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Endless Inquiry

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Someone emailed the following:

Modern life seems like one big competition made up of lots of smaller competitions. Our culture is full of competitions, contests, talent shows, music charts, award ceremonies, celebrities, interviews... it feels like everyone is judging everyone else all the time, largely on things we don't have the power to change. People are constantly competing for jobs, mates, money, success, competing to see who's the most beautiful, who's the most intelligent, the most talented.

At the same time, rates of anorexia, obesity, depression and all manner of conditions that come from a negative self-perception are on the rise, and starting from increasingly younger ages. The industries of escapism are booming, and it seems as though we're reaching a crunch point, where the way we see ourselves, each other and the world we live in is becoming an ever increasing source of distress and pain. What can we do? Must we suffer these things? Can we transcend things that are so deeply ingrained in our conditioned forms?

Is there a reason for us being born with the gifts or limitations we have in life? Are they the result of Karma from past lives? Are we given them as a cross to bear, or as challenges meant to teach us specific lessons in life? Or is it just random, do we wake up to find ourselves in these bodies for no reason beyond the fact that our parents didn't use contraception?

Also, from what I understand from having watched, listened to and read a great deal of spiritual teaching, what's called 'enlightenment' is more the dissolution of something false that obscures the true reality that is already present, rather than the attainment of a spiritual transformation. If that's true, should one focus more on dissolving their own mental constructs of ego and mind, and if so, what would you recommend as the best method?

I hope it's not too presumptuous to ask so many questions!

And I responded as follows:

Thanks for your thoughtful questions.

You may be right about us reaching a crunch point and I do believe it is possible to transcend all of the things you mention. And even prior to that it is possible to no longer suffer from them. Just by letting them be the way they are, the suffering dissolves (it was never real to begin with). And contrary to our beliefs, letting things be the way they are is the most likely condition under which the transformation can occur. Letting things be is not the cause of any change, but rather it creates conditions that allow our deeper intelligence to work. You ask what you can do, and it is to simply allow everything to be the way it is and yet also be as curious and present to it all as you can. It is this mix of acceptance and curiosity that allows the open flow of our divine intelligence and inspiration to move in the world. There is no nice neat formula to what this looks like, and so any transformation or healing of our distress and difficulties will unfold organically, and probably in a completely surprising and unexpected way.

As for a reason for all of this, consciousness does not need a reason for things. It just loves experience, so it tries experiencing anything and everything it can. If it is true that our consciousness is limitless and eternal, then it makes a bit more sense that it would be willing to try anything. Eternity is a very long time. If you have eternity, then it makes sense that you would find lots of ways to pass the time. And by the way, the playful creation of experience also includes all of the "reasons" you mention like Karma, lessons to be learned and also complete randomness of events. Again, consciouness takes its time to try it every which way. So it tries out Karma and evolution and learning. And then it also throws in lots of randomness just to keep itself on its toes!

You are correct also in your description of enlightenment as the uncovering of what is already here, rather than the attainment of something. However, I would suggest that there are two ways to approach this process. The first is the one you mention of dissolving the structures of the ego, and for this there are several wonderful forms of directed inquiry such as the Byron Katie Work or the Sedona Method. The second approach is the direct exploration of your underlying nature, and for this there is self-inquiry or the simple direct sensing of your self or the "I". It is not so much an intellectual inquiry where you try to figure out the answer to the question, "Who am I?" Instead this question is meant to direct your awareness back to the sense of I. Then you can just rest with your awareness on this deeply mysterious sense that "I am" or "I exist". As you stay with the felt sense of your own self, the deeper nature of it may reveal itself, although once again there is not formula for how this happens or how long it takes. You can just rest with awareness on your self and meet whatever unfolds. There are many dimensions to your deeper true nature including the ultimate absolute emptiness of Being. So this exploration of your true nature is truly endless.

These two approaches, inquiring into your ego structures and inquiring into your sense of "I", are complimentary. One is not better than the other or more important. And it is possible to combine them in an open-ended exploration of whatever is present right now. If your ego is being triggered and your sense of self is very contracted, then it makes sense to explore some of the structures of that ego to at least loosen them a bit. And in the space between reactions, it naturally makes sense to rest and experience the "I". The only formula is to inquire into whatever is most present in your experience right now. That is what needs to be seen and to be accepted and even loved. If you take care of what is here right now by experiencing it, inquiring into it and loving it, then once again the deeper intelligence of your Being will take care of all of the rest.

So there is no best way to inquire because they are all great! The only art or subtlety is in applying this loving inquiry to whatever is here right now including all of your fears, resistance and conditioning, and all of the depth and richness of the many dimensions of your true nature. And by the way, the point of this inquiry is not someplace called enlightenment that it gets you to. The point is the incredible richness of the inquiry itself. The journey is the destination. Even if you do get to an enlightened place, then the only question is "What happens next?" The unfolding continues even then in ever new and surprising ways.

I hope this helps.

The Heart Cannot be Broken

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A friend on facebook wrote me the following;

The pain I feel is not going to go anywhere anyway..so why not to write to you. It might change nothing, yet it won't do any harm. Moreover, I am always happy to write to you, because you are so warm, gentle and kind.
The thing is now I am completely sure, now I know that my friend, of whom I wrote to you a few months ago, does not love me. This one line may sound so superficial, so silly to you, yet I felt a part of me has died.
Again as it always happens, I feel calm writing you. But these last days, whatever I tried ---looking for the sufferer, or not looking, trying to impose absolute hopelessness on me, repeating always in mind "who am I?"---nothing could ease the enourmous pain in my chest. I felt like jumping out of my body, out of that all.

And this is my response:

Loss is like that. It just hurts. Even when there is nothing you can do to relieve the pain, you still might want to explore the experience you are having. Specifically, I would invite you to explore the part of you that feels like it has died. What is that like? If for just a moment, you completely allow it to feel dead, is it actually a bad sensation, or just a dead sensation? Our suffering always comes from our movement away from our sensations, not from the sensations themselves, even the most intense and enormous feelings. 

It can help to allow the pain to be bigger than your body. There is no need to contain it within your chest. Just let it be as big as it needs to be.

And then you can maybe also be curious. What is the pain like? Where exactly do you feel it? How big is it? What else is present besides the pain? If there is a feeling of deadness or emptiness, what is that like? What is present in the empty space? What is here inside the deadness?

The point of these questions is not really to get rid of the pain. It is to help you discover that it is OK to feel pain. The deepest healing is always to find out that there is nothing here that needs to be healed. Pain is natural and normal after a loss, and yet you do not need to suffer from it. Just let it be here, and you may find you are OK even if your heart is broken. Your heart can be broken wide open without actually damaging anything, because your true Heart cannot be broken. It is big enough to hold all of the pain and loss.

I hope this helps.

Motivation After Spiritual Awakening

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black arches Q: In 2009, my personal story was seen through, and it dropped away. With it, went all motivation. Without a self, there’s no desire or fear of living or dying, and without those desires and fears, there seems to be no drive. I have about two months of money left in the bank and no desire to get a real job. Still, I have no worries and sleep like a baby. It feels wonderful, appreciative, in-touch, pure, loving, and connected. The lack of motivation seems to be the biggest part of the “problem.” The other part of the problem is a lack of identity. Not having an identity to pin myself to is disconcerting. What motivates you when there is no “you?”

A: Although there is no formula for what happens after awakening, I can assure you that your experience is not unusual. I have two suggestions. The first is an invitation to become very curious about what is present in the lack of motivation. Because the deeper movements or drives of essence are quieter and subtler than our old egoic desires and attachments, it can take a very sensitive ear to hear them. It sounds like you are already in touch with them when you say, “It feels wonderful, appreciative, in-touch, pure, loving, and connected.” So what is that appreciative love flowing most naturally and authentically to? Where do you still find a deeper longing in your Heart? Since every expression of the mystery is unique, even every snowflake, what that deeper longing will look like in your case is unpredictable. Being in the flow of your essence may mean continuing to rest and be quiet, or it may mean becoming busier than ever. The key is to be very curious about what is true in your own Heart. What allows the deepest opening of your Heart right now? I know of a man in California who had a profound realization and then sat on his couch for months. One day, he suddenly had an idea for a spiritual bookstore. He said he was too lazy to not get up off the couch and start working sixteen hours a day to open this bookstore. At that point, it took more effort to sit still!

The second thing I would suggest, which may seem to contradict my first suggestion, is that you consider not waiting for motivation to show up. I had a teacher once who pointed out that the word “energy” comes from words meaning “into the work.” He suggested that energy and motivation often come once we are already doing something. So you might simply notice what opportunities or activities naturally present themselves and just do them. That will give you a chance to find out if there is motivation or energy for that activity after all.

I see these two suggestions as complementary, not contradictory. The truth is subtle and has many levels, so sometimes we need to sense the subtle movements of our Being, and other times we need to just get up and do whatever presents itself to do. I find that, as the discovery of the complete range of my true nature continues, I experience a greater and greater range of movements and motivations. I’m willing to experience everything from a deep sense of resting (what one of my teachers called “the contented old cow state”) to a passionate flurry of activity and creativity. Our true nature includes all of these possibilities and more.

As for the issue of a lack of identity, I have two similar suggestions. One is to be curious about what is present in the space where there is no identity or sense of self. “Beyond No Self,” which is included as Appendix 1 of this book, is an article I wrote that explores this further. Reading this may help you become more accustomed to the lack of a self, which is such a strange and unfamiliar experience when it first arises. Once you discover all the rich dimensions of Self that are present in the absence of an egoic sense of self, you might not find the absence of that egoic identity to be a problem.

The second suggestion is to allow yourself to have whatever identity is needed in any moment. Put on an identity when you need it or feel like it, in the same way you might dress up for Halloween. Freedom is when you can spontaneously identify or dis-identify based on what’s true in that moment. Spiritual teachings often emphasize dis-identification because so many people are stuck in identification. But there’s no reason to, then, get stuck in dis-identification. You can play within the limitless range of roles, stories, and dramas that life contains without getting permanently stuck in any of them.