Describing my longer retreats always presents me with a challenge and an opportunity. The intention behind them is audacious and subtle, and communicating exactly what it is sometimes feels overwhelming. At the same time these retreats are the place where everything I teach comes together in the most comprehensive and intensive way so articulating them is a chance to express everything that my life is dedicated to. It has become my habit to prepare for each longer retreat by writing a series of essays that explain what happens on retreat and why it is designed the way it is.
This is the fourth in a series of seven essays.
My work is dedicated to facilitating a shift in paradigm.
The first aspect of what I do involves liberating our consciousness from the constraints of the current paradigm so our imagination is free to envision dramatically new ways of being.
The liberation of consciousness could be thought of as an un-worlding process in which we remove ourselves from the only world we have ever known.
We are worlded. We don’t live in reality, we live in a conception of reality. We don’t experience things the way they are, we experience things the way we believe they are. We live in a world that is profoundly shaped by our preconceived assumptions about it.
It is possible, either through effort or just dumb luck, to have your consciousness slip out of the grooves that contain it. In these moments, often recognized as profound spiritual experiences, we discover possibilities we never dreamed of.
Suddenly we know beyond doubt that the world is not necessarily the way it appears to be. Once we have such an experience it is very difficult to go back to the innocence we once held about reality.
As a spiritual teacher a big part of my job is to create the conditions for people to experience radical leaps in perception. This is a very tricky thing to do.
The challenge arises because it is simultaneously much easier than anyone ever suspects and at the very same time so much more dramatic and explosive than we imagine.
It is so hard for us to embrace something that is so simple and yet leads to such dramatic shifts. We simply find it hard to believe so instead we either assume that nothing that simple could really work or we reduce awakening to something much less than what it is.
In order to be ready for awakening, enlightenment, satori, god realization, or whatever we want to call it, we have to be prepared for both the ease and the magnitude of the experience.
Awakening is always waiting for us in the consciousness that exists beyond our familiar patterns of thought and feeling. Our thoughts and feelings don’t have to go away. We just have to stop paying attention to them.
Its so simple. Anyone can do it for an instant. Try it, just for a moment stop paying attention to anything that you are thinking or feeling.
For that moment your attention falls into….nowhere, and focuses on nothing.
It gets difficult when you try to leave your attention in that empty place for longer than just a moment or two. It feels like nothing. How can we pay attention to nothing? What do we focus on if there is nothing there?
We are so deeply conditioned to focus on something that it feels impossible to focus on nothing at all.
We are addicted to paying attention to specific thoughts and feelings that arise in consciousness. We have certain set patterns of mind that we feel at home with and everything else feels like it doesn’t even exist. There is simply nothing there to pay attention to.
If we learn how to rest in the uncertainty of consciousness without thoughts or feelings something will begin to dawn on you. We will see that when we stop looking at the inner objects of the mind the world disappears and we disappear with it.
Ultimately this is what is so frightening and why true awakening will probably always remain a rare attainment. When the part of us that we always thought was all of us starts to disappear we panic. In the face of non-existence our attention snaps back to the familiar. It shifts focus back onto something it knows.
The deepening of practice involves increasing our ability to rest unflinchingly in the unknown. When we find the courage and the strength to rest in the unknown a process of transformation is initiated. The first step of the process is the dissolution of the self and the world. It is the disappearance of everything.
The second part of the process is the discovery of the previously invisible worlds that have always existed beyond the thoughts and feelings that have been compulsively consuming our attention. When we discover these they seem both utterly foreign and deeply familiar.
You see, there is always a part of us that has been aware of the invisible energies beyond the familiar mind. We have always been awake to the deeper levels of our being. So when we consciously return to these subtle perceptions it is really a reunion with a deeper part of ourself.
We have come home to ourselves and we are seeing again what we always knew was there. Everything is the way it always was and yet everything is completely different.
When I teach meditation I try very hard not to speak about it in a way that will make it feel like some kind of long laborious path to somewhere very far from where you already are. Instead it is a simple shift in perception more like turning your head to see what is on your left when you have spent a lifetime looking right.
The danger of teaching this way is that people might think that there is nothing to it. That awakening isn’t that different from their normal perception of the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. In trying to convey the closer than close quality of awakening you can inadvertently encourage people to settle for far less than what is possible.
Awakening changes everything even if everything stays exactly the same.
I know meditation is the simplest thing you can possibly do, but it is also the most difficult. I know that to embrace it in a life-altering way will take everything you have. But it's worth it!
We are so much more than we think we are. It is time for us to embrace who we are and allow a very different form of living to emerge on this planet.
Your consciousness is the consciousness of the entire cosmos. Your life is part of the living edge of a cosmic being that is constantly stretching and reaching into further possibilities. We are that cosmic being. And that cosmic being manifests as an unimaginable singular whole being and at the same time as the pristine uniqueness of each and every individual form of it.
It doesn’t matter what we think we have or have not experienced so far.
No one is disqualified from this adventure. All are welcome.
Whatever we have experienced is only meaningful when it allows us to have greater access to the inconceivable mystery of being right now. In the face of the unknowable we are all newborns forever.
Those of us who think we have not had any experience can mistakenly slip into the belief that we need some kind of experience before we can wake up. Those of us who have had many spiritual experiences can easily slip into the belief that we already know what awakening is, or that we are already awake.
Every moment is an opportunity to let everything go. It is a perfect chance to enter existence completely fresh, without any ideas about ourselves.
When you sit to meditate just place your attention on the inconceivable part of consciousness beyond the familiar mind and leave it there. Allow the mysteries of being to reveal themselves before your very eyes. Allow a process of transformation to take you to places you never dreamed of before.