The brilliant lessons I learned
have washed away.
Now there’s room for more.
The brilliant lessons I learned
have washed away.
Now there’s room for more.
Why don’t we skip the introduction. I want to hear your question, please.
I wondered for years why if TW was so effective nobody was as “advanced” as KT was even though there’s now been people doing TW for decades. One day I understood that we were all chasing the end of the rainbow. That day I “graduated.” It was a quiet ceremony. Nobody was informed. I did not receive a special certificate. If I had to put what I learned that day into words it would read like this:
It doesn’t end.
It’s just not a problem that it doesn’t end.
That’s the freedom.
The most amazing thing I learned that day was just how much I was like everyone else:
I’m just as fucked up as the man next door,
I just don’t beat myself up about it as much as he does.
That’s the enlightenment I know.
I notice he beats himself up much less than I do.
Those days he is the enlightened one
and I’m proud to call him
Deep forgiveness for our apparent imperfections.
Deep compassion for our apparent flaws.
A knowing that it’s okay to be just like this.
Even as I try to be a better man with time.
Perfection and Imperfection in perfect harmony.
That is the enlightenment that I know.
Anything that I can compare myself to
Why would that be a fair standard of comparison?
Better to spend my time appreciating
How much of a good friend
I can be to myself.
Much more than some sort of ‘eternal bliss,’ the end of suffering is a kind of equanimity, a perspective of the sort ‘this, too, shall pass,’ a gentle endurance towards small and large discomforts alike. If those sound like some sobered up (even boring) claims about what freedom looks like in practice, good, because that is the point of this post.
Meditation and self inquiry, dutifully engaged, deliver a taste of this basic freedom, and the miracle, the mind blowing grace of it all, is that THAT IS ENOUGH for us to be able to live a peaceful, joy filled life. The realization of this enoughness can happen in an instant or it may take a lifetime to figure out, and some people die without fully knowing it. It is the veil that separates heaven from hell.
And this realization can’t be promised. No meditation, medication or ’spiritual technique’ can give it. This does not render our practices useless, however. Paraphrasing Joan Halifax Roshi: Enlightenment is an accident. Our practices make us accident-prone.
Blue may learn that it was seeing itself literally in a very limited light and of the futility of trying to strip itself of all blueness. Better to own your own blueness, your own purpleness, your own redness, and so on. All colors have their uses.
Even as these realizations may take place for Blue, it never really ‘transmutates’ to ‘White: ‘White (Enlightenment) is a myth.’ The radiation that ‘Blue‘ is may lose it’s identification with ‘Blueness‘ and then be fully able to see itself as showing up as all wavelengths, and one can call that a ‘truer’ Enlightement, but what’s really important is to be in touch with the fact that one shows up as blue, sometimes, red, sometimes, and so on. And that’s the part that is really important: to be in touch with how one is showing up this moment and to have intimacy with that. And the reason why that is what matters is because, right now, that’s all one’s got. All the rest is a story.
This little model helps me explain people’s disillusionment with their spiritual teachers. In the same way we, as spiritual seekers, long to be White we want our teachers to be White, so that we have somebody in our life who we believe can show us the way. But n o b o d y is White.
‘White‘ is a story.
A spiritual master is somebody who is in touch with all her colors, AND who owns them when he or she shows up as that, and that equanimity with all colors is as White as it gets. When we don’t understand this and our teacher begins to show his or her blue and red and purple sides, we’re disillusioned. We attack them in our minds or write blog posts about them. We separate from them and I know that’s not wise because it all feels like pain. I know that because I’ve done it. It all stems from a basic confusion about what enlightenment is and is not, and about the deeper meaning of purity. The simple way to begin to clear up that confusion is to literally recognize that ‘Enlightenment is not what you think.’
This prompted me to write a little poem, which I dedicated to my friend Michelle Kassinger. We had a good time the other day talking about the matters that eventually became the ingredients for this post. Here it is.
I am aware of the colors I wear today
I am aware that those colors are not all that I am.
Allowing those insights to percolate right through my actions
So that I may live a life of balance
That’s the enlightenment that I know.
The ultimate turnaround is to begin again, to forget what I’ve learned, to stand there, naked, hands to the side, and allow the fire to burn. I notice it burns anyways (sometimes). Resisting that only makes things worse (it seems).
But, wait. Why would that be a good idea? “I don’t ever want to suffer like I did before” turns around to “I’m willing to suffer like I did before” and “I look forward to suffering like I did before.” Isn’t it so that a sane mind doesn’t suffer, ever? Something doesn’t add up here, it seems.
Except for when it does. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life running away from my thoughts, and I notice that I still do that, sometimes. So practicing being willing and looking forward to the worst that can happen allows me to catch up with myself, to recognize the parts of me that I sometimes miss. Once seen, they can be met with understanding. It doesn’t matter what it is: if it’s part of me, I want to love it. And what would escape the world of what’s for me to love?
Besides, I’m not superstitious. Inviting dread doesn’t bring it to my life. It just means I’m open to it, and when this is so what appears to be dreadful is simply not so. The whole thing is pregnant with paradox:
Resisting dread is dreadful in the extreme
So I welcome it, open to it
Then I can’t find any
Even as it comes and swallows me alive pinching my every nerve
I look around and it’s all open space.
What is there to fear?
As I write this my computer interrupts me to inform me that “new processes have been scanned” and that my computer is hence free from adware and spyware.
From doing The Work on my most shameful and embarrassing thoughts I have been able to see how innocent the whole enterprise of believing my thoughts has been, how there has been no substantive reality to thoughts such as “I’m a terrible person,” “he wronged me” or “I’m ugly.” Making friends with the thoughts that would tear me down has been an incredible journey and as a result I am so much happier and relaxed.
Now, it only dawned on me recently that there was an entire class of thoughts that I was still not comfortable with and that I still secretly wished would go away: the thoughts that would tell me that “I’m better/smarter/more compassionate/more enlightened than others.” Having these thoughts, I felt, was not only wrong but actually proof that I had not learned anything in all these years of dutifully practicing self inquiry of this or that type. My resistance to those thoughts was such that I did not even want to look at them, let alone question them. To push them away, that’s what I’d do with them.
One day, however, I began to notice this very fact and that felt really humbling. I can see them now and humor them, accept that they are there, when they are there. “What have they got to do with me/with what’s real?,” I tell me. It’s such a good feeling, to befriend what is, and what is sometimes looks like thoughts I would label as those only an arrogant person would have.
And is that true?
My answer to this question brings me closer to the realization that it is OK to have the thoughts that I have. It really is OK. It’s only a problem if and when I believe them, and I have The Work for that.
It’s a good thing, the workings of it all.
The best news is when something you’ve read for years and years in your favorite books suddenly makes sense to you, you discover it in your own words. You may not even connect, at the moment, that this is what the wisdom in those books was really about. Eventually, it becomes clear.
This happened to me the other day when I was walking by the beach at Montaña de Oro State Park on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. I had been having a wonderful week so far, doing my favorite things: reading, kayaking, talking to friends, working on my research, eating good food, and now walking on the beach. All of a sudden, it hit me: “I miss her.”
That was the thought. And as I could see mind showing itself images of why that was so, I stood there, astonished, being completely unable even to make sense of what “I miss her” could possibly mean. It’s like, there was the beach, the mountains, the open skies, the soothing sound of the water, and my own benevolent intelligence, which had taken me to this place. “I miss her” could only be true if there was something out of order, and I could not find it. There was no room for her in that picture, and no room for missing her in that picture. It was impossible to miss her, not because I was in some sort of a good mood, but because it was literally-not-possible.
It then became clear to me that I don’t suffer as much as I think I do. I noticed that when I believe “I miss her” I color my past, I describe that entire week as terrible, when in reality there were only a couple of moments of sudden disappointments that vanished as soon as they arose in me. So I unwittingly rewrote, in my own words, Katie’s famous dictum: Reality is much kinder than the thoughts we have about it. In my own words it is: We don’t suffer as much as we think we do.
And so I am grateful to my knees for having my own language for what is languageless. That way I can express myself freely, speaking from my own experience and kind intelligence, and have a great life.
A few Sundays ago as I was taking a shower I had the courage to admit to myself the unadmittable: that I still loved my drama. I have been reading over the last few months in several of Adyashanti’s writings about the fact that the reason that we humans still identify with the notion of a separate Me is that we think it is fun to be a Me. If we didn’t think there were any benefits, why would we do it? And if we did not identify, how could we suffer? So to the extent that I still feel entangled in my life I can open my eyes and, well, begin to take inventory of all the benefits I think being a Me brings.
And the insights I got from this kind of honesty to myself are too numerous to count and even to describe, although I will try my best.
But, please, don’t take it from me: I may just be full of hot air. That could be as true, or truer :).