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The Many Paths to Awakening

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Q: Once again I enjoyed the intensive you and Gina gave last weekend. I really appreciate what you guys are doing during this challenging time.

Something you said during the initial Q & A has stayed with me, your statement that according to Dr. Jeffrey Martin’s research, spiritual practices or techniques only work for 5% of the people who practice them, and it is a different 5% for each of the approaches out there.. My initial reaction was “man, that’s depressing!” But as I sat with it longer, I began to feel that there are many other factors besides the technique alone, that could also factor into whether a person shifts or benefits. For instance, how close is the person to awakening? In your & Gina’s case, it seems that you were both quite close to awakening, so it didn’t take long for you to awaken. I would venture to say your nervous systems, your physiologies, were quite pure, and free of a lot of samskaras to begin with. Further, what about life purpose? It would seem that maybe you were meant to be spiritual teachers in this lifetime and so, were destined to awaken early on. Then too, what of karma? Is a technique powerful enough to remove karma? What about grace? From working with Gina, she has stated that awakening happens as a matter of grace alone, and thus has little or nothing to do with the practitioner’s technique or commitment.

In addition, there is the whole issue of the wisdom of digging one hole deeply in order to find water vs. digging many shallow holes (as the Jeffery's Finder’s Course apparently recommends), though I suppose Dr. Martin suggests the other side of the argument, which would be to try other places if you’ve been digging the same dry well for a long time.

Then I wonder about his methodology. How does he measure the effectiveness of the techniques? Does he provide practitioners with a Muse brain sensing headband to check brainwaves? I tend to doubt that filling out questionnaires is a valid means of assessing level of consciousness. I imagine it would be interesting to read one filled out by a Zen roshi.

Looking at this from the point of view of a pre-awakened person who has been on the spiritual path for 35 years, I guess I’m saying that technique is a factor, as is science, but I think it has to be looked at in the greater picture that includes all these other factors; the context of what the spiritual path is all about. Once you do that, the role of science is diminished. I’d be interested in your thoughts, comments or suggestions, since I've all of a sudden begun receiving emails from Dr. Martin.

A: First, let me say that I hold everything very lightly, including Jeffery's claims. However, I have found many of his insights helpful in broadening my perspectives. As for the essence of your question, I would agree completely that there are many, many factors at play in the unfolding of a human awakening. And yet all of the formulas that have been promulgated for spiritual awakening do work.....sometimes! I wrote a blog post about this a while back: https://endless-satsang.com/the-flower-of-spiritual-awakening.htm ...In it, I ask many of the same questions you have asked.

One of the most fascinating and yet challenging things Jeffery has shared with me is that the roughly 5% rule also applies to accepting Jesus Christ into your heart as your lord and savior. His own mother had a profound spiritual awakening at a revival type Christian gathering when she was "saved". For much of her life after that she assumed that everyone who went up to be saved at similar meetings must have had the same experience as her! I know other people who have had a similar experience, including a friend who was able to see past a dogmatic interpretation of his experience and yet was transformed when he asked to be saved at a bible study group.

As for Jeffery's claims of success with his approach, I especially hold that lightly. In his unfolding model, he has identified several different types of awakening, which he calls locations. This does explain some of the rather striking differences in what some people report of their experiences, but I do think it is a bit of a stretch to call some of his locations a full awakening.

Who knows, maybe with his approach of digging several shallow holes he is able to exceed the limitations of the 5% results from sticking with just one of the many spiritual paths that have a track record of potentially working. There are many graduates of his course, and of my wife, Gina's similarly wide ranging online course, that report that they feel they were fundamentally changed.

How Is Emptiness so Full?

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Q: I often listen to You Tube videos on Quantum physics. One of my favorites right now is Arvin Ash. He's basically an empiricist or physicalist, but puts forth interesting hypotheses on the nature of consciousness. I recently commented on a recent video that consciousness draws it fundamental nature from simple awareness, a sense of presence/wakefulness. Physicists often refer to consciousness as that part which is intellectual. I kind of follow a Krishnamurti POV and asserted that thought or thinking may not be conscious at all, but is produced in the brain and occurs on unconscious levels. Much if not all of thought is rote. Many cognitive- neuroscientists draw this conclusion. I wrote that awareness itself is without content and in Eastern Spirituality is not derived from the brain. In Zen Buddhism it is considered preferable to have an empty mind.

So where I am going with this is: Is pure awareness without content? Reading Zen Buddhist tracts says it is. Does Vedanta agree? I want to say Vedanta includes the Middle Kingdom. It's exclusive of the mechanism of thinking which is derivative of physical processes, such as memory. Isnt it? Im asking you because Gina is channeling Middle Kingdom entities. So here is my conundrum. What consciousness process is involved with experiences of this higher dimension. If pure awareness is empty and thought is derivative of brain function? Im curious how would Nirmala answer that? ❤

A: I would suggest that all of the entities, processes and qualities that you mention are part of a broad spectrum of reality. So they are not really separate, distinct experiences, even though we can distinguish them from each other. It is similar to how five of our fingers are really one hand, and yet we can clearly distinguish our thumb from our index finger and so on.

All things arise from and are made of one thing, which it is hard to name or define. How do you define everything and nothing? It is beyond any definition, even very broad definitions of, or categories of, experience, like "consciousness" or "presence" or "Beingness".

So perhaps thought free consciousness is a very expanded and unfiltered experience, while thought is still an expression of and experience of the same consciousness...just much more filtered and limited. In this view thought is just a very small expression of and experience of consciousness. More expanded states such as love and peace and joy are the same consciousness, but are larger expressions and experiences of that same awareness. Similarly, insects, animals, humans and ascended masters and archangels and deities are all expressions of and experiences of the same one being.

It is challenging for the mind to hold seemingly opposite things as true, such as that everything is one thing and yet also many things. It helps to switch back and forth between the two perspectives until they start to be able to coexist in your understanding, or until it all dissolves into a sense of wonder and amazement at how unknowable the most ordinary aspects of our existence really are. What a complete mystery consciousness is and will probably always remain. How can something as completely empty as awareness also be so damn full of thoughts and entities and endless universes?

I hope this helps 🙂

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Which comes first: thoughts or emotions?

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Q: Which comes first: thoughts or emotions? 

A few of the leading authors  I'm following state that the feelings are primary, and the thoughts are secondary, i.e., the emotions and feelings come first and thereby create the thoughts. Most neurosciences teach, however, that it's the other way around: that feelings and emotions are the byproduct of thoughts.

One might be tempted to settle the matter with the conclusion that it doesn't really matter. But why does my mind want to argue that it does? Does his perspective "rattle" my paradigm of having some "control" over thought and thereby emotions ?

What's your take on this ?

A: My take is that thoughts, feelings and desires are all part of a spectrum, and it is hard to separate them into definitive categories. They all are activity of the body/mind and so they all can generate more of each other. A thought can trigger feelings and desires. A feeling can trigger thoughts and desires, and desires are especially powerful at triggering lots of thoughts and feelings.

To me the important question is how true is my current thought, feeling or desire. And I have an experiential definition of truth: truth is what opens your heart and quiets the mind. Something that is less true (or real, relevant, and meaningful in the moment)  has the opposite effect: it contracts your heart (or your sense of self) and makes your mind busier.

Any thought, feeling or desire that contracts your sense of self and makes your body/mind busier with more thoughts, feelings and desires is not bad or wrong, it simply is not very true. And that means it is not a good guide for action. In contrast, if a particular thought, feeling or desire relaxes and expands your awareness and quiets the mind, then it is an important and relevant thought in that moment and can be trusted.

Thoughts, feelings and desires are neither good nor bad, and they all contain at least some truth and some relevance (although sometimes very little). My favorite example of a small truth is a lottery ticket: it is undeniably true that you can win, but unfortunately, it is not very true. In fact it is a ridiculously small truth! However, focusing on the idea of winning the lottery can contract your awareness and make your mind very busy....without actually accomplishing anything meaningful.

There is no need to control, deny or repress any thought, feeling or desire. Instead you can measure them with your heart centered wisdom and see how true and important they really are. This puts them into perspective, which is what frees you from being unduly influenced by something that is not very true for you, and also what allows you to know when something is important and true for you in the moment.

What you likely will discover is that most thoughts, feelings and desires are not very true. That is just the nature of mind generated reality. It does not need to have relevance or much truth for your mind to be involved with it.

I often say the mind is good at thinking of things, it just is not any good at discriminating how true something is. To the mind, every thought, feeling and desire seems completely true. It is the heart or our deeper awareness that is capable of distinguishing a small truth from a big truth. It is possible to learn to trust your inner guidance by noticing and trusting your awareness when it contracts and also when it opens.

You can read more about this capacity of the heart to discriminate how true things are in part two of my free ebook, Living from the Heart, available here: https://endless-satsang.com/free

I hope this helps :)

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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.
Please feel free to contact him with any questions you may have for this nonduality blog.