is unhealthy is not being open to look at why you keep getting into conflict, what self belief is operating. We love to be right, and it doesn’t matter what the content is, spiritual, political or personal. We’ll just keep wanting to be right until that sense of self in its patterns, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors is really seen through. Being right or controlling or any number of other issues in relationships are often just the last attempts at solidifying a self, while clothing it in new rationalizations like “I’m speaking from an awakened viewpoint here.” All this movement outward in relationship signifies that there are core beliefs in deficiency operating. These inquiries undo that sticky belief in every area it pops up. The Unfindable Inquiry itself is useful in unraveling a belief in separation in more subtle forms e.g., the belief that there are objective others or an objective world or even separate, physical objects. There are definitely other ways of seeing this stuff as empty, like being with an emotion without story, without trying to rationalize, change, or get rid of it. And that’s simple and doesn’t require inquiry.
The Living Realization:
This book is designed to avoid the chasing after experiences and states and, and instead, speaks to a stable recognition of peace, freedom and acceptance of all thoughts, emotions, sensations, states, and experiences without identifying, grasping, or rejecting any of these things. For that reason, it helps to undermine oscillation people experience in the awakening process.
Here are some other things I’ve seen through the years. By just spotting them in yourself, you can see through them.
Avoid beliefs like “I’m not there yet” as well as “I’ve arrived.”
Both are often mental landing points of the ego. Life is fluid and ever-changing. The ones who claim to have arrived, either implicitly or explicitly, are often holding onto a belief that life is static and that there is someone who can “arrive” at life or even awakening. Or perhaps the belief is “there is no one to arrive, I have arrived at that realization.” It’s a subtle, backdoor way of saying the same thing. And the ones that claim “I’m not there yet” are often still believing in the story of someone who can awaken, still seeking some ultimate, fictitious point in the future. Once these beliefs are dispelled, it all gets a lot clearer. How do I know these are beliefs….? Because they were beliefs I’ve held, but couldn’t see. And that’s not a statement that I have now “arrived.”
Watch for selective memory Once there is a recognition that this moment is all there is, or some similar insight, it can be easy to assume that all the inquiry, methods, meetings you attended, and books you read had absolutely nothing to do with that. It can feel like all of that is some faint memory. It’s then tempting to want to tell everyone else who is doing inquiry, engaging in methods, and attending meetings and reading books to “STOP, JUST STOP.” But could you just stop? If you could have, you would have and all those inquiries, methods, meetings and books would not have been necessary. There is a whole debate happening around whether methods are helpful or not. Why not simplify it down to this: methods seem to work for some and not for others. That takes the debate right out of it. It sucks for the ego when it can’t be right anymore. Can any of us know what is best for another? If you begin teaching or just helping a friend and you say, “All there is, is liberation, there’s nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no one to do it,” apparently there WAS something to do i.e., listen to your words or attend your meeting. If there were truly nothing to do and nowhere to go, no one would show up and you would not need to utter a single word about “what is” or “liberation.” When awakening dawns, and we assume that inquiry, methods, meditation, or whatever had nothing to do with it, it’s like a guy going into a donut shop. He eats one donut but it doesn’t make him full. Then he eats another, then another. Still not full. Then after the 12th donut, he eats a muffin and says, “Damn, why did I eat all those donuts, when I could have just gotten full from eating this muffin?” We can never know how methods and inquiries are or are not helpful for others. We can only speak what worked for us, and let the cards fall where they may.
Avoid denying relativity
First of all, how can you deny relativity and how would you actually do this? When you speak or think, those thoughts divide reality up into parts. It doesn’t matter whether the thoughts are really profound or really dumb. They are thoughts. The very act of denying relativity is a thought. Pretending to be beyond relativity is a relative thought that divides life into Absolute and relative. This writing is a relative viewpoint, and not objectively true. It won’t even resonate with every reader. The suffering comes from believing that your thoughts are representing a true, accurate, and objective picture of reality. That’s the rub. Once you begin seeing that you aren’t thinking objectively, relativity is fun, like a play. Transcending relativity is only important when you see relativity as a problem. And of course that problem is created through thinking, which is relative. Trying to eradicate pronouns or any reference to yourself or others may simply mean that you still experience what you believe to be an objective self that must censor itself. We are always playing around with language. But rearranging our thoughts isn’t necessarily a sign of awakening from identifying with thought. It’s just rearrangement. And we will rearrange thoughts in any number of ways to find some landing point that divides a self against the others. Recognizing an unshakeable silence is not personal. Yet, we love to make it personal, like “I’ve recognized silence and you haven’t it.” It’s another rearrangement of thoughts, an investment in some objective self. What is there to transcend when the play of life is seen to be empty, and not actually full of real divisions? Love it, or hate it, but at least see it as a play.
Keep it simple This relates to the relativity part above. Anything you perceive as right/wrong, good/bad, enlightened/unenlightened, valuable/valueless about yourself, others, the world or reality isn’t there objectively. It’s your thoughts. Think away if you wish, but don’t be confused about this simple, basic point. Of course, that goes for everything said here.
Avoid Dangling Carrots, Then Investigate If you read somewhere that someone seems to have had a deeper recognition than you have, assume it’s a dangling carrot first, then investigate. People have a way of wording things that makes it look as if they are special. When they speak of stages and levels, notice that they always place themselves near the top of the stages or levels (or they place THEIR teacher there). And this is often just a self-centered way of saying, “I’m more special.” They may have added some belief about themselves that subtly gives them a sense of being higher or more awakened than others. Don’t fall for it. If it pulls you into seeking into the future, it’s a carrot, a mirage, a belief that there is something presently wrong that you have to get away from or move beyond. But do investigate. It may be that this person has stabilized (so to speak) and is not experiencing some of the sticky points mentioned here. Find out exactly what they are talking about and what beliefs were seen through. Ask them. Don’t assume you already know the answers. It may be that they are not offering a carrot to chase into the future, but rather a deeper recognition or seeing through of some belief that many people carry around. You may find that it’s not a matter of reaching some later stage, but more like the falling away of something believed and held to be reality. Awakening is like that. It’s not that you gain more. It’s that you lose. And what you lose was not reality. It was just a belief you were carrying.
Avoid the Belief that all concepts are false
That, itself, is a concept. If you look, it is not that concepts are the issue, it’s that there is a sense of self that grasps after them. When there is no more grasping, thought is seen to be beautiful and very much a part of human experience. Like everything else, it is welcomed, and not made into some enemy that needs to be eradicated. Thoughts may quiet naturally, but that’s just because one loses interest in one’s story, drama and fixed conceptions of reality and even one’s story of being awakened from the story, the drama, and all fixed conceptions of reality. What’s left? …The capacity to express and think or not, whatever arises. Any way you slice it, everything we say is a concept, including concepts about silence or non-conceptuality, and even the concepts that try to eradicate other concepts.
Be Transparent (tell on yourself at all costs) Whether you begin teaching or helping others or not, the tendency after the fall is to be blind to the movements of self that are still operating. And the tendency, even when you see them, is to downplay them and only speak of the plush bliss or infinite peace or beyondness or radical freedom that you have come to know. For example, you aren’t likely to talk about how unblissful it was to puke your guts up the other night after getting food poisoning or subtle feelings of inadequacy that still pop up in your marriage. “All that messy humanness” is irrelevant. But how irrelevant is it? Is this just the mind hiding behind a belief, “I’m awakened” or even “there is no one to awaken” or some other belief in transcendence? If you have transcended all human messiness, why are you still getting upset in certain areas of relationship? Why are you still trying to prove something to other humans, even that you have transcended everything? Isn’t that still human stuff? Do turtles brag about transcending turtlehood? Do birds try to make personal claims about recognizing the air more than their fellow birds? Stick with the simple seeing that no one cares nearly as much about your awakening story or insights as you do. Share them freely, but see they are just part of the story of you, even the parts that talk of transcendence.
Tell on yourself at all costs. Allow me to tell on myself here. After the fall, I still experienced a subtle sense of “i’m unlovable” that was virtually completely absent when I would look for it. It showed up instead in relationship, wanting to be included, not liking criticism, etc. Yes, yes, yes, by allowing all those emotions to be there as they are, and even inquiring into that sense of self, tons of stuff has fallen away. But as I sit here writing this, I can see no benefit in making some claim that I have transcended all of that, except for maybe some need for you to love me. Do you see the BS in claiming awakening? I also experienced many shadows. I have also dealt with a subtle sense of seeking to be rid of chronic pain. The more I’ve told on myself, the freer I am to speak about these things without hiding behind some enlightenment facade. And the more I’m able to look at these subtle forms of self, the more they are naturally allowed as they are with no seeking to get rid of them. Consequentially, that’s how they end up disappearing. And no, that doesn’t mean I’ve arrived. Now tell on yourself. Do it everywhere. Open up a discussion. The world doesn’t really need another guru or even a friend who is claiming to have transcended everything, when that is in fact not the case. Less deception, more transparency.
Virtually everything comes down to fear
If you don’t know what is disturbing you, assume it’s fear and just feel it, without story. Fear of anger, fear of fear, fear of intimacy, fear of being wrong, fear of death, fear of uncertainty, fear of being nobody, fear of not being loved, etc, etc. Just feeling fear directly, without story, makes stabilization happen more smoothly, without the need for a dramatic “dark knight of the soul” process. Sometimes it looks like something other than fear. For example, getting really busy intellectualizing a grand scheme to explain intricate levels of awakening, discomfort with real intimacy with others, or a reaction against what someone says doesn’t always appear like fear at first, until you check into the body. And there it is.
See through body identification One can see “no self” when it comes to the story or pattern of thoughts and emotions, but still have a very visceral sense that “I am this body.” Body identification accounts for a lot of the struggle experienced after the fall. Get with someone who has seen through body identification. It clears up a lot, especially the very subtle movement to resist uncomfortable sensations as if the sensation is you.
Look for any place where you are rejecting
The ego can be seen as rejection of emotions, thoughts, views, experiences, and other people. This can continue on after the fall. Wherever you are rejecting, notice that it is often out of fear and a continued belief in a separate self. You are afraid, even if you are trying to claim “there is no me.” Admit it to yourself and let the emotion, all emotions, be as they are without story, facing them fully, seeing that there arise and fall and that they cannot kill you or even harm you. They are temporary energies. That’s it. What often trips people up after the fall is an inability to be with the most painful emotions, a subtle rejecting of your own experience. Open to it. If you have seen there is no self at the core, there is nothing to be afraid of with regard to emotions.
Trust your own experience:
This is one of the hallmarks of the period “after the fall.” This is about your happiness and freedom, which can only really be found in your own experience. Eventually, you will come to see that there is no authority. You will come to listen to other views, and take them in, while remaining true to your own experience, finding your own voice, and letting awakening unfold for you in its own way. If you find yourself still following every word of a teacher, re-examine that belief. This includes what I’m saying here. Don’t trust me. Look into these things for yourself. Everything written here is second hand knowledge.
Avoid extreme views
If you find yourself uttering any opposites as if one is true and the other is not, let that be an alarm bell that lets you know you are still possibly holding onto beliefs about the experience of awakening, still trying to land somewhere. As Buddha said, “Don’t be attached to conceptions of self or no self.” Don’t be attached to your ideas about awakening. They are YOUR ideas, that’s all. This includes all opposites.
Teachers and Teachings
After the fall, the event of seeing no self or some other palpable shift in perception, our relationship to teachers and teachings often begins to change. Here are just a few things to look out for: 1. Shadows.
If you are still projecting lots of wonderful traits on your teacher, as if those traits are not within you, check out the 3-2-1 shadow process. Be done with that projection.
2. Fighting Authority.
If you find yourself fighting authority everywhere, arguing with what this or that teacher says or does, it may be the simple fact that you are a type 6 on the enneagram and that this part of your personality, developed from childhood, is still running the show, creating a lot of conflict and stress within you. Both shadow work and the Living Realization inquiries can help to undermine this pattern of thinking and feeling within you.
3. Don’t listen to what a teacher says, watch instead what he does.
Tom Crockett has a great quote: “We cannot know the subjective experience of another, but it is fair to look at how one shows up in the world.” If you are part of a teaching or lineage and it feels like a cult, it probably is. Leave for your own benefit. Stand in your own authority. If you find a teacher who is quite protective of whether you are listening to other teachings or may leave at any point, trust your instincts. Your teacher may be dealing with a simple case of jealousy and insecurity. Teachings ought to be a revolving door where anyone is allowed to come and go without pressure from the teacher. Issues of control like this are not so much about the teacher believing his teaching is the one and only true teaching. It is often just a case of, “Don’t leave me. If you leave me, that signifies there is something wrong with me personally.” Don’t be fooled. If you find your teacher in conflict with lots of people or doing lots of controlling, there is conflict within her. Keep it that simple. Don’t make excuses for her. If you do, you will inherit that self-deceptive virus. The mind is very deceptive. Whatever your teacher does or does not say or do, you are likely to model that language and behavior. Pick your teacher well. Don’t be so concerned about whether a teacher charges or not. If a teacher charges, there may be good reasons for that, which have nothing to do with greed. There may be a family being supported or medical bills mounting. If you choose a teacher, can you really expect that person to be there for you whenever you like, and forego a job, providing all his or her time for free? Would you do that yourself? Most of the teachers who do not charge have money already and are able to provide services without charging. Look instead to the teacher’s actions and feelings around money. If it smells like greed, it probably is. I’ve seen teachers who charge nothing but who still look for a different currency. They want undying respect and admiration. That’s how they are being paid. And I’ve seen teachers who charge money but who carry an absence of greed and even a palable humility. It’s the attitude and beliefs around these things, not money itself. If you still can’t stomach the idea that a teaching charges money, say something to the teacher. Enter a conversation with that person. If you don’t like the answer, then just leave. You are free to go.
Don’t reject a teaching merely because it looks like an organization. Look at the attitudes and belief operating within the organization. Is there control? Are people allowed to leave without feeling guilty? Does the teacher demand undying respect even in the midst of questionable behavior? Don’t look at whether a teaching talks about love. Look at how the teacher acts to those closest to her, especially spouses and people working with her. That’s where the rubber meets the road. It’s not about talk. It’s about how one actually moves in the world and in relationship. If your teacher claims to be the only genuine speaker of truth, chances are that’s an ego trip. You already know this in your heart. Trust that. Be free of that kind of thinking. It’s like a virus that divides the world in the name of awakening. And above all, if any behavior of your teacher looks like some form of ego, it probably is. I’ve never met anyone who never suffered again or engaged in self-centered thinking or behavior. That’s dreamland. Keep it real. If a teacher speaks a lot about the “nonconceptual reality” or “natural perfection” but then, from the other side of his mouth, is busy finding wrong everywhere, in other teachings, in all kinds of concepts, and even seekers who visit his teaching, don’t make excuses for the teacher. If it smells like ego, it probably is. I know these movements because I’ve seen them in myself. All of this applies of course if you begin teaching or writing about awakening. You then become the maker of cults, the greedy and abusive guru, the arrogant know it all, the one hiding behind an enlightenment facade, the shadow boxer . . . or not.
If you don’t begin to see your teacher more like an equal friend once you begin to awaken, look into that. No one ultimately has the authority over your own life. No one truly stands above anyone else. Those kinds of imbalances in relationship are often due to hidden stories of deficiency and shadows. Be open enough to look at everything that seems to tell you that you are less than your teacher or that you must stay devoted to this teacher for life. Chances are, you have given your power away too much.
Don’t confuse traits that are personal to you with impersonal Oneness or some other transcendent notion. This is an easy one. If you are still acting like an a**hole, don’t claim that trait is what naturally shows up when one awakens. And if you are still people pleasing in order to get people to like you, don’t claim that this trait is what naturally shows up when one awakens. Chances are, these patterns have been with you all your life. It’s about you, not Oneness. As for other issues that pop up “after the fall,” check out Jeff Foster’s site, “Life without a Centre.” I continue to be amazed at Jeff’s ability to speak both of the transcendent awakening into timeless presence as well as the full acceptance of all that human stuff that wants to keep coming up. His message is truly a call for openness and transparency in every way.
Or simply get with someone else who you know is open to looking into these matters or who has walked this pathless, often confusing, path. Be open, above everything else. Take a look at whatever shows up in you that seems to make life personal or that seems to create a division between the haves and the have nots or between this and that. Those lines are created through thinking, but they can still appear to be reality even after some event where perception has greatly shifted.
Let your heart be open. That’s just another way of saying this: “Whatever feels threatening out there, is usually just an unexamined belief in yourself.” Take a look at that. A deeper heart resonance shows up as you unearth and uproot these beliefs.