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No Formula for Spiritual Awakening

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Someone wrote to me sharing how their life is getting more difficult and how it makes them question the wisdom of pursuing the path of inquiry. Here is my response:

There is no formula to spiritual enlightenment. It is OK to just let things fall apart, and it is OK to do something to make something better. You do learn and unfold in either case.

We had a Harvard researcher here the other day who is studying nondual awareness. In telling us how he got into studying it he described how he had created a model for all the different spiritual practices and who they work for and who they don't work for. There were a few interesting points:

1-His model does not yet explain the deepest nondual states which is why he is now studying them.
2- Within duality, if someone does the correct spiritual practice for them, then their life seems to flow and everything works out well.
3-If they do the "wrong" spiritual practice for them their life starts to fall apart.
4-Even if they do the "right" practice for them, after a while it stops working and then if they keep doing it their life falls apart.
5- Often it is when someone's life falls apart that they drop into the deeper nondual places in their being, but even this is not a formula. Sometimes their life just falls apart until they stumble upon a different approach that is now right for them and their life starts to "work" again.
6-Again his model does not yet explain spiritual enlightenment or the nondual experience nor does it yet identify the "way" to get a spiritual awakening or what ways work and don't work for specific people.

This all suggests to me that at least for now, the deepest spiritual awakenings are still purely a matter of grace. And it also suggests to stay open and curious no matter what happens. Falling apart might be the best thing that ever happens to you, and it also does not hurt to try any process or spiritual practice to see if it allows your life to work again. He has also found people who gradually shifted from process to process that seemed to allow their life to work out well for them until they then dropped off into the nondual dimension.

Talk about no formula!

Authenticity and Love

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Q: I’m no longer able to be inauthentic with my boss to try to get his approval, but I’m also concerned about losing my job.

A: In place of acting inauthentically to get approval from your boss and others, try experimenting with simply giving acceptance and attention to your boss and others. When we give love or approval to others, we are filled with a sense of loving Presence, not when we get love or approval from others.

By being very present and giving attention to everything in your experience, including your boss, it’s more likely that you’ll respond appropriately and with integrity to whatever is happening. Doing this may not guarantee that you keep your job (nothing can), but it will mean you have more integrity, wisdom, strength, acceptance, and compassion available to meet whatever does happen. Whether you stay in this job or end up looking for another, being very present and accepting will make the experience easier and more joyful for you. It will also allow you to be more effective in dealing with people, which can only help either in this job or in finding another.

Giving love can transform all of your experiences, not just your relationships at work. Love is essentially just space (acceptance) and attention (noticing). You don’t even have to like whatever you are giving this loving attention to. Just let it be the way it is, as you notice everything about it. It’s easiest to try this out with neutral or pleasant objects first. Then when you have the hang of it, try giving space and attention to things and eventually people that are annoying or difficult to be with. In addition, give loving acceptance and attention to yourself and your own reactions to others. You do not need to leave yourself out of the loving awareness, and there may even be important information about the situation that is found in your responses to others.

While it may seem paradoxical, it is in giving love that we are filled with love. When love is flowing from within you, it won’t matter as much to you how other people act or react. It’s incredibly freeing to discover that you can go ahead and give acceptance and attention to everything you encounter and that will fill you with an authentic sense of loving acceptance. (You can read more about giving love to everyone and everything in “Love Is for Giving,” which is included in this book as Appendix 2.)

Love is at the heart and core of our true nature. All the fundamental qualities of our true nature come together as love. Love is the force that connects us and fuels our desire to create, understand, experience, and ultimately merge with everything we experience. Every movement of life is the movement of love. Love is your true nature. Love is what you are.

The Goodness at Our Core

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Another question came to me from the contact form on here:

Thank you for your writings.  I have enjoyed your books but I am troubled by them as well.  Non-duality seems to be a repudiation of free will.  I am not  doing anything.  The divine acts through me. But what of the man who murders a child, or genocidal wars?  It seems the world would often be better if people acted differently.  Can you help me understand this?

And here is what I wrote in response:

Thank you for your question. It is one of the most common concerns raised about the teachings of non-duality.

While there is just one reality or one Being here, the manifestations and movements of that one Being are as diverse as can be. Oneness seems to love to appear and dance as many. And there are also many levels of truth that operate within this amazing dance of life.

So your question about murder and war can be answered at different levels, and all of the answers would have some relevance. At the most relative level, there is the definite appearance of free will. It is important what we do, and if people made better choices, this would be wonderful for the world.

If we shift to a more absolute perspective, we can see that all action is purely an illusion created by our consciousness. No action has ever harmed consciousness, and so the appearances of murder and war are just that: an appearance.

But to be complete, we also can experience how both of these perspectives are true, and also experience a perspective that is in between these two extremes. It turns out that when someone directly experiences their true nature as empty spacious presence, this does not necessarily lead to a disinterest in the appearances and illusions of this world. In fact, the recognition that there is no one here and no individual doing anything most often leads to the experience and expression of a deep love for this world and all of the illusions in it. If it is just an illusion, then why bother with murder or war? If you and your actions are just an illusion, then the pain and fears of the illusory ego simply do not matter anymore. If we see through the illusions of our personal story, then there are no longer any motivations that would lead to murder or war.

In the absence of a personal self, we are not left with nothing. There are many deeper qualities of true nature that are revealed as the ego loosens it's grip on us. And it is perhaps a surprise to find out that they are all positive qualities like love, joy, peace, clarity, strength, and wisdom. I say it is perhaps a surprise because of the psychological view that our unconscious is filled with all kinds of repressed negative emotions that must be contained. And while there is also some truth to this perspective, the missing piece in much of psychology is that underneath even our darkest unconscious emotions are these essential qualities of our Being. It turns out that at the core, we are loving, joyful and divine. This is not something that you can grasp intellectually, but it is something that you can experience as your sense of self is weakened or dissolved by direct inquiry.

It is possible to have a purely intellectual grasp of the concept that there is no individual doer, and that the world is just an illusion. And like any belief or concept, it can just be believed and identified with and lead to all kinds of distortions and justifications for terrible actions. For examples, just examine the history of religious fundamentalism where teachings about peace and love have been used to justify hatred, murder and war. Even a belief in there being no doer can lead to this kind of fundamentalism if it is just a belief. But in the actual experience of the dissolving of an egoic sense of self, there is an opening to the deeper realities of our essential Being, and beyond that to the mystery at the core of Being which can not be described or defined.

The positive qualities at the core of our Being are strangely found to be nondual also. At that depth of experience, it is seen that there is only goodness and that there is no opposite thing called badness. This is the important discovery that counterbalances any tendency of the ego to form a belief about nonduality that denies the importance or value of the world and its beautiful illusions. It is this essential core of goodness that loves the world and everything in it, and so makes it extremely unlikely that someone resting in their deepest essence would ever act to harm another. In fact there is a natural arising of a compassion and appreciation for all of life.

The concept of nonduality is just that: a concept. As such it can be distorted and co-opted by the ego and the mind to justify anything. But the reality of our nondual nature is not a concept, and the direct experience of it is filled with peace, love and joy beyond anything we could have imagined. But do not take my word for any of this. See what you find when you inquire deeply into this question of who it is that acts in this world. Do you find a complete lack of any love and concern for the world when you experience a more open and complete sense of your true nature, or do you find that there is no limit to the love and compassion that can be found within the empty spaces of your soul?

I hope this helps.