When Adya suggested “The Way of the Tao” as the theme for this quarterly newsletter, I sat with what I’ve read or been told of the Tao. I also sat with my direct sense of the Tao, known instinctively, intuitively, and in lived experience.
Although the true Tao is beyond words and definitions, I put to pen this summation of my recent reflections: The Tao is the living spirit of the Void, the potent Womb of Emptiness that births a creation, imbued with organic intelligence. This intelligence is ever-reshaping and changing creation in response to its conditions. Yet this intelligence is paradoxically constant in Its dependence upon the forms of the natural world that give Emptiness living consciousness and expression. It is the Stillness that moves all things and that enfolds the return of each to their Source.
When I consider how Taoism can inform our practice, I recognize an invitation to shift away from efforts to establish order, harmony, and peace primarily with the thinking mind. I recognize an invitation to attune to the natural order, inherent in this very moment. To a mind overly preoccupied with defense against chaos, initially this departure from referencing thought can be disconcerting. However, as the mind is directed to attune to the organic rhythms of life successfully managing itself, thoughts can find their place—their notes in the larger orchestra of this moment.
The breath is often a rhythm for the mind to attune to, for its sustaining notes of in-tide and out recall attention to the organic rhythms and intelligence of the natural order. The intelligence born of the Tao that lives in each of us recognizes itself in this natural order, an order that gradually returns harmony to the thinking mind, enfolding it and refreshing it in the ever-new moment.
The sound and movement of each breath, as well as sights, smells, sounds, and vibrations in the environment express the natural order inherent in this very moment. And each of these harmonize with the drone note, or the sustained chord, of Emptiness—expressing as underlying and all-pervading silence and stillness.
In meditation and contemplation, one can attune not only to the natural order of what appears to the senses but also to the “pause notes” and “chord of silent Stillness.” This is all possible when one’s mind eases into a receptive state, such that the song of the moment in its entirety flows into one’s awareness and one’s awareness merges into the moment.
A person’s mind, and a person in general, can develop an appetite for attunement to natural order and to inherent stillness. Thus, many are drawn to time in nature and some to time contemplating an inquiry such as “What is stillness?” or “What is stillness?” or “Stillness is what?”. In meditation, one’s attunement to the pause between sounds or to the pervading silence may result in one’s consciousness merging with Stillness or with the dark velvety empty expression of Void (perhaps most familiarly encountered as one’s consciousness enters sleep). It is in these times of communion that one’s consciousness can come into accordance with the Tao and know the perfume of Its intelligence guiding the course of life.
What a tremendous invitation! Such an invitation is ever available to restore what is out of sync . . . and indeed all notions of ourselves, to the enfolding wisdom of the unfathomable, natural order.
Life is full of twists and turns, falls and crescendos. Even in meditation, one can be faced with a myriad of movements of body and mind, and surfacing emotions or gifts of grace. Born into this world of time and space, we are spatial beings, and we regularly sense for direction and most certainly place . . . for ourselves and nearly all we encounter. When I first heard that to come upon the liberated state was to move beyond the duality of referencing subject and object, I wondered if it was even possible. As I gave time to meditation and my mind began to quiet enough that my powers of observing became clearer, I noticed the initial motions of my thinking mind moving toward the back of my head with thoughts about the past and moving forward with thoughts about the future. I’d observe other consistent spatial pathways, such as movements of mind upward when daydreaming and downward when becoming sleepy. With each movement of mind, my inner gaze—or spotlight of attention—would follow.
At first I would give these movements of mind and attention free reign, intuiting that to resist them would not be conducive to peace. I could feel that holding the body aligned in meditation posture was helping align even the movements of mind. Even so, the movements continued to map thought and experience in a multitude of directions, seeking place, order and understanding for each.
It was the times when I gave the inner gaze a place of its own that peace became more potent. As one to experiment, I’d direct my inner gaze simply forward, at the level one might look out at a vista on the horizon, yet with eyes closed. At other times, I would hold my inner gaze at the third eye. I have also meditated with my eyes open and my gaze toward the distant floor beyond the tip of my nose, as instructed in Zen. In each case I would practice zero strain and repeatedly return when my mind and gaze would wander. Each approach offered nuances of change in the state of body-mind consciousness.
With my body and gaze learning sense of place in meditation, my attention needed the same sense. As I would listen and register the world around me, my attention would slow and unfurl from tracking objects, as it realized it did not have to place them at a spatial distance or outside itself. It began to sense self as unboundaried awareness, an awareness in which the surroundings arise. It began to sense that it need not work so hard to reference all things as objects because it could express as the primary object of aware space in which all things appear.
Meditation has now become a forum to recognize the moment’s pristine simplicity. Even the movements of mind and body notice the peace of this simplicity in contrast to the contractions and complexity of patterning to which they had become habituated in their less conscious states.
This simplicity is available to you now, as ever. It is not of subject or object, although one might say it is of both. Above all, no conclusion or words are needed when the referencing of mind and body settle into simplicity, for in simplicity all find true return.
Reflections on Emotion and Their Creation and Liberation
I once was asked in an interview, “What is an emotion?” Spontaneously, a wide grin spread across my face, and I responded, “That’s a mystery!” I went on to share how I feel emotions very deeply, but what they are remains a mystery, a mystery to be encountered.
I’ll say more about encountering the mystery of emotion soon. Now I invite you to draw upon your direct experience of emotion and to compare my observations with your own. Emotion seems to arise first as a constellation of energy, that is then sensed and registered as feeling. Often the word “emotion” is used when the atmosphere of sensation and feeling become a state. Frequently, the state is then identified with, shaping consciousness; “I feel sadness” becomes “I am sad.” In states of identification, the senses of experience and experiencer are intertwined. In movements toward liberation, this intertwining becomes unlinked.
Inquiries like “Who is sad?” or “Who feels sadness?” are commonly asked to allow the mind to shift focus from the experience and to displace the sense of experiencer (if no experiencer is found) or to encounter presence, free of identity. As identification is relinquished, it is possible to clearly see and observe the remaining emotion (if any does remain) and to intimately encounter it.
In observing emotion, one may come up short when trying to locate who is experiencing emotion. Yet even without a sense of subject, there can still be a host of thoughts that create a narrative about the emotion. Most narratives either stoke or mitigate the emotion, or do some of both.
I clearly remember a statement that Adya made to me not long after we met, while at a café on one of our early dates. I was sharing with him about a shock I’d received at work that day. A boss that I was very close to and a true mentor was let go, despite the person who let him go telling me two weeks earlier what a wonderful salesman my boss was and how I should pay close attention to all that he had to teach me. This same person’s decision to replace my boss with a V.P. of Sales more well-known in the industry, landed as “wrong” in me. Adya asked if he could share something that might help, and when I gladly agreed he said, “In Zen we are taught not to see things in terms of right or wrong.”
I had never heard, or truly heard, such a statement before. I felt the ground shifting out from under my conclusion of “wrong” and my whole narrative coming to a halt. I could sense unknown, open possibility. In that openness, I was available to join in a new direction of conversation and to listen to more of Adya’s sharing. Looking back, it was upon hearing his statement that I became a student of Zen.
Studying emotion involves clearly seeing through labels and narratives overlaid upon feelings. These overlays need not be rejected out of hand, but it can be helpful to suspend them in order to look afresh. Encountering emotion often begins simply with acknowledging that feelings are present and with allowing oneself to feel what is felt without indulgence or resistance. In my conversation with Adya in the café, I was indulging (stoking) and resisting the feeling of “wrong.” Even if the feeling that’s present is noted to be resistance itself, it is possible to allow that feeling without resisting its occurring and with an openness to seeing it anew.
Bearing witness is to see through what I like to call “the eyes of Spirit.” It is to observe with the sense of what has been silently looking through your eyes and witnessing all of the experiences of your life with constancy and without reference to time, preferences, or conclusions.
When narrative is set aside and when feelings are witnessed and regarded with care and love, they are supported to energetically unfold and to express of their own accord. This is how feelings and emotion move toward their own liberation, without interference. Adya modeled and stated a path to emotional transformation that night in the café many years ago. Through willingness and care, you too can be a model for others by engaging this transformation within yourself, in the here and now.
“Be here now” was a big catch phrase and powerful spiritual pointer in the ’70s, made popular from the title of a book by Ram Dass published at the time. I remember Adya having a chuckle about the phrase during a talk he gave about 25 years ago, after which he said, “As if there was anywhere else you could be!” It is funny, and not so funny, how we can have the experience of not being “here,” but “there”—caught up in our mind, in the past, or in the future—all the while missing what we are and what’s before us. Sometimes it can feel like we must journey back to where we already are, back to finding a greater appreciation of arriving and being present, without the pulls to “there.”
A sense of “rightness” registers when being both conscious of the present (personally unifying) and being the consciousness of the present (universally unifying). This is true alignment.
A powerful pointer that Adya uses to this end, is to “Allow what is.” He is speaking of meeting the actuality of what’s unfolding (within or without). When our attention narrows and is pulled into thought or emotion and you recognize what is happening, you can then orient out of resistance and into allowance.
Refraining from resisting our experience (even resisting resistance) can be like dropping your end of the rope in a game of tug of war.
To allow what we don’t like to be happening is not to condone it, but to take a step toward peace. What is happening is no longer fueled by unconscious or reflexive resistance, and energy is freed up to mobilize toward more fully meeting the moment, and toward effective response.
Meeting the moment offers a fresh perspective of what is before us, and also of what is perceiving. In its fundamental essence, what is perceiving is free of resistance and is always and ever allowing, simply because it cannot function otherwise. Being conscious of this fundamental expression of unconditional allowance opens one to both a wider field of possibility and to one’s nature as the eternal, that only ever dwells in the here and now: true home.
Each of us is unique in our journey of awakening and in how we express Spirit. Our individual temperaments and varied life experiences make us one of a kind. I once heard Adya say, “In all of history, in all of time, there will only and ever be one of you. Eternity only expresses uniquely as you this once.”
Adya has also encouraged us to question, to ask, “Who or what is living this life?”
One way of approaching this inquiry is to turn toward the foundation of your uniqueness, toward the inner atmosphere of your personal depth . . . whether that be in your heart, your core, or your mysterious body form.
As your inner gaze and attention resides in this atmosphere of depth, become curious: “What is this ‘I am’?” or “What is it to intimately know this depth, this essential being?”
Our essential being registers each unique and sincere call, each whole-hearted offering of devoted attention and present availability. As we carry such attention inward and offer our consciousness to depth, our call or query ripples through essential being, awakening the unconscious to its consciousness in form.
Realization is entering the doorway of your own uniqueness to discover the totality and to be seated in the One. Embodiment is the totality, the One, coming home to its seat in personhood, to be known and expressed uniquely as you. The one and the One return home.
Here in the northern hemisphere, it is early spring—a reminder of the nourishment of renewal. I write to encourage you to receive the energy of spring into your spiritual practice and to renew your dedication.
The spirit of fresh beginning that is associated with spring reminds me of a term used in Zen, “beginner’s mind.” Beginner’s mind expresses much like your open hand when it carries nothing and grasps at nothing, yet is full of readiness to receive or respond. With clearing out and spring cleaning being a custom of the season, why not take time to empty your mind and, with a fresh heart, discover what remains?
I have pointed to beginner’s mind when giving instructions for self-inquiry. One can put down ideas and approach the question, “What am I?,” openly. By not insisting to know the mystery of existence in thought, one can encounter mystery through the intimacy of direct experience. By dwelling in the sense of mystery that is pregnant with possibility, one is dwelling in the ground in which all acquired knowledge is relinquished, and in which all Self-knowledge is born.
The green sprout, symbolic of spring, grows toward the light because it is its nature to do so. It does so without any gaining idea. Being free of gaining ideas is an expression of beginner’s mind. In supportive conditions, below the disturbances of the winds of change, the seed breaks open and the sprout gains momentum.
Outer life is not free of disturbance. We have only to open our eyes to see this in our midst or in the midst of our world brothers and sisters. Inner life is not free of disturbance either, but the innermost life is. As practitioners, we take time to gather ourselves into the seed. Return your consciousness to essential being, so that it might vitalize and renew again and carry forward the perfume of peace that comes from union with the Root.
Excerpted from Mukti’s self-guided course Got Juice (Q&A)
Q: I would like to ask about the nature of love. I think one reason I have felt a disconnection from my heart is that I started dismissing the feeling of love as just a passing phenomenon. In particular, I find myself mistrusting the love that arises in response to directed attention, as if I have manipulated or even manufactured my experience. How does love relate to that which doesn’t come and go?
A: Your question “What is Love?” is one that can be more meaningful without a fixed conclusion, as it invites the questioner more fully into the living mystery (of oneself, another, life, and love). There is a beauty in leaving the question open-ended, so that its response continues to reveal itself over the course of a lifetime. As I speak more to your question and risk “pinning it down” to give context, please remember the importance of letting the response to your question live on.
Your sharing and question, as to how love relates to That which does not come and go, brings forward some tricky juxtapositions along the spiritual path. When one becomes more conscious of the workings of thought, one can see how it can shape experience. There can be a discounting or shying away from any experience that seems created or referenced in thought. There can even be a subtle conclusion (conscious or unconscious thought) that what does not come and go is more important to embrace than impermanence is. Upon hearing or following pointers to That which does not come and go (or the Eternal), impermanence can be rejected. (Like some hear pointers to go beyond ego and then reject ego.)
When dualistic thought is still, the choosing of one position over its opposite quiets. In the absence of position, the knowing (in one’s being) of what is permanent and impermanent are revealed to be inseparable. This can set the stage for awareness to wake up to itself as all that it is aware of, to the perspective that nothing is apart from awareness. Such a realization can be called awakening to oneness. From this universal consciousness, That which does not come and go knows itself as the comings and goings and can love itself as them. Love feels to be awareness in relation to itself, through intimately recognizing and knowing itself. This is a knowingness of being, of the manifest made conscious (aware).
Your sharing leads me to believe that you may be interested in my sharing the following: You may have heard Adya speak of head awakening being associated with “freedom from,” heart awakening with “freedom to,” and gut or hara awakening with “freedom from freedom.” You could think of head awakening as freedom from boundaries of thought (especially identification with the “I” thought) and expressing as clarity, and heart awakening as freedom from distance (especially identification with “inside” vs. outside) and expressing as intimacy, and gut awakening as freedom from referencing or identifying with freedom, expressing as fluidity within stillness.
These awakenings may occur suddenly and/or gradually. From my past and current experience, the expression of these awakenings factor in one’s finite, imperfect human expression. Thus, it is helpful to come to love and be at peace with imperfection as another expression of awareness loving itself.
In last month’s newsletter article, “Living Spiritual Autonomy,” [November 2021] I shared that this article would further explore the embodiment of spiritual autonomy. As a point of reference, I again offer Adyashanti’s definition for spiritual autonomy, taken from his “Taking the One Seat” course: To be a simple force of nature, a selfless and creative expression of the whole, possessing an independence of spirit capable of manifesting the enlightened condition in daily living for the highest possible good.
In Buddhism and in Zen, in particular, there is a directive: take the one seat. In this pointer, we have the key to embodying spiritual autonomy. It’s a pointer that conveys simplicity, while also speaking volumes to body, mind, and spirit.
Along my journey, this pointer has been an encouragement to first seek to know the one most important direction for living and then to see that my sense of self and Self is established in that. As I know it, this most important direction has been to align with life, as life. From a more personal perspective, this has meant dropping the arguments about what I want and don’t want, and navigating away from this push and pull toward a discovery of foundational stillness. It has meant that I’ve needed to align “my will” with “God’s will”—and God’s will, simply put, is: whatever is happening. In sensing this alignment with what is, I discovered that what I wanted most was to not want, and to be at home in what is. This discovery and shift helps free vision to see what is, to see the moment, more clearly.
It has meant “my life” and “my being” sync to a greater orchestration of life and totality of being, to the One expressing as beingness. Being or beingness is the primordial expression of what you are and we are, what life is, what the moment is. The more we shift from the mode of grasping at life to fill a sense of internal lack to the mode of giving ourselves to life, joining in the moment . . . the more we know the wholeness of being. This is the human’s journey to awakening and the embodiment of that awakening.
Realization is not just about a person’s journey to awakening. It’s also a journey of immaculate spirit, empty of the qualities and conditions of form, waking up to itself within you, and recognizing Itself as all of form through you. This is Emptiness waking up to its expression as fullness in being. This is spirit’s journey of awakening and its embodiment.
Together, the journeys of spirit and human are: the totality finding Its place—known and expressed through the individual, and the individual finding its seat, its home, in the totality: the One in the one, and the one in the One.
I invite you to reflect upon and sense into expressing “spiritual autonomy.” Adya has defined spiritual autonomy for us beautifully in his Taking the One Seat course.
Definition by Adyashanti:Spiritual Autonomy ~ “To be a simple force of nature, a selfless and creative expression of the whole, possessing an independence of spirit capable of manifesting the enlightened condition in daily living for the highest possible good.”
Presently, please take a moment to call forward any images, sensations, or orientations of mind and body that come forward as you read his definition and step into its expression—in whatever ways it is known to you. And please continue to sense what you’ve just called forward as you read on.
To express spiritual autonomy, you must fully occupy your own life, even consciously consent to inhabiting your incarnation. And you must intend to align with life as a whole. Engaging these actions (occupying, consenting, aligning) begs several questions, such as those below. As you sense into expressing spiritual autonomy, see if exploring any of the following questions shift or deepen your sense of it.
In what ways am I avoiding, rejecting, and resisting my experience of myself and the moment?
What comes forward, once avoiding, rejecting and resisting are at rest? What remains?
What becomes revealed that I might now orient to? . . . be nurtured by? . . . rest into?
How does what I orient to change my perception?
What is perceiving this life? How might I sense what is looking through my eyes, listening through my ears, feeling with my body?
As I become more still and cease referring to myself or asserting myself as a perceiver, how might the moment be sensed? Can I sense what arises within (thoughts, heartbeat, breath) and what arises without (sounds, vibrations, temperature) arising in a shared moment, a shared space from which each thing appears and into which it returns?
To express spiritual autonomy, it is not necessary to be perfect, but it is necessary to consciously reside within your own person and within being. Being is the primordial expression of what you are, what life is, what the moment is.
Autonomy in general, spiritual or not, is expressed well by those who have a healthy ego, or a quiescent ego—certainly one that is free of a sense of inflation or lack. When lack is sensed and believed, a person is often under the illusion that lack can be put to rest by acquiring from the outer world—whether the acquisition be material or emotional (as in the seeking of love, attention, and approval). Inflation often occurs when one presumes or takes undue personal pride in possessing or outwardly displaying strength, wealth, or social position. Often simultaneously their inner life (where true power, wealth and identity lie) is being dismissed or avoided. In each case, the person is disconnected from their inner worth and is preoccupied externally.
When you assume that you are “more than” or “less than,” you will feel a push-pull relationship with life. Whether in overly asserting or displaying yourself (push) or grasping to fill yourself (pull), to be enslaved in a push-pull relationship with the external world for your happiness is inherently dissatisfying. Freedom in spirit as well as fulfillment arise from a deep connection with your self, especially with the inner peace that develops from withdrawing from the overdrive of push-pull and turning your interest and consciousness toward primordial being. Such peace makes it possible to perceive and know the real. Without this peace, perceptions are forever filtered through what is to be acquired and displayed. With this peace, autonomy expresses as spiritual autonomy.
If not peace, what do you experience when you suspend belief in lack and suspend movements to reject or resist? What remains? Whether it be quiet, stillness, openness, clarity, or even disorientation . . . how might you encounter what remains? How might your steady, intimate attention touch into, even fall into what arises?
What I now speak of does not sound like the independence typically associated with autonomy; it likely sounds and feels more like joining, like orienting toward unity. I propose that unity be one of the aims and hallmarks of spiritual autonomy, differentiating it from other expressions of autonomy. In such a union, the separate self may give way and be fundamentally changed by its return to and recognition of the ground of being. This ground, which is the space from which all things arise, upon which all things take shape, and to which all things return, may then become conscious of Itself through you—through your senses, your body and mind, and your heart and soul.
In this union, realization of the interrelated self that is conscious of the oneness of reality becomes possible—perhaps even dominant . . . until it integrates with its co-arising expression of the autonomous, individuated self. In this integration of the One as wholeness as well as specificity, autonomy of the individual is established in spirit. Such establishment in the Way of things, offers a “place” so primary it has the power to subplant ego-centricity and to bring division and lack to a remembrance of wholeness, to true healing.
From the time we are small, we are told that plants need light and water to grow. To grow in spirit and wakeful, conscious being, we need engaged attention and true intention very much like plants need light and water. In fact, I associate attention with light and intention with water.
“How might intention be associated with water?”, you may ask. True intention is born of the deeper waters within us, arising as wisdom that guides us in form. It acts as an organizing principle of energy that guides the direction of growth—for oneself and one’s life. If, for example, your intention is to be loving, then it becomes possible to learn love and grow in living love, within and out. The stronger the intention, the more powerfully one’s life flows in its direction.
As powerful and important as true intention is, my intent for this article is to focus primarily on its power partner: attention.
In spiritual circles, there’s lots of talk of awareness. Attention is simply directed awareness. Your mind’s eye functions as a lens of consciousness with its light’s direction determined by placement of your attention. Attention has great power; it brings life to form. What was unseen appears, and what is latent comes to life.
I imagine you have observed how much a child lights up when they are given loving attention. Adults perk up too! Clearly, it helps us thrive. Focusing your attention gathers your powers of perception so that you become more conscious of what you are focused upon, while what you are focused upon can shine more brightly.
Attention is not only expressed through seeing or hearing, it also functions through the whole body. Think of how the whole body attends to recognizing the activity of a busy mouse in the house. Mouse or no, when we cast our attention into our surroundings in a global manner, we attend to the larger body of life, engaging boundless awareness as well as local body awareness.
A harmonization of boundless awareness and body awareness can occur, especially in peaceful environments. This harmonization does require the stewarding of attention, as energy and attention are intimately linked. Think of times you may have been on a beautiful walk in nature but caught in thought. Once your attention shifts from its narrow focus to the beauty of your surroundings, energy is freed up, and opens and harmonizes.
Energy and attention just go together. From the simple annoying clock tick or alluring “me” thought to great suffering and yearning, when attention arises from a place of wrongness or lack, energy becomes resistance or desire, fueling the push-pull of division.
When engaging attention free from division, it furthers clear seeing. When we turn such attention within, it energizes the intelligence of being. This intelligence can present as wisdom and intuition, which can inform intentions that help you steward your actions and powerfully engage in life.
Engaging the outer successfully, frequently starts with engaging the inner. Inner magic happens when energy and attention come together. That’s the basis of healing, of liberation, and of conscious action. Healing happens when you turn attention within to an emotion that’s been calling, waiting for its trapped energy to be allowed to take the lead and express and release in the light of awareness. Peace comes when you turn attention into the felt sense of yearning (e.g., for spirit), and lead attention to the root of sensation, to yearning’s beginnings in a place that is free of want. One-pointed attention has the capacity to rectify; the stillness within such attention, when attending to strong energetic movement, can calm and pacify. Or, the power within one-pointed attention can further energize the movement toward spontaneous expression, release, or completion.
When identification as “the one doing such things” is at rest, abdicating itself to the whole offering of attention, attention can join with what or who it is focused upon. Separation disappears and union expresses. These disappearances and appearances are what we love about magic, are they not? I hope so. May you come alive for the magic show and enjoy wearing your magic hat ;-)