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.
© Mukti Gray 2022
From the May 26, 2020 Mukti Teaching Series Re-Visioning Suffering, Part 4.
When I speak about optional suffering, I’m speaking about our relationship to difficulty and hardship. It’s largely the inner narrative and stance, like an energetic posturing with what is happening. It can manifest as a push and pull of resistance and aversion, a kind of organizing dualistically with respect to what should or shouldn’t be—this is right or this is wrong, this is good or this is bad. At one level, that perspective may have relative value. As it concretizes in our system, these narratives or conclusions can often become rigid or be on overdrive to a point where they start to create a great sense of division with life or others, or division within ourselves and different parts of ourselves.
That concretization goes counter to our movement toward well-being, our movement to embrace life and to really live life to the best that we can in a vitally engaging, embracing way. That inner division can also bring about a sense of separation and isolation, and a kind of forgetting of our nature that is of oneness, that is indicative of the whole of humanity. Even larger, our nature is the whole of this play of consciousness that we see before us, which includes the seer and the seeing itself—not only through these eyes that have been bearing witness to our whole life, but also through the seeing eyes of the heart, and that which would want to always say yes to the embrace of life.
Some of the optional suffering is based on two primary movements. One is the forgetting of our nature as Spirit, especially in times when we concretize around events in our lives and move into dualistic positions that are for or against, pushing and pulling, toward right or wrong or good or bad. This forgetting can feel like it leaves us bereft of the inherent fullness and repleteness of our nature as the divine, and it can lead to greater entrenchment in an ego identification that’s really founded upon a sense of lack and something being wrong, and our view being that of problem.
In large part, one of the two movements that this optional suffering revolves around is this forgetting of our Self that is always and ever okay, that nature of what you are that is eternally present. It’s been eternally present, bearing witness to your whole life, but even more deeply to become known and realized is this nature of the eternal that has the capacity of the unconditional that is present and shows up, you could say to personify it, for every expression and event of our lives. It has never been harmed at that level of our essential being. It’s sometimes called the unborn or the undying, the uncreated, in the sense that it’s not defined by our narrative of birth, life, suffering, death.
This forgetting of our nature is not your typical forgetting, like forgetting your keys or something of material value. It can be an entering into the identification of our nature as a separate ego or as something that’s lacking, and it can be a departure from being firmly rooted in our essential being that has never been lacking.
There have been parts of this teaching series where I’ve been pointing back and back and back to the sense of what is prior to the narrative, the words—what is even behind the sense of witness, or that sense of witness softening its position into a general awareness. As our bodies become more still, inquiry or meditation may seem to open and fill out our body awareness, the awareness of our entire being, and in a sense, anchor this pure unboundaried consciousness into boundaried form and give it a home here in our incarnation.
The second movement that I believe largely contributes to this optional suffering isn’t so much a forgetting of our essential nature and that knowingness of being of our nature as Spirit, but it’s a tendency to not act upon our knowingness of being, our inner knowings, those tugs on our conscience, those tugs at our heart that are guiding us or trying to get our attention to attend to things that we’re not attending to. Some of this optional suffering is a kind of pushing aside or giving second place—or third or fourth place—to some of these things that we know are deeply important, and yet we might be choosing other things first.
It can be just daily things on the smallest level. Let’s say it’s physical suffering that we might be going through, and there are those little tugs on our conscience to get up and stretch in the morning, or hydrate more, or not eat this particular thing, or not be on our devices so much, or to connect more with people, or whatever it might be. We may have many knowings of what would bring us greater physical well-being, for example, that we may keep setting aside and not paying heed to. And that can bring about a lot of unnecessary difficulty that could be avoided if we acted on what we are conscious of—even if it seems to be just outside the forefront of our consciousness—when there’s a commitment to listen more deeply in life and to act upon these movements to guide us. Then things can go a lot better.
This is not only something that plays out on this basic simple level of self-care, but also, navigating in this way really leads us to a greater sense that when we care for ourselves, we’re caring for the whole. And when we care for things outside of ourselves, it also is supportive to our own nature, in its myriad of levels of expression—of Spirit, of soul, of purpose.
© Mukti Gray 2020
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.
Spring Equinox, 2022
© Mukti Gray 2022
Attending retreat can be an active response to your inner or your outer life. Chances are it is both, as the two are fundamentally connected—even seamlessly so, given one’s perspective.
Being drawn to retreat may be a draw “to pull back,” the Latin meaning of “retreat.” Acting on this draw can be wisdom expressing as a stepping back from the current momentum, a slowing down, and an entering into conditions supportive of new direction and new life.
The stepping back associated with retreat can take many subtle expressions, especially in meditation, such as a panning back, which offsets the pull to identify with thoughts, emotions, or sensations; a resting back, perhaps into a sense of aware space or quietude; or a turning within to meet whatever arises and perhaps therein to encounter the mystery of Being.
These workings of loosening identification, sensing into and resting as awareness, and attuning to Being, set the stage for aware Being to become known as the fundamental identity of life, the fundamental ground of one’s existence and all existence.
The true meaning of retreat is to be freshly revealed. On retreat one can attend to such workings and to outer and inner conditions in order to support revelation. Setting the stage for revelation to be presented is an orienting to sanctuary, a withdrawing to the innermost recess, to the holy ground of ceasing. Such orienting can be a sensing that divests seeking of grasping and aversion, such that ceasing then presents center stage, unobscured and unhindered, as the Eternal Unmoving.
By Susan Thesenga of Seven Oaks Pathwork Center
Tell me something about your background and your understanding of spiritual marriage.
That which is awake was calling since I was very, very young. I was raised Irish Catholic and felt that a love of God and Christ was foundational to my life. There was a tremendous yearning to know God. When I was seven, my parents found the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, and, with that, new perspectives opened up for me. As a young adult, I heard a talk by one of Yogananda’s disciples, Brother Anandamoy, on spiritual marriage. I must have listened to this talk on tape dozens and dozens of times. And the one line that deeply penetrated me was, “The purpose of spiritual marriage is to find that the One in me and the One in my husband or wife is the same One in all of life.” I knew this was my deepest yearning.
Later, soon after I was married to Stephen Gray, now Adyashanti, we attended a satsang (teaching) with a teacher named Gangaji. Right away Adya got up and spoke with her from his perspective. I could see that the dialogue that ensued was from a shared, awakened perspective of knowing Oneness, and that it was a dialogue in which I was not able to participate. As I witnessed their exchange, something came fiercely alive inside me, saying, “In order to have a true spiritual marriage, a true meeting of Adya, I must know this perspective.” And my seeing this didn’t come from a place of jealousy. It just came from a knowing that this must be—it was as though within myself, without literal words, my Being was saying, “This must come to pass. So that I too can meet my husband from this perspective.”
This knowing kicked off a real fire within me. In the past, I’d come from traditions of faith and trusting in the guidance of a savior or guru. But this was different. I think it was the first moment when something in me knew that it was time for me to be truly serious, to truly engage the issue of realization for myself.
To become what you were witnessing in them...
Become that and to no longer waste time. It was as though something just clicked inside me that took me out of a sense of "Whatever God wills" to an intense inquiry: “What is God? What is this?” Before that, when I had a savior or a guru, I would place my trust in their wisdom, their divinity.
Their enlightenment. I believed that if I emulated them as best I could or followed the teachings that they’d set out, then maybe I would come to know what they know. But in this moment, what happened was it went from following the teacher to “this must be.” There was just something inside me that made not knowing no longer an option, and in that sense it was as though time had run out. Sharing Adya’s perspective had to be in order for this marriage to be what it must be for me, the only thing that will be satisfying for me.
It shifted from wanting to know God to seeing God in these two people interacting, to seeing that they looked out of those eyes of God. And my saying to myself, “I will not be satisfied unless this is my perspective,” changed something. It no longer was about wanting to know God (as an object). I wanted to be that. So this inquiry began . . . “What is that? What is that perspective?” And the word that Gangaji and Adya were using for the One was “Truth.” So, it ignited something new. As opposed to wanting to know love or bliss or the joy of union with God, the movement came to wanting to know the truth of that perspective, of Oneness.
And so, this became my inquiry, a very, very alive inquiry for months. And I had to do it for myself. The outward, more routine spiritual activities I did, such as attending services or meditations, became arenas where I would dive into these questions. I think it’s important to emphasize that something shifted inside me where I had to know. It’s not something that I can take credit for. Something in me just turned.
And yet, one of the distinguishing features of that moment was that the marriage itself became part of the motivation to say, “I can’t stop here. I’ve got to go where I can meet this being where he is.”
If I’m going to be a married person in this world, I have got to know what true marriage is. That conviction was fierce within me. It just had to be. So, that was the drive. Then, after maybe five months passed, I attended my very first silent retreat, which was also Adya’s first retreat teaching as a teacher, in July 1997. I was the retreat leader in charge of the logistics of the event. A few days into the retreat he gave a talk on “stillness.” I knew that he was speaking from a perspective of stillness that I didn’t know. My mind had an idea of stillness, but I could tell it wasn’t matching up with how he was speaking of it. And the way he was speaking of it was mysterious to me. It was unfamiliar but intriguing.
When the day ended and people had gone on to bed, I stayed in the hall to meditate and really dove into that question “What is stillness?” “What is it?” And that was the inquiry that brought me into direct experience of stillness, which flowered into a knowledge that that is Self. That is the nature of Self. Although stillness moves as form, it is the one constant. It is the One. Stillness is the perspective of permanence, of that which does not come and go, even as it comes and goes as form. I think, part of the inquiry that may be of interest to people was that I truly didn’t know what Stillness was. I had completely set aside any ideas that I had about it. And with all of my senses I followed the sense of stillness in my body, and really traced all movements within my body as I was sitting, until my body became more still than I’d ever known. And then my attention went to the outer world, and I sensed what Stillness was in the outer world.
Tracing outer form back to whatever was behind it, which was non-form, the non-movement behind movement. In that inquiry—this is just more of a personal question—did you feel guided by any kind of inner voice or not—how did that tracing phenomenon happen? Was something telling you how to do this or was there just a settling in and of itself?
I did not hear a voice. I guess it just seemed the most obvious place to start...to sense stillness as I was sitting in meditation. Perhaps because some of my main teachers had come from traditions of meditation and had had some of their innermost dialogues with the Divine in meditation, I was drawn to meditate. When I wanted to know something of this order, I would sit and meditate. That was my training. And so, when I went to sit, I sat in meditation posture, as was part of that training.
So, the outer body, of course. was still.
It was still, but I always had experiences of really not truly being still inside. But on this evening, it just seemed obvious that the first place to look was “Is stillness here? Even in the midst of activity of mind and body?”
Including breath, heartbeat, thought, feeling, sensation—all that moves, changes.
Yes. So it was not an inner voice but a natural curiosity to start with, a curiosity about “What is most immediate in my own direct experience of stillness of body-mind?” And the inquiry itself invited a dropping of that question into my Being, not posing it to my mind.
The question, “What is Stillness?”
Yes. “What is Stillness?” I dropped the question “What is stillness?” into my being, into my innermost being, down into my gut. Then I began to sink into a sense of stillness in my body, and all the movement within my own form began to settle and become quieter and quieter, and there remained a very quiet, still watching of all this settling.
And then, there is still another leap beyond the perspective of the watching?
Yes. As my energies were withdrawn from movement, that which is aware of movement became prominent and was experienced as stillness. It also became clear that there was no perceivable difference between that which was aware of movement and all that was in motion. One could say that subject and object were experienced as one.
At the time, this did not register as an insight of oneness, it simply was what I experienced that evening . . . at which point I decided that any more efforting to inquire would be the antithesis of stillness, and so I went to bed. I was fully aware of all of the sounds of the outer world, and I went into deep sleep which later, when I reflected back upon it, was unlike any other sleep I’d had in that I was completely unaware of the world of form at a certain point. I don’t recall even moving. Then I heard the morning wakeup bell, and I went about my functions of the day. I don’t remember much of them to speak of, other than that I fulfilled my duties—but without a sense of self-consciousness, without any sense of self-reflecting. I’m using both of those terms to say that I was not aware of a sense of "me." Then, after breakfast a woman bowed in “namaste” to me. In fact, she did a complete prostration before me and that was when a sense of the awareness that was looking out of my eyes at the world of form recognized itself as emptiness. And the laughter! I felt utter delight at this magic trick of what is completely empty and without form appearing before my eyes as form and appearing specifically as the form of a woman who was bowing to me as if I was something.
I remember you said that her “namaste” was no more significant than if she had bowed to a blank place in the room.
Right, or bowed to a toilet! It was amazing that she actually believed that there was someone in front of her. I mean, it would be as funny as one hair on your head jumping up and bowing to another hair on your head and dancing back and forth, bowing, worshiping each other. It was just delightful and humorous although ultimately those words fall short.
In the moment of the bow, in the moment of somebody in front of me interacting with me as though I were a something, all of a sudden the heightened awareness popped in that I’m not a something; I’m emptiness looking out of this form. And in that moment emptiness was born as an experience. What I am, what life is, what you are, what everything is, was seen as all that is, the one reality. All of this is being perceived from emptiness and clearly there was no “me” in this experience—this experience of myself as no-self or emptiness. And then, as the day went on, that experience opened, registering in my human consciousness as if to say, “This emptiness is this fullness that I’m looking at. This formlessness behind my eyes is what’s looking and is what’s looking back at me. This formlessness is this form, and it’s all arising as one thing. That which is perceiving, that which is sensing life, and the movement of life, the forms—all of them—are arising simultaneously.”
How about after this experience of awakening out of identification with form—how were you different?
Some of the conditioned mind, concepts that separate or cause a sense of a “me,” that create a center or position in relation to life—some of this returned. But a lot of it just mysteriously dissolved. It’s the seeing that has the power to dissolve conditioning.
In the work that I do with people, sometimes insight alone is enough for a pattern to dissolve. More often, however, insight is not enough. Without the experience of awakening, patterns have much more tenacity. I would imagine that, after the experience of awakening, when conditioned mind arises, there is a new perspective that lets you know “this isn’t real”?
So, the conditioned thoughts and beliefs have a much shorter lifespan.
It’s more efficient. I guess what I was really left with was a sense that “me” lives only in thoughts that are believed.
So, in a sense, having awakened to the reality that what you are does not depend on believing the thoughts you have about yourself, those beliefs can drop away more quickly. Prior to awakening, we might investigate a defensive behavior pattern (for example, avoiding intimacy) and find the beliefs on which it is based (for example, a belief that “If I let someone close to me, I'll be rejected”), but there is still a tendency to justify the belief because of an underlying assumption that the “me” has substance and can be hurt by others. Whereas once you’ve had an experience that who you really are doesn’t depend on a “me,” and that who you really are cannot be hurt by anyone, then, when the feeling of “me” being threatened arises, we can question it from a whole different perspective, which allows it to dissolve more quickly.
Yes, it does. And, there’s no desire—at least I don't experience a desire—to make it go any faster. When there’s a dawning that it’s all yourself—even the illusion—it’s not something that needs be rooted out. But there’s a natural curiosity to see what the illusion is. There’s this whole fundamental aspect of consciousness—meaning life, reality—that moves to know itself in form, even if that form is a belief or a feeling of threat or suffering. There also seems, from everything that I’ve seen, to be inherent in all of experience a movement towards freedom. So if there’s, let’s say, a painful emotion; that emotion responds. It moves to be seen, felt, heard, experienced. In a sense it’s born to be experienced, and once it’s seen and experienced directly, not suppressed and not embellished, but seen in its exquisite suchness, just as it is, it has served its own life’s function, and it dissolves. You could say it’s been freed.
There is a felt sense that life is living itself, and it’s showing up as feelings. It’s showing up as everything, which includes feelings and beliefs; those are directly experienced, and then life goes on. I’m free to experience these things as they arise. It’s showing up for the whole thing, as all of it. Sometimes people are kind of in a hurry to be free of things, and they miss the freedom of being a human being, of getting to experience the miracle that anything can even occur out of nothing. I want to add as a reminder that everybody’s totally unique. Some people may experience some of the things I've shared that happened to me after awakening, such as a greater capacity to see personal beliefs and patterns which cause suffering; yet many people see such patterns long before awakening. There are those common questions “How does awakening unfold? or What does it look like?” Well, it can look all sorts of ways—from a more gradual dawning of what’s real to a sudden dawning of what’s real.
Perhaps there’s seeing an object and knowing oneself as that object, or as another person, or as all of life, or as nothingness. Perhaps there is a dis-identification from the sense of “me,” or perhaps the “me” is seen to not exist at all. In the absence of “me" one may know what they are not. This knowledge can exist with or without the knowledge of what one is. In other words, there are all kinds of awakenings and seeings, my story is just one. There are no two alike.
Can you tell me anything more about what has changed in your relationship with Adya?
I think the biggest thing that this shift of perspective affected, certainly initially, was how I heard things and how I communicated. A lot of my life’s experience had been that of wanting to be understood and of defending how I acted in the world. For example, feeling like I needed to justify why I did what I did or to explain why I was having the experience that I was having, so that I could be understood or accepted. And a lot of that fell away, so I was able to also listen in a way that wasn’t listening through that defensiveness. That was a huge change. At the time of the awakening I was in a program studying Chinese medicine. As I student I thought I had every ailment that I studied! But because the fundamental fear of death fell away with the awakening, it changed my whole relationship to health. As a result, a lot of the conversations I would have with Adya about my health just stopped. This freed up a lot in terms of energy and time that Adya and I spent together.
I’ve always had this sense of Adya, especially when he was a new teacher; he always felt like a real maverick to me. It wasn’t too long after that movie Top Gun came out, and in that movie there were these people who fly fighter planes and they just respond like this (snapping her fingers). They possess some internal navigational skills that are highly instinctual and intuitive. And Adya felt very much like that; he'd respond immediately to what life offered, and easily reverse direction. Now, within myself I feel that the more this awakening is deepening and unfolding, the more I have a sense of suppleness and ability to shift more quickly. Life is turning this way, “Okay,” and then you turn this way. And then comes its next curve or turn, and it feels a little bit more like somehow the whole ride is being ridden.
You said that the point of spiritual marriage, is for the One in you to recognize the One in the other and together to come to the knowledge of the Oneness that we are. Is this now more available to you?
Yes, to see that the One in me and the One in my husband, in this case, is the same One in all of life. So, it’s not that we need to see that together. But I think the recognition that that’s the same One in all of life came at the exact same time as seeing that it’s the same One in my husband.
Do you think you serve the same function for Adya?
Everything serves that, absolutely.
Top of Form
Bottom of Form
When I consider Adya describing the sense of “I am” as a doorway to the essential, the universal, and the sacred, I am reminded of some powerful self-inquiry questions he has given instruction on. In particular, he has suggested different variations on the question “What am I?”
Before I recount these inquiry variations, I would first like to share one foundational approach to engaging in any self-inquiry question, an approach that Adya has taught. That is to drop a question into one’s system such that it registers not only in mind and intention, but also in one’s body and in one’s whole being. He has used the image of one’s body sitting still in meditation, presenting as a calm lake, and the question being imbued within a smooth stone that could be dropped into this lake of being.
Here’s how I would put it: As the stone, or inquiry, moves from one’s head (mind) to below the neck, into the dark waters of stillness (when the body is settled), it can ripple in the unknown, thereby illuminating mystery, while also expressing one’s intention to know, illuminating curiosity. Curiosity causes one to metaphorically “lean in” and “hold forth” with attention as the inquiry evokes the mystery of being, causing it to come forth as well. The sense of mystery may come forth primarily as the questioner shifts into sensing and receptivity.
While sitting quietly, engage the question, “What am I?” Drop it into “the lake of your being,” letting it slowly descend from head to chest to lower belly: “What . . . am . . . I?” (Pause indefinitely.) Let the question carry your consciousness and orientation to silent sensing, to being, to resting in being as being.
After a time, you might also drop the question in reverse, “I . . . am . . . what?” (pause indefinitely) into the silent sensing and mystery. Or, in the spirit of Adya’s article, The Doorway of I Am, and his specific encouragement to focus on the sense of “I am,” you might instead ask, “What . . . is . . . I . . . am?”
This last variation of “What is this ‘I am’?” can be more of an evocation than a simple inquiry—though you are asking the felt sense of being/existing, or the felt sense of mystery (the first perhaps feeling more essential and the second perhaps more sacred) to reveal itself and become more conscious in body and mind—as if to say, “What are you, ‘I am?’ Reveal yourself.” The important thing is to go with what resonates for you, and to make the question your own.
Something else that can be very helpful is to rest in meditation with a sense of general, global awareness, as well as settling in your specific local body. This pairing of universal awareness and body-awareness offers insight for both types of awareness, as the self-inquiry question is at work. So inquiry is then not just about the sense of one’s person engaging in a personal inquiry, but is also about the sense of a global, unbounded awareness being anchored in the question, such that it becomes embodied as the inquiry “stone” drops into the “lake of being,” harnessing awareness that is without specific location to know itself in form, in your body-mind-being, as “I am.”
There are other ways to work with “I am,” but these are ways I have taken Adya’s pointers about inquiry and worked with them myself. Each variation has its own power, and one may resonate for you uniquely. I encourage you to listen within to stirrings of curiosity and to hold forth and call forth.
Copyright © 2021 Mukti Gray.
One of the great koans of a spiritual life is “What is a spiritual life?” Such a question can take form in one’s being before such words even register, often on the heels of a series of other questions. As I mentioned in last month’s newsletter (May 2021), Adya has often spoken of putting first things first in our questioning, one example being, “Instead of always asking what to do and how to live your life, might you ask, ‘Who is it that is living this life?’”
Some of the earliest questions about life and living that I began asking as a child in Catholic school revolved around the notion of God. I had been told that God is within, and I also had been told that God is everywhere. I was even told that God walks by our side, as the great Comforter. The very notion that there was not one orientation toward God left me disoriented, and thus I fell upon my first koan in life, the “God koan,” if you will. At the time, I had no idea that koan practice had existed for centuries in the East, to purposefully disorient and push one beyond concepts and orienting references.
That was my first blessed push deeper into being, although I didn’t much care for my confusion at the time. It was likely the beginning of my spiritual life, a life in which conceptual discomfort yields to a comfortability with not knowing and then to even greater comfort in the great unknown, the great mystery of being. What kept me going may have been the confusion itself, but also some overriding sense that God was of paramount importance and that I must therefore orient toward God, even as I had little satisfactory understanding of what God is. How does one proceed when they don’t understand? With our confusion, yes, but also with our eyes, ears, minds and hearts open, to the best of our ability. Which is exactly what I did.
Looking back, I believe that my disorientation in the God koan paradoxically gave me a tremendous orientation, an orientation toward God. The notions I was given of the great significance of God, something greater than any one individual, instilled a desire to know God and to serve God, to serve something greater than myself. From there, over years, I began to see what in that desire was born of egoic coping, and what was a call beyond myself altogether.
The story of the unfolding of any spiritual life has layers that give way to other layers, above and below, inside and out. My story is too long to go into further here. But in its moments of disorientation fraught with insistence upon orienting, there has always been comfort to be found in stopping, a comfort born of encountering the living moment with an open heart.
© Mukti Gray 2021
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 ;-)
Copyright © 2021 Mukti Gray.
Krishnamurti spoke of how the bird is at once lost to the child who learns its name.
Can you recall when you were a child experiencing the world arising, moment-to-moment, without thought dividing its content?
In the spirit of recalling this perspective, prior to duality, I invite you to read ahead, and then try this exercise:
Look out the nearest window or across the room, and name what is in front of you. Perhaps several names come to mind (e.g., green, tree, pine). Subsequently, wipe each name from your mind as you look at the object, until you can see it without a name. As your eyes relax and your vision widens, take in the view globally.
To take the investigation further, let your listening relax outward, globally. If a thought that names a sound arises, simply let the name relax out of your mind and turn your attention again to what is within your range of hearing, letting your field of hearing widen and relax outward to experience a global awareness.
And finally, invite any sense of the one named “you,” your familar sense of self, to relax out of the center of your experience. You may feel the edge of your body soften or, more importantly, your sense of the one who is tracking perception and doing this exercise, dissolve out of the center.
Rest in this awareness that does not divide, does not name, and which itself will forever remain nameless.
From Toronto Silent Retreat Day, April 2018
Here we all are, being exactly who we are. And yet, there’s this opportunity to discover and know it ever more deeply. It’s not that we don’t know that at some level, but the deeper knowledge of being, our nature as Spirit, or Spirit incarnate in human expression, is sometimes more hidden or less conscious. This is an opportunity to bring that into consciousness, a consciousness that registers not only in our mind, but also in our body, in our heart, and in our whole being.
You could think of this as an opportunity to really nurture the fullness of all that you are and bring that forward, especially with respect to the quality of being that cannot be contained in ideas or notions. Who we are is not beholden to our structures of memory, of who we’ve taken ourselves to be through the narrative of our life, or who we might hope to become. The essence of being that I’m pointing to and supporting is something that can’t be contained in such notions, yet it has been present throughout the entirety of our lives—bearing witness to our life and noticing all of the various chapters unfolding, both the highs and the lows.
You might call forward a sense of that observing quality that bears witness to all of the unfoldings. Maybe you can have a sense of yourself that’s been present from as far back as you remember. Maybe at times you recall sitting at the playground or on the beach, or just being out in nature when you were young. Sometimes it’s easier to access, from those memories, some sense of taking life in and observing and bearing witness to it all, with the mind not jumping in too much—creating conclusions, ideas, narratives, and interpretations—but an open seeing that carries through the whole range of senses.
There is a kind of open listening, open sensing—an innocent vantage point that’s not layered over by the conditioned learnings that we have. One of the opportunities is just to let that sense of pure being shine and come forward more, in whatever ways it might work its way forward, to help us return to a sense of greater wholeness and connection with ourselves and life. In this way, our nature as Spirit can have the capacity to come forward and recognize that it is, in a sense, the true residency of our person and the true resident inherently imbibing all of life and giving it vital expression.
The more we become at home with that aspect of life that orients toward stillness or silence, the more that can really be present to complement the birth and movement of Spirit more fully incarnating. So when realization is spoken of as a path of union, it’s really the joining of the movements of coming to rest from the ego identity. It’s as though that energy transfers to Spirit and vitalizes its birth into this world and into incarnate expression more fully. The more we can feel that as an integral expression of life, of all that we are, paradoxically, the more vitalizing our spiritual path can become. And the more Spirit can be incarnate.
Some people might say about this, “Okay, I’m just getting out of the way for Spirit to come through.” And you could say that, but it’s not necessarily this kind of either/or. It’s really the joining of the human and Spirit together in a way where the business of relinquishing and actualizing becomes more aright in our whole personhood.
© Mukti Gray 2018
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.
© Mukti Gray 2018
From a lecture given by Mukti at her 2009 Kripalu retreat, “The End of Suffering.”
Previously we touched into the topic of “nonduality.” That is knowing, not on the level of mind, but a knowing of a different order—through consciously being what you are. That is a sense of existing right now, a sense of life looking out your eyes, and life feeling through your senses into this experience, this space of the room, this place. It’s like we are a sense apparatus for raw life, raw consciousness, which feels through us as instruments with five or more senses. What is sensed registers in awareness—this knowingness of existence, this knowingness that is existence itself. This knowingness may express inside as if to say, “I exist.” Existence is very mysterious; sometimes “I don’t exist” describes it more accurately, especially in the absence of self-referencing thought.
Earlier we were talking about suspending the tendency to reference thought, feeling, or emotion—in particular when it comes to the sense of what you are. This is a wonderful practice. In fact, it was a homework assignment that Adya gave the first year that he was teaching, and which I ask you to deeply consider now: Who would you be without referring to a thought, feeling, or emotion to tell you who you are, to tell you what you are?
Asking this question makes you stop, right? Often inside there are all of these self-referencing patterns: “Oops, can’t go the thought route; oops, can’t go the feeling route; oops, can’t go the emotional route; oops, oops, oops.” Then you can feel cornered. Then the opportunity is to sense what it is to be stopped.
From that perspective that doesn’t reference thought, feeling, or emotion, can you feel how your existence would interact differently with certain beliefs, even a juicier one like “Life didn’t turn out the way I thought it would”? Even something really disappointing, or really difficult, or even violent, would not ruffle your ever-present nature. Can you feel how it’s not ruffled—that it doesn’t get pulled off-balance because it doesn’t take sides to begin with? It doesn’t camp in any side to begin with, so when a position is asserted in thought, it doesn’t come up with an opposing side.
If you’re interested in this aspect of struggle, what I’m talking about is really fundamental. To see that perspective, to know it, to really saturate yourself in knowing your natural state that is always available underneath positions of mind—and that’s available when you suspend referencing thought, feeling, and emotion—is to discover that that natural state is inherently unequipped to struggle, to seek, or even to reference time. It doesn’t operate in terms of here or there. In seeking, we’re trying to get here or trying to get there, and then our thoughts are in the future. This natural awareness is already functioning now, looking out of your eyes, and when not referring to a dualistic pattern of thought, is actually incapable of mental struggle.
Could you be bold enough even to ask if this natural awareness is what you are? Is it familiar? Does it have an age? Has it been with you? Has it ever not been with you? This fundamental sense of life, existence, is awake to all the comings and goings of experience—experiences of being a person who likes this and likes that, who has a gender, an age, and roles. Your whole sense of self could revolve around all of these relative knowings of identity, or it could actually shift out of these thoughts into a remembrance—as if to say, “Ohhh, before I knew anything about myself, this was here—this knowingness of existence.” Can you feel how different your sense of self is, in this remembrance? Are you following me? Are you really checking it out?
The more you shift your investment out of the checking account of “me” into the savings account of awareness, it’s like the more rich you become. Transferring your investment is transferring your energy (the energy of your psyche) and transferring your attention. The more you transfer your investment out of all the ways that you try to know yourself through your identities, your beliefs, your conclusions, your positions of mind—and allow the energies to return to this sense of fundamental, aware being—the more your appetite turns to living without division.
There can be a turning of interest inside and your appetites change. I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid I could eat sugar, sugar, sugar, all the time. Now things can taste too sweet, and the kids in my family say, “What do you mean it’s too sweet?” It doesn’t compute in their world that something can be too sweet. But appetites shift over time—appetites for anything, obviously not just food . . . the company you keep, or anything. As your appetites shift, you may say, “I’m just not interested in energizing this sense of inner division and struggle.” And when not energizing struggle, the energy is freed up, and then . . .
© Mukti Gray 2018