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.
When Adya first began in his teaching role, I decided to attend his evenings of instruction. Little did I know that my meditation practice, which had been largely oriented inward in techniques of concentration and intimate listening and sensing, was about to change dramatically.
He spoke on many of the topics he does today, including “awareness,” “letting everything be as it is,” and of essentially putting first things first. I clearly remember an example of the latter when he said, “Instead of always asking what to do and how to live your life, might you ask, ‘Who is it that is living this life?’”
With each topic, I was learning to ease my way out of identifying as the one in the driver’s seat, as the one at point A focusing on and steering to point B. I became more cognizant of a sense of awareness that did not identify as the driver or the seeker, meditator, or doer. And as significant and foundational as all of this was, I believe what may have been the most revolutionary to my meditation practice and spirituality as a whole were his simple instructions on global listening.
Are you familiar with global listening? Really familiar? The kind that begins with a listener listening to sounds and gives way to non-separation, to a seamless being of existence? If you feel that auditory skills are not your strength, not to worry, for global listening is more of a global sensing and engages all skills of being actively present. Unlike many other inward approaches to meditation (sitting, standing, or living meditation), global listening also avails itself of an outward approach.
Please join me now, as I point to global listening as I have come to know it. See how you come to know it in yourself, as your Self. To begin, I recommend you find a comfortable seat and invite your body to come to rest. Briefly observe your body, as it shows you what it inherently knows of settling.
Now, let your attention widen into the room and become more acutely aware of the sounds around you. At first you may notice thoughts, and the labeling of sounds such as “fan,” “breath,” “cat.” See if you can settle into listening in a soft, receptive way. You may pause to invite your body to settle once again. As your body relaxes and softens, and holdings of energy and tension settle downward creating greater ballast, you may notice that your attention in the space of the room becomes receptive more easily. The functions of tracking and labeling sounds relax further. Mind and attention become clearer. This phenomenon is much like silt in the body of a pond settling and the pond water becoming clearer.
As attention softens, you may also become aware of life beyond the room, perhaps hearing “car,” “bird,” or “wind” even without the mind labeling them . . . more bubbles, more notes in the song of the moment. Continue on in this way, listening to life, not only with your hearing but with a global sensing, a being with, much like when your senses settle into harmony with nature when you lie down on the beach or grass at your leisure.
Now pausing this guided exercise, I want to point out for this article that what I call “spatial mind” often assigns location to sounds in different areas of the room (and beyond the room) when globally listening and sensing, especially at first. Spatial mind also often places your sense of physical self or your sense of separate ego-self at the center of its spatial map. As you continue to be receptive to sounds in the room and beyond the room, less attention and energy will go to the separate ego-self at the center. (Wink. Don’t tell the ego, but this is much like a parent, skilled in the art of distraction, who eases a small child from distressed self-concern by pointing out wonderful things to see and hear in the environment.) The sense of self at point A listening to sounds at points B, C, D, etc. gives way to a sense of self locally listening to the outer world as a whole. This may initially feel like point A, bounded by the physical body, listening to the larger body of life, free of edge or boundary—a global point B, one could say. Yet, as the tensions and energies of one’s physical body settle downward in the system, the local physical body becomes more still, like the earth. One’s mind becomes more clear, like the sky. The inner body harmonizes with the outer, larger body of life.
If a remaining sense of the observer or meditator remains at the center of experience, you can ask if it might too recognize its arising as another arising in the song of the moment, that it too might soften and receive the harmony of life’s unfolding, appearing as arisings in movement and as settlings in stillness (point A giving way to B, and B to A).
In closing, I encourage you to continue to discover the power of global listening and sensing. We are never more present than when we are deeply and intimately listening, and yet, curiously, our sense of ego is never more absent. Intimate listening, sensing, and being allow the distancing of ego, with its grasping toward and pushing away, to come to rest and yield its hindrance to the vital, clear expressions of life and living.
Copyright © 2021 Mukti Gray.
Mukti originally wrote this piece for Open Gate Sangha Gathering groups around the world,* but is extending it here to you and to all as an invitation to join others in nurturing realization of universal being.
“We stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us,” I have heard Adya say when speaking of spiritual lineage. His words conjure connection to sincere practitioners throughout history who have nurtured and embodied spirit, keeping it alive and well in themselves, each other, and in the coming generations.
Attunement to their dedication and its fruiting can bolster each one of us—as we practice together or in seeming solitude—and can knit us into universal consciousness as it echoes within and beyond us as individuals. The great mystic and sage Paramahansa Yogananda, one of my beloved teachers, puts the following words to this echo in his poem “I Am He”:
I am He, I am He, blessed Spirit, I am He!
When we gather together to attune to Spirit in its expression as “I am,” with sincere intention to recognize and embody this as our essential nature, the “I am” echoing in each individual reverberates more loudly, joining a chorus of “I am” to carry in greater strength and transformative power. Such transformative power is no small thing, for it liberates separation and division, ushering in wholeness.
In stopping and abiding as aware space, the Spirit that animates the silent room, the brook’s burble, and the bird’s chirping can ever more deeply be known as the “I am” that animates our essential being.
When we gather in the spirit of “I am,” we make it a priority to allow oneself and others to be as they are. Moreover, we can endeavor to recognize essential being in each other and to nurture it by offering wordless listening, open seeing, and intuitive sensing, which are all essential expressions of being.
Expressing in these ways could be summarized as “recognizing,” but also “realizing.” In other words, when we truly see, hear, and know another, it is not only immensely valuable to them and to the vitality of their expression as Spirit, but it is also tremendously beneficial to oneself, especially to one’s own realization—a realization that can be nurtured through actualizing our nature as essential being by expressing its capacities.
In time, the “I am” can more firmly take up residence in the heart, animating its capacity to more keenly recognize life’s movements of great intelligence, resilience, beauty, and love. This recognition nourishes Spirit, keeping it alive and well—and even more so when we gather together and stand in recognition, not only on the shoulders of our prior lineage, but also side by side in the present.
Bless you in your gathering, for your gatherings in themselves, like each of you, are a true blessing.
© Mukti Gray 2020
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
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.
From Toronto Silent Retreat Day, April 2018
From Mukti’s Got Juice? Online Course, 2018
When we’re relating with someone, it can be like Spirit to Spirit, or essence to essence, or heart to heart. But it can also be like connecting in stillness, connecting in a listening space, or a space where whatever is going to occur unfolds and appears to you. It’s as if you’re sitting back a little and just letting the whole interaction unfold to you. You’re in the front row seat, and they’re in the front row seat, but it’s more like a co-arising, and you’re letting what unfolds appear to you both as it’s unfolding.
Sometimes when people think of connecting, they might think at some level that their body and spatial energetics are moving toward and connecting, like moving forward or out. You can experiment with resting back and in, having that inward landscape be the connecting tone of what’s happening. It hinges on a sense of identity, not as the person connecting, but as the aware space that connects all things and expresses as all things.
There’s something that I call spatial mind. It’s a little bit different than thinking mind. It’s that part of us that references “big,” but it also references close or more proximal. It references out and in, just any directional kind of referencing. This is not only a referencing of the mind, but it’s a referencing of the heart and the entire body.
A common situation is in nature where people can feel like their whole energetics open into the woods or the beach, or wherever it is, and it feels like their energy body can relax and be as big as it wants, because it’s so soothing. You want to drink in the vitality of nature—not that you’re thinking about all this, but that’s just what the system is doing. It’s not only relaxing and connecting; it’s taking in and feeling the nourishment of it all. There are certain settings where our system feels more comfortable to do that, or we actually want it to do that or encourage it to do that in unconscious ways that we might not be knowing. Some people have a definite preference for being big and open over not attending to that.
In my experience, when I started focusing more on the hara and on the earth, a lot of this came into balance on its own. You might want to do the exercise about sensing the breath coming in and out, down in the lower abdomen, or the exercise about growing roots into the earth. I also have a free meditation online called Iron Mountain that gives you some basic principles about sensing what it is to feel more energetic ballast. You can contemplate that as a complement to what you've already developed.
It can feel really good to be in your body and be anchored, and your body will be happy. It will be like, “Ahh! She’s at home in me, and I’m being resided in.” It can feel really good. Most people report, “Wow, I haven’t felt this before. This feels great.” Sometimes it can be challenging coming back into the body, if the body is associated with past difficulties or trauma, but as it becomes more comfortable to settle in the body, it can feel really good.
That rooting will have a conserving effect, like self-resourced energy. You’ll feel more resourced in your local body, in your local self. It will conserve some of the energy that may be mapping to the sense of being vast, or maybe even having a slight preference for being vast. The goal, which is something more sustainable, is to know yourself ultimately as That which is not vast or small. It can appear as those things, but you really sense the place where identity doesn’t land so much.
Sometimes it’s helpful for the body to bring these different expressions online, such as “up and out” and “down and in,” so that all of the instrument is at the ready and available for freely flowing into these different expressions that all complement each other. After you bring it online and these things become resident in your architecture—like what it is to ground and what it is to open—once they’re all known in your being, then you can kind of forget about it, and Awareness just uses the instrument however it does. The referencing becomes a body memory, like riding a bike or driving a car. Once you’ve done it enough, you’ve got it and it’s in your body memory.
© Mukti Gray 2018
When you look through the eyes of Spirit, or listen from the sense of your Spirit nature, that very nature is always and ever receiving, available, and allowing things to be as they are, because it’s incapable of resisting or denying what is. That very perspective, that very aspect of what we are, can be invited forward into our experience when we contemplate and sense what it actually is to allow everything to be. What is it to allow that which is already in alignment with what is, to come forward in our experience? What is it that is already present that is not in resistance to what’s happening? This is a good inquiry to live with.
In that regard, there is an evoking or inviting into a more prominent consciousness or awareness the quality of seeing through the eyes of Spirit. This quality of seeing is expressive of our eternal nature. It has a sense of eternity, that which is always and ever present for the whole of our experience—the highs and the lows, the difficulties and the joys. That which is being evoked, which expresses as the eternal, functions through our body-mind instrument in the capacity of seeing, as well as hearing and sensing and feeling. It gives us a sense of seeing things more clearly, with a lot of the overlay of our interpretation of what’s happening receding to the background or being supplanted, so that this more quiet “allowing” seeing can predominate.
This can be challenging in moments when we really don’t want things to be as they are, and we might be investing a lot of energy in that resistance. It’s difficult sometimes to shift into a different energetic that might allow the sense of our eternal seeing to move forward, but as you sit with a pointer like this, it just naturally becomes easier to invite that quiet seeing forward in more and more situations.
This inviting is like a muscle that can become stronger and stronger. That’s where it begins to touch upon a sense of faith, a kind of strength in feeling a more steadfast commitment to wanting to see things more clearly as they are. It’s a faith in the intelligence of life, the unfolding of life, and how life is in service to itself in many ways. We may see examples to the contrary, but the challenge is to see where this is true, where life seems to be finding its way and has a certain order, an intelligence, that moves differently than we may have observed in realms of resistance and conflict.
This quality of faith, this intention to see things more clearly as they are—versus investing in how we wish they were or wish they weren’t—can be expressed as a steadfast commitment. The very commitment to see things as they are creates a sense of our own compass being pointed toward this intention. It can be an organizing principle that gives us a sense of alignment and energetic strength that helps us walk into the unknown before us, where we have at least this clear intention that helps guide us in the waters and territories where things may not be clear.
Part of that intention to see things more clearly as they are is a willingness to not have to always know in our minds, but to have a real commitment to knowing what’s important in our hearts and our beings at the level of our deepest intentions for living.
In addition, one of the aspects where faith and "allowing things to be as they are" sync up is continually sensing into the nature of what’s occurring, and the nature of what’s occurring within myself, especially with respect to noticing grasping or aversion that might create egoic mechanisms that obscure a sense of what is.
When you’re discovering a sense of faith that is based in really being in alignment with what is, a big part of that is becoming conscious of where that breaks down, where these resistances and graspings come into play. The more conscious you are of these overlays, the more you have a sense of choice to navigate differently, to take your hands off the steering wheel, so to speak. To take our hands off the steering wheel looks like a clear depiction of navigating life without a sense of control. That’s a real picture of faith. That’s the vantage point of our Spirit nature.
When you have the intention to see more clearly, one thing you can do is to register these things in an energetic way. You may become conscious of the thoughts, such as “I don’t want this,” “This shouldn’t be happening,” “I don’t like this,” “No, no, no.” Or “Gosh, I really want this and this and this, not that,” or “This is what I prefer, and it isn’t happening, and I’m concerned about it.”
You can not only become conscious of the narratives of grasping and aversion, but also how that translates energetically into the body with clenchings or a sense of no, where you feel like you have your foot on the brake in your gut, or your shoulders are hunched up to your ears. Or it could be the opposite, like insatiable hunger with an addictive quality to fill, fill, fill a sense of lack. To become more conscious of these energetics and how they register in the body is a great way of receiving input or indicators that can help you find a different way of being that is not founded in the paradigm of grasping and aversion.
Sometimes if I feel a quality of anxiety or overwhelm, I’ll ask myself, “What is it that I’m really wanting in this situation?” That can be a very open question, and it can have many answers. I’ve found that when I register grasping or resistance in my body, especially below my neck, I sense, “Okay, there’s some part of me that wants things to be different than how they are, and that’s why I’m feeling these energetic signatures in my system.”
Then I’ll ask myself, “What is it that I’m sensing is happening, and what is it that I really want to be happening?” When I ask myself that question, the answer that comes at the deepest level is that I either want not to want, or I want to have a deeper sense of faith in life. It’s faith in life’s intelligence, faith in how life might unfold, faith in other people’s process and their nature, and their process of learning and becoming more conscious. It’s also faith in my own nature, and faith to move toward a more conscious, refined expression.
When I reconnect with that desire, it really spells out a clear intention of how I might have a deeper trust in life. I feel that trust as a relaxing out of trying to control. It can be a kind of settling that registers low down, like landing right back in life, and being present, and looking afresh. It’s a sense of resting down and arriving back right here, even if it feels difficult. It’s sensing anew the possibility that life has an intelligence that I don’t have to be responsible for, that I don’t need to control and lead. Maybe I can free up those energies so that I’m instead more available to receive what’s happening and respond. For me that’s faith, a faith in the process of being able to see more clearly, and to sense that the very seeing has a wisdom that can respond in a way that feels less like leading life and more like having life live through myself. I encourage you to explore that as well.
From Mukti's Allowing Faith ~ The Spirit of What Is, 2019
© Mukti Gray 2019
Enlightenment is consciously being that which is entirely unmoving and yet moves all things. In order to know what is unmoving, consciously, one must end all investment in movements of mind and attend to what is always and already stopped.
When one no longer invests in movements of mind, the searchlights of your attention withdraw back to source. Abiding as source is true stopping.
This return to source-whether by letting energies withdraw and recede from outer attentions or by tracing movements of mind back to their origin-is the way Home.
Often in spirituality, there are teachings that assert the need to focus attention on given objects of perception. You may have been taught to focus your attention on a goal, a mantra, your breath, the third eye, the hara, or on sensation, but it is the very assertion of focus and the assertion of the focuser, the “me,” that keeps you forever at a seeming distance from the root of attention: your Self as pure Awareness.
In your natural state as Oneness, there is no need to focus in order to discover yourself-any more than point A can know itself by focusing on point B. Point A can only know itself by letting all focus, attention, and searching subside back to its origin.
This is an open invitation for a simple resting, a return to the ground of being you have always known.
By Mukti. Originally published in Yoga Journal
Soon after I was married, I found myself busier than I’d ever been before. Working two part-time jobs, commuting to acupuncture school, and studying for my state licensing exams, I needed to feel some sense of quiet inside. So I decided to hold the question “Where is rest?”
The answer didn’t come to me in words; instead, I discovered that just asking the question elicited a sense of stillness and peace. Once my mind became calm, I could rest in the busyness.
My interest in stillness didn’t start, or stop, there. Since childhood, I’d wondered about the words from Psalm 46 that we learned in Sunday school: Be still and know that I am God. So when I began hearing Eastern teachings, I was intrigued by concepts such as samsara (continuous movement) and nirvana (cessation).
In the East, an image that’s referred to as the "wheel of samsara" has been used for centuries to depict the continuous cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, and the conditions that cause suffering. The conditions of ego that power the wheel are sometimes called the three poisons. They are desire, or attachment; hatred, or aversion; and ignorance, or illusion. When one’s life is lived free of these conditions, one is said to be freed from the wheel of samsara.
In my own experience, the first two conditions, attachment and aversion, are best remedied by addressing the third condition, ignorance. You could say that the root condition of suffering is ignorance of our true nature, ignorance of knowing ourselves as spirit. Attachment and aversion, then, cause day-to-day suffering.
Stillness, I have seen, is both the treatment for ignorance and the ultimate antidote to samsara. When your mind is still, you get a rest from the push-pull energies that drive the ego and cause suffering. In stillness, the energies of attachment and aversion can unwind. The sense of a “me” who desires can relax out of the center of experience and ultimately dissolve. That is the harmonizing quality of stillness.
To get a dose of what life is like divorced from stillness, try this experiment: Think a thought that has “push” energy, such as “I don’t want to go to work” or “I don’t want to have that difficult conversation.” Or think, “That shouldn’t be.” Now check in with your body. Can you feel it registering aversion? It may feel like there’s a hand in your gut, pushing away.
Next, consider a “pull” thought, such as “I want to meet someone who will love me” or “They should do what I want. ” Hold that thought, and then pay attention to your body. Do you feel a grasping fist in your gut? Tension in your shoulders?
Either way, push or pull, your body beautifully lets you know which thoughts will cause you constriction, inner division, or feelings of separation. It would seem, then, that if you could stop divisive thoughts, you’d be at peace with whatever presents itself in each moment.
But wait . . . having trouble finding the “off” switch? Yep, thoughts keep coming. The more you try not to think, the more aversion arises. And the more you try not to have divisive thoughts, the more attachment arises. Both efforts take you further away from experiencing peace.
A Better Way
But there is an alternative to push-pull thoughts. Again, using your body as a thought meter, feel your gut as you contemplate the phrase “Thoughts simply arise.” Let the words permeate your body. Do they make you feel more peaceful, or less so? My guess is that you feel more peaceful. Perhaps you can sense relaxation as you let go of assigning credit or blame for having a particular thought. When you align yourself this way with what life is presenting—with reality—the experience of inner division gives way to peace.
Thoughts themselves don’t create division, separation, and suffering. Rather, investing thoughts with belief, identifying with them, and taking them personally are what fuels the wheel of samsara.
When you identify with a thought, that creates a fixed position in time and space—like a star in the night sky. As you identify with more thoughts, you create more fixed positions, until you have an entire constellation of ideas and beliefs. The lines of that constellation continue to grow and overlap, creating something that begins to look solid, like an object. Those fixed points create an illusion of an individual “me,” with its own boundaries separating it from the whole.
You can live your whole life in ignorance, not knowing that suffering is a result of believing the thoughts that suggest you are separate from the whole. But if you examine your push-pull thoughts, discover which beliefs you’re investing in, and question them, you can slip into stillness and become your own medicine—the perfect antidote to the poisons of ignorance, attachment, and aversion.
What is Stillness?
Connect with the quiet at the center of your whirling energies.
Begin by sitting comfortably. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and let your body settle, inviting relaxation. Observe your body as you allow it to cease moving. Lean softly into your experience and give it your whole attention.
Now drop this question into the space between your muscles and bones: What is stillness? Let your body experience the answer. Let the body’s response wash into every part of you, from the top of your head down to the floor or chair where you are sitting. As your body quiets and softens, notice the stillness gather and settle.
Maintaining a steady and intimate quality of attention, let the stillness widen and let your senses open globally to the outer world. Notice the space of your awareness and let it relax outward. Let sounds in the distance enter the space of your awareness, but don’t strain to hear or to make note of them. Notice any sounds that arise closer to you, between the edge of your body and the outer shores of your hearing.
While continuing to soften into stillness, rest a portion of your attention on the surface of your body, allowing it to stop there completely, allowing the stillness saturating you inside and out to soften any sense of boundaries between your body and the outside world.
Let any sense of a “me” who is aware relax out of the center, letting stillness dissolve all attachment, all effort.
Some have a great interest in discovering their nature as vast, limitless being, and in transcending heavenward, away from the difficulties associated with this earth.
Contrarily, others have an interest in feeling at home in themselves, in what it is to land, rest, and no longer run away or strive. But they are not sure how to effect change.
Most have both interests, which can create an inner division: “I’d really love to be at home here, but actually I’d love to be out of here.” In both cases, the perspective is often “I am in state A, and there’s something else I want: state B.”
So what is it like to simply be and sense afresh, without striving for a new state? You can sense the energies of seeking stirring in your body and be curious about them. Ask: What is the felt sense of seeking? How does it appear? And from where? Then be still and continue to sense. Let the energetics that you feel change, shift, and convey.
By shining the still gaze of your attention upon energies of restlessness and discontent, the energies, or one’s experience and perception of them, change. With true investment of attention, such change can be greatly transformative.
I’m speaking of a different way of aligning with what is, than that of deconstructing beliefs or questioning what is true or not true. This approach is kinesthetic and utilizes perception. Many find it helpful, direct, and a complement to questioning thought or emotion. Such a way is a departure from resisting one’s state and invites an openness to look anew at what is informing states, and what is informing our sense of self that feels defined by states. Moreover, it allows an opportunity to see both states, and our sense of self, shift and redefine, or un-define.
As the light of awareness, through directed attention, is brought to a contracted state and resulting limited sense of self, the limits and contractions gradually soften. As the holding of both self and state become imbued with awareness, both can become more spacious, conscious, and liberated.
I encourage you to turn within, to how you sense the energies of seeking, restlessness, and resistance, and to shine the light of awareness through your attention on their very shape, texture, movement, and color, and on the very space and clarity in their midst—as an ever-open sky amidst currents and clouds, conveying the substance of transcendent heaven right here, within.
By Margaret Brownlie. Originally published by The Sentient Times of Ashland, OR.
If you are reading this article, most likely there is something in you seeking Liberation. Recently, I had the opportunity to meet and spend some time talking with Mukti, a teacher of the non-dual path to Awakening, whose name itself means Liberation. Like most, I knew her primarily as Adyashanti’s wife. I was inspired. I found true beauty, abiding gentleness, deep, deep kindness, authentic humbleness, wide-openness, easy humor, depthful clarity, and gentle authority—the kind that comes from Knowing. She has only been formally teaching for a few years, she has published no books, yet she is also not just the new kid on the spiritual circuit. She has spent her life studying the work of Christ, Paramahansa Yogananda, and the Zen nondual teachings of Adyashanti, following her own path to Liberation, and ripening that for its own sake, until her teaching is instantly recognizable as a true compass for others.
Your teaching is growing really rapidly right now, but to many you’re a new name and a new face. What can you tell us about your teaching about how you came to it?
I find the teaching to be fairly simple, in the sense that the same underlying message seems to come through over and over: that it’s possible to live without a sense of inner division when one’s willing to be willing, and to be curious, and question what is true, what is real, what is living this life. This attitude of receptivity can be facilitated by letting the familiar positions and knowings of the thinking mind rest and relax out of the center, and by sensing into a knowing of a greater order. So, this is the message I come back to over and over again, because many people experience this sense of inner division as conflicting parts of themselves, or they have feelings about how they view things on the inside and then how life is presenting on the outside, and things not jiving with something deep in them that has a love of wholeness and harmony. This sense of division, or lack of harmony, can cause great suffering. There’s a tremendous opportunity that I’ve discovered in my own experience: to really come to know what wholeness is or harmony is, or what intelligence is when not divided.
And how did you come to that?
From as early as I can remember, I had this great desire for people to be kind to one another. I had this sense, somehow, that there was the capacity within us to have a sense of what brotherhood or sisterhood or living in harmony could be. As a little child, I remember watching people and they would do unkind things to other people. I could see that they themselves were in pain and something in me felt that there’s just got to be a more loving way. Later, when I was exposed through my family to Christianity, it really took the form of desiring to know the path of Christ in Christianity. He seemed to be this exemplary person who was able to unite people and to heal, not only physically, but more to heal a sense of ignorance of not knowing their Godliness or their Divinity. And then I think it matured. Through my exposure to Zen or non-dual teachings, I came to an interest in knowing what is Undivided, what is Unmoving, what is Stillness, what is Constancy. So, I would say, those were the main factors that propelled me along. And there was this deep knowing that I wouldn’t be satisfied until I gave everything to This that my heart longed to know and to see.
You mentioned that Christ was one of the influences on your path, what others still influence where you come from now?
In my formative years I was very drawn to the life of Christ and stories of Christ and I went to Catholic schools from grade school all the way through university so it was an influence. At the same time I had a parent, and later both parents, who became very interested in eastern teachings, and particularly the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda. So, while I was attending Catholic schools, I was also attending services where I began to be introduced to eastern thought and to meditation. I think that’s where I very first heard about self-realization or realization, and that it was possible.
I had exemplary teachers in Yogananda’s lineage that lived that realization, and I found that incredibly inspiring. I saw that it wasn’t all about Christ being the only son of God but that there’s all of these great beings who lived that Christ Consciousness or God Realization. That began to open up this window, and even got me to think more on a global stage, of how, all over the world, there were people like me who were seeking these deep truths, and seeking ways to open to the best within them. I saw, “Oh, it’s not just limited to one path. These great traditions are happening everywhere.” As a young person that was rather revolutionary I was exposed to different forms of meditation in that practice, and also Hatha Yoga. I began to have more of a relationship with sitting still and quietness and letting the mind settle to some degree or another. I can’t say I was great at it. But also, through Hatha Yoga I was able to let my energies be more redirected to the body and its wisdom. Those were tremendous influences on me. Studying Chinese medicine also began to open my mind and to restructure the way I perceived the world in a way that was far less linear and much more holistic. And the other greatest influence in my life was Adyashanti. His nondual teachings and the flavor of his Zen background has deeply fed me in the last decade or more.
You have been influenced by body practices in your own life, yoga and acupuncture. When you speak of loving both the form and the formless, how does that relate for you?
The most intimate form we have, that we’re most intimately connected with, is our own body, and if one has the eyes to really see, it’s constantly teaching us and showing us. It’s a great meter of what’s true, what begets Wholeness, or what feels harmonious. Often it’s overridden by the thinking mind, but with practices in which one is willing to set the thinking mind aside for a while and devote time to nurturing one’s body, one can develop a tremendous relationship with that wisdom that the body so affectively and directly communicates.
How does that relate to the Formless?
I don’t see Form and Formlessness as two different things. Formlessness is the greatest mystery that we can encounter and this mystery moves into expression and form as everything that our senses can perceive. It’s not so much that they relate to one another but that they really are one and the same. The One as form is registered in the senses and the One as formlessness can only be known through consciously being the mystery that we are. This is not a knowing of thought but a knowing through conscious being.
I notice that, when I speak of you and Adyashanti, sometimes, there’s a wariness of a western teacher having a non-western name. How did you come to go by Mukti?
Originally I was given the name by Adyashanti. He had an inspiration one day, early on, to come to the group that he was teaching and give everybody a name. This is so typical of the spontaneous nature of Adya. So, he came with names for about ten people, some of which were Sanskrit and some of them were not. I can’t speak to his reasoning, if any, but I do know that for many people I’ve talked to who’ve been given a name, they sit with the meaning of it, and often they have a curiosity to realize the meaning of that name. Let’s say, the meaning might be the name for a quality or an aspect of the Divine. They sit with that name, almost like a koan, to actualize it within themselves.
When he gave me the name Mukti, which is often translated as Liberation, or The Great Re-lease, it was very much a gift for me, and I was very private with it. I just held it in my heart. Very few people knew that I was ever given a name, and I didn’t have any desire to use it publicly. For eight years or so, I did not. Probably the reason I didn’t is because I didn’t want to create any barrier with people who I would meet who may feel like it was strange or foreign, or unfamiliar, or off-putting or something. Being a person, I mentioned earlier, who very much had an appetite for harmony, I didn’t want anything that might cause division. However, when Adya asked me to teach, it just came to me in an instant, “You will go by the name Mukti.” I had no resistance. And I know well enough from different life experiences that when that type of knowing comes, with that type of nonnegotiable, factual, this-is-the-way-it-is feeling, that there is nothing within me that has any desire to do anything otherwise. I had no story about whether I should or shouldn’t do that. It was just a given.
This Liberation that is your namesake, it seems that’s what we all really want. What does that mean, and how do we get it?
What does liberation really mean? This is the golden question and this is a tremendous inquiry for anyone who truly wants to know that. I don’t know that everyone wants liberation. A lot of people want their idea of what it is. Perhaps, they view it as a state that will feel great all the time, or like a “get-out-of-jail-free card,” as Adya says. But liberation—it doesn’t answer to our desire to feel better. There’s this overwhelming tendency for people to assert what it is that they want and in that assertion they are denying what is already here, what is already present. There is no being free of what is. One might even say liberation, by its nature, affirms reality as it is.
And you ask, “How do you get it?” The best way I know how to point the Way is to invite or even challenge people to cease those efforts to deny what is present and to withdraw the en-ergies that feed this sense of “me” that has this incredible, desirous appetite to seek. By rein-vesting one’s energy, by seeing what is present already, what is here already, what is actually living this life, one can come to realize the true nature of Self, the true nature of reality.
How do we cease those efforts? Well, ultimately there is no “how” to ceasing; ceasing is the result of no longer striving and seeking. People strive and seek because they believe that they will be fulfilled by what they are seeking. Very few people consider that fulfillment, often brief, comes when things are attained because for that moment, seeking ceases. So, first one must see how seeking itself can cause suffering. Once that is seen clearly, one loses the appetite to seek. For some time, seeking may continue to varying degrees, but eventually the energy for it runs out. Seeking can take different forms. For example, it can manifest as accumulation of possessions or as accumulation of beliefs and concepts that one identifies with. The beliefs and concepts that cause great suffering are those which divide up experience and argue with reality. For example, “This is right, and this is wrong,” or “This shouldn’t be” are concepts that we cannot know to be true outside a thought that says they are. Few people question the real truth of these judgments, opinions, and beliefs or consider what their experience is when such positions are suspended or dropped.
You spoke about reinvesting your energy. We often think of this kind of shift we call Liberation as something that takes place in seclusion or on retreat, but is awakening in any way different for a contemporary person in a mainstream culture? Does it require withdrawing?
Awakening is awakening, regardless of time. If one finds within him or herself an impulse toward liberation, toward knowing and being what is real, that person will experience that movement of Consciousness and have the opportunity to stop and be consumed by that, regardless of what society or historical age they live in. Perhaps one’s path prior to awakening is different for a contemporary person. We do have some interesting factors in this age with all the worldwide communications, and the scope of what the contemporary person has being input into their consciousness.
There’s a lot of news and things that are understandably disturbing that people might fixate on or become identified with in ways that create tremendous suffering. This might be quite different than a life of a monastic up in the high mountains where the scope of input that they receive is of a whole different scale, lesser scale. Most contemporary persons don’t have the support of, let’s say a monastery. And yet, monastics have their own challenges—different societies, different challenges, just different sets of parameters. Somebody in a different age and time may have searched or walked or traveled across countries to find someone who could point the way. Now they can just Google and get to know teachers on the web. So it’s a different ball game, same ball. As to being in seclusion, awakening doesn’t require physically withdrawing, but it does require a willingness to live a life that’s not centered around grasping for what one wants and pushing away what one doesn’t want. That push-pull movement of desire draws us into illusion and is what obscures our true nature.
And your own Liberation, how did that unfold?
I suppose there are infinite factors but my story has some themes. From very early on I made choices at different junctures that were informed by this great sense of wanting to know that which is Whole or Harmonious, Without Judgment, that which is Undivided. So, when I look back over my life, continually, through different relationships or different jobs, I would choose over and over again by following something deep within me that I could just sense was steer-ing me towards the discovery of that. At different times I might have called it my Inner Guru or my Deepest Knowing. And so, that’s an overall theme. And then also, just a sense of deep lis-tening: truly wanting to know the way, and listening deeply to that inner wisdom and my body wisdom to show me more and more how to act in the world, how to be in the world as a per-son, but also how to come to know myself more deeply. I can’t even say that I can take credit for those things. It was just something moving me to be that way. Ultimately, I think it was a willingness to stop, to stop even the searching, to stop thinking I knew anything and just being willing to get in the back seat.
More specifically, on the day when I had the most significant identity shift I was listening to Adya speak about Stillness and that inner knowing that was seeking to know itself lit up, like a heat seeking missile, with this question that didn’t come from my mind but was deep within me: “What is Stillness?” I sat in meditation to really open myself up to discovering what Stillness might be. It wasn’t an answer to be offered to the mind, but the question delivered me to direct experience of what always is, what is ever present, what is unmoving. In the days to follow, that flowered into that which is forever unchanging and unmoving expressing itself as everything that changes and moves and births itself as form. Since then, there’s been ever more seeing of how that comes into form, and how it forgets itself. There’s been more and more welcoming into remembrance of all of that which has forgotten its True Nature, and in that remembering there’s been a welcoming of all those parts of myself, and in turn of others, that feel separate due to a forgetting that they are the Whole.
There’s stillness that comes from you speaking about all that, and then there is life. On your web site there’s this wonderful picture of you and Adya at Disneyland and you both look like you’re having so much fun. When I first saw that it was such a contrast to most ‘spiritual’ websites—it was a delight. Is this where Liberation leads? To that joy?
Liberation leads to far less and far more than people can imagine. It can be very ordinary, and yet in that ordinariness it has an exquisite beauty, and it includes everything. So, it includes the joyous times. It includes the bitter-sweet times. It includes the difficult times, and there is an overwhelming sense that none of it is to be missed, that you wouldn’t miss any of it for the world. So in that sense, there’s very much a dearness to things—which might bubble up as joy or may be very quiet. There’s no longer a sense of someone who needs to have a say in that. It’s all an expression of our True Nature. The knowing is that what you are is enough in and of itself—that no experience, joyous or not, can add to or take away from what you are. You are quite enough as you are.
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.