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Thought and Direct Experience Are Different, But Not Separate

Written by Nirmala on .

Q: I think I have found a way to get myself into the Now (present moment).  Let me know if you think I'm on the right track. The only props I use are a table and my finger. Here's what I do:

I put my finger on a table and think the following thought 10 times(in a row) while I watch  my finger touch the table.  "My finger is touching the table" I then remove my finger for a minute before repeating. The 2nd time I repeat the same process but go into consciously knowing that after the 10th repetition of the thought "my finger is touching the table" that I will drop the thought and just experience the feeling of finger/table touching (no thought just feeling).

I feel like this allows me to discern between the thought of touching the table and the actual feeling/experience of finger and table touching.   It helps me clarify one as a thought and one as experiencing.  I feel like this practice helps me experience conscious being and experience conscious thought while understanding the differences.  It also helps me see who is experiencing the differences.

Let me know if you think I'm on the right track. Your advice is much appreciated.

A: That sounds like a very effective way to build a clear sense of discrimination between direct experience and the virtual reality created by the mind. I used to hold up a physical object in satsang, like a water bottle. Then I would hold up my other hand with nothing in it and suggest that I was holding a pineapple. After comparing the two, I would ask people which category their problems were in: "Are they like the water bottle or like the pineapple?" Distinguishing thoughts from the rest of reality can be very freeing as most of our so-called problems are just thoughts, as are all of our identifications.

I would also invite you to get even more curious about who or what is present in both experiences. Thoughts are real experiences...of thought! Eventually, you can discover that while experiences of thought and direct experience of reality are very different, they are not actually separate. It is like the fingers of your hand. They are all different, but they are not separate. The place where thoughts and experiences are connected is in spacious awareness itself, which contains all of reality. And that spacious awareness or aware space is what you truly are.

Sun and Seafans


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Enjoying It All, Even the Deepest Fears

Written by Nirmala on .

Q: Your newsletter/blog post "Egos Are Like Fruit Flies" prompts a question. I was raised in an environment of lovely, giving people who also thought that everyone outside of their sect would go to hell.  In the theory of Spiral Dynamics, consciousness goes through necessary stages, from basic survival, to "my tribe, my god", to "let's all get along", to "all stages are an expression of one", etc.  This implies multiple lifetimes to move all the way through.  In your experience at age 20, death didn't really change much but was just a continuation, after which I assume we'd come back and continue somewhat close to where we left off.  Meanwhile, near death experiencers (NDE) report the blinders being taken off and having access to vastly greater wisdom, all their questions being answered, etc.  On one hand, if the NDE is an accurate picture, how and why would one come back and take on a bigoted or narrow view of the world?  On the other hand, if it's more like what you describe, what a bleak picture: learning our lessons with such painful slowness, taking on an ego again which can only be seen through by means of suffering; and on a mundane level having to learn to wear diapers, walk, and go through adolescence again!  The teaching, "death is just merging back into where you came from" is supposed to remove our fear of death, but in my view it completely misses the point.  The greater fear is of having to start all this over again.

A: Thank for your very good questions. There are lots of "maps" of what happens after death. In the Tibetan tradition, it is assumed that everyone is shown the totality of Truth at the moment of death, similar to your description of the NDE. The only question is, Can you stay with that totality? If not, then you are shown a lesser truth, and then a lesser truth, and if you cannot contain any of the bigger truths, then you go back and reincarnate. It is kind of like a final exam at the end of the lifetime, and if you do not pass, then you have to reincarnate.

The nondual teachings tend to point to the possibility of experiencing the biggest truths before you die, but in some respects the same principle still applies. After a full awakening or even just a glimpse of a very complete perspective, the question becomes, Can you stay with or integrate that degree of reality?

In either case, our worldly life is the schoolhouse and an opportunity to practice for the big exam whenever it might come. This human life is itself an incredibly intense experience and of course is not really separate from the ultimate reality. The way you master the "lessons" of life is to accept and even embrace them totally. If you get in the habit of loving every little experience that comes along, then the big glimpses are just one more opportunity to open and allow everything. If you cannot accept and embrace what is happening, then in that moment you are in a place of suffering and the "lesson" is delayed and has to be repeated.

At every twist and turn, the most important question is can I accept and even embrace this experience as it is? If the answer is no, that is not really a problem as then the question becomes more subtle: Can I accept and embrace that I cannot accept and embrace this moment? If you are in resistance or judgement, then you are in resistance and judgement. If you can see this clearly and fully accept and embrace that you are suffering from your resistance and judgement in that moment, then paradoxically, you are back in a place of acceptance and can even learn from your experience of resistance. Strangely, suffering is no longer suffering when we embrace it. And once you are in a place of acceptance, then it sometimes becomes more possible to also accept the thing you were resisting in the first place

Our conditioning is strong to further resist any suffering, so it can take a while to get the hang of embracing your suffering. We tend to suffer over the fact that we are suffering! But the reward for accepting your resistance is that you no longer are suffering at any moment when you turn towards what is here right this very instant, even if the experience right now is one of resistance and suffering. Even the fear of having to come back and experience this human life is no longer a problem if you can simply accept fully that you are afraid. Is fear really a bad experience? What are the sensations we call fear? Are they bad sensations or just particular sensations? Is there any part of you that is actually enjoying the drama and intensity of fear while it is happening? And if you cannot embrace your fear as it is happening, can you embrace your resistance or judgement of fear? Is there any part of you that is already enjoying the resistance and judgements you may have about even your deepest fears?

It truly is all grist for the mill. And paradoxically when you can enjoy and accept every moment of fear, doubt, resistance, worry, judgement, desire, stuckness, shame, contraction, overwhelm, confusion, loss, despair, pain, and ultimately even physical death and also every moment of joy, pleasure, bliss, satisfaction, clarity, love, peace, expansion, acceptance, NDE, surrender, awakening, and liberation, then it no longer matters if you come back for a million more lifetimes. It is all fundamentally the same, and it is all rich and worthwhile.

Of course, the ultimate paradox is that when it is completely OK to come back a million more times, then you probably won't. But the freedom is when it does not matter either way. Then if by chance you are meant to be a kind of bodhisattva and stick around a while longer, so be it. And if you are simply meant to move onto the next adventure in consciousness, so be it. Slow is just slow and fast is just fast. The biggest freedom never looks like we expect it to, but it is totally free.

I hope this is helpful.

Majestic Elkhorn coral

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Silence vs. Satsang

Written by Nirmala on .

Q: I attended many gatherings for satsang in the last few years. It's too loud. I like silence more. But it confuses me because it is said that there's more power in doing anything together with others. Can you please explain the dichotomy? How can I pursue and start enjoying silence more? I also am interested in your introductory rate for a mentoring session.

A: There is no formula that works for everyone. If you are drawn to silence, then I would trust your inner sense of things. At some point that might also shift, and you may feel drawn again to more contact with groups, but it is normal and natural to sometimes find lots of interactions with other people too "loud" as you say. Your own heart and your deepest sense of what feels true for you is the best guide.

There is no real dichotomy here, as all spiritual practices are complimentary, not contradictory. The art is to explore them with openness and curiosity. If a particular spiritual practice or activity is meant for you at this time, it will almost immediately resonate with you and start to have a beneficial effect. If it is not meant for you, you will almost immediately feel more contracted and stirred up by the practice, or it will simply have little or no effect on you. So while it can be worthwhile to explore a range of practices and approaches, the best way to measure their appropriateness for you is to observe the direct effects they are having. This should be clear within a week or two after starting any practice.

As for silence itself, outer silence is the simplest way to experience more inner silence, so anytime you can sit still and just breath or listen to the quieter sounds of your body or of nature, that can naturally evoke more silence. There are more simple suggestions for how to meditate here, in case you are not already familiar with formal meditation: http://endless-satsang.com/super-simple-instructions-for-meditation-beginners.htm

However, there can be a kind of "noisy" silence, where you sit quietly, but your mind gets very busy and loud. That is also normal and natural. Often if you just stay with the process and allow everything to unfold, it will quiet down. This is a big part of what meditation is all about. I will share that some recent neuroscience research has suggested that this process of quieting the mind typically can take 45 minutes or more. So if you can meditate for an hour or longer at a time, you may find that the results are more effective.

Sometimes there are aspects of our conditioning or mental thought patterns that are more resistant and so cause a lot of excess mind activity. This is where a practice of inquiry can help loosen and eventually release some of the stickier conditioning we have accumulated. There are many forms of general and open-ended inquiry in addition to the more traditional and directed practice of self-inquiry that is described here: http://endless-satsang.com/the-practice-and-purpose-of-self-inquiry.htm . In essence, any deep questioning and curiosity about your thoughts and experiences and identifications can start to unravel them. You can do this inquiry on your own, and it also can be helpful to do it with a guide, either in a group setting, like satsang, or in one-on-one mentoring.

I hope this is a little helpful and do let me know if you want to have a mentoring session on the phone or skype. I just need to know what time zone you are in and what times/days work for you so I can suggest some available times. More info about the mentoring I offer is here.

Barracuda and Chub under Silversides

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The Endless Satsang advaita blog by Nirmala is a place for occasional musings and also answers to questions via the contact form on here.
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