Many years ago I attended a weekend retreat led by Gangaji, an awakened teacher who emits pure, open, silent presence.
The very first thing she said was, “Let’s take this weekend and not work on ourselves.”
You could quite literally feel the collective relief felt by everyone in that room. In that moment, however brief or fleeting it may have been, the burden of fixing was released and immediately there was relief, space, true relaxation; nothing left to fix. It was clear that that moment is available at any moment. Truly, if everyone would have stayed true to that realization, nothing left was needed to hear.
I, like I assume most everyone in that retreat was there because on some level there was an acknowledgement of not being good enough; some knowing that there is a fundamental flaw, or simply just wanted something deeper. And naturally this knowing and this desire tends to direct us to the spiritual path; and in that it has the capacity to serve. Of course there is no shortage of teachers and self help gurus who capitalize on this desire to be “better” or to manifest your dreams or any other number of traps that are all so tempting for this lacking ego to fall for.
This was different. This was an invitation in that very moment to be exactly as I am. And what was discovered was not that I was this person that needed improving, or wasn’t enlightened, wasn’t kind enough, strong enough and every other “not enough” you can think of, I was/am the invitation or what I may call this space of acceptance. This, I have discovered over the years is very different than the approach most of us are taking which only leads to the discovery of more that needs to be fixed; a vicious path with no end. This was immediate and not bound by circumstance. It is unencumbered, open and not bound by my physical,emotional or mental identity.
It is essential that at some point we realize we are enmeshed in the story of me; my life, my needs, my accomplishments, my shortcomings, my failures, my family, my survival, my gender, my sexual orientation and on and on.
We’ve all had moments when this story stops. When we’re laughing, or maybe captivated by nature, making love, deep sleep, meditation, listening to music, whatever it may be, we love it. We love it when “me” gets a break; it is so deeply nourishing and fulfilling.
But those moments come and go and at some point the mind comes in and says something like ‘time to get back to business,’ and our world of fear, doubt, anger, neediness comes back in a fury. This moment is a choice point.
The possibility is to stay true to this true self which doesn’t need any fixing. On some level, this takes enormous courage. All of our conditioning, our innate survival drive has convinced us that safety and security is more important than being free; unencumbered by our story.
Points of Inquiry:
What would happen if you gave up your addiction to fixing right now?
What is your story giving you that you’re not willing to lose?
Is it working?
We all seek silence. Most of us would never say that, or even use the word silence or stillness but it is without question what we all crave.
Advertisements play to this desire all the time, but of course they do their job very well in making us think it’s the object, the product or the location or whatever else is being sold that will give us that. Whether it’s the perfect moment with family or friends, the vacation spot showing the beautiful sunset, the ice cold beer, a great meal, a baby’s soft skin...we all want that moment where everything falls away and we are quiet, present and effortlessly fulfilled.
And so it goes that we spend our lives chasing these moments. And once in a while, it happens. We find ourselves smiling or laughing, joyful, at rest; and then, inevitably it passes. And the deception goes on and we try to recreate those moments or experiences to get it back, never realizing it wasn’t the moment or the location or what we were doing. It was that for a moment we had no agenda, we were simply in the moment; or maybe even better to say letting the moment be as it is without any of our own impositions. In other words, the moment comes first and the thing or the desired activity follows. We’ve simply just had the order backwards.
For several years I made my living as a wedding photographer and after some time I started to notice something that I found troubling. Prior to their wedding, it was very common for couples to look at other wedding photos on Facebook or Instagram for inspiration. And time after time I would find myself photographing couples trying to recreate those same moments that they saw online but of course trying to make it look as if it was natural or spontaneous. We want those moments so bad and in that wanting we do a very good job of faking it, pretending. I once had a bride ask me during her wedding, ‘can we do the candid photos now?’
Why would I share this here?
We don’t know how to be candid, how to be spontaneous, what I may call our true self. In our desperate desire to control and obtain a certain outcome (the perfect wedding, vacation, whatever experience it may be) we come to realize that as much as we desperately want to let go, if we tell the truth there is tremendous fear around that.
This is tragic in a way. Tragic only in that we have come to the conclusion that I, as I am is unsatisfactory. This moment is seen as unsatisfactory; merely an obstacle in our way of a better moment that’s just around the corner; once I finish this or accomplish that then I’ll be where I want to be, then I can truly rest. And we spend entire lifetimes chasing these mirages. And when those moments that we have chased actually do arise, we barely have the presence of mind to recognize and acknowledge it before we are on to the next endeavor.
We have come to believe that these moments of silence or happiness is getting what we want, but of course that is not true. Say you wanted a new car; you have been dreaming about it, how it would feel to actually have it. Then you get it, the papers are signed, the keys are in your hand and you are very happy. Common thinking would say you’re happy because you got what you want. But if that was true, then as long as you had that car you would be that happy. But in fact, your happiness (moment of silence) arose because for a fleeting moment you didn’t want anything; you were free of desire and this is naturally blissful. The more we come to realize that, the more sacred and deeply fulfilling each moment becomes, no matter how trivial or mundane it may appear on the surface.
It is possible to discover, to undeniably know without a doubt that stillness or silence or true happiness or whatever we may call it, is its own entity; not the product or the result of other circumstances. This is the possibility of realizing true fulfillment here and now.
. . .
Let’s try an experiment. Close your eyes if you wish. Start a thought with, " I want____ (and fill in the blank--maybe a better partner, a nicer house, to be respected, to be healthier…) --whatever it may be that feels true for you in this moment. As you think these thoughts, notice what’s happening in your body, in your mind. What sensations are you aware of perhaps in your belly, your chest, your throat, behind your eyes, maybe your shoulders or wrists?
Now, just for the sake of this experiment, you can let those thoughts go and you can simply put your attention on something that is here, maybe notice your breathing or how your body feels sitting in the chair you’re in. And notice how this feels just to notice these things. You don’t have to add any added commentary or judgement (like my breathing is too shallow or this chair is quite comfortable), just simply notice. When there’s just simple noticing, what’s that experience?
It’s quite possible that in this little, but potentially very profound experiment in simple noticing you felt a moment of ease, of true rest, of beautiful quietness. Then, more than likely, your mind jumped in quite quickly and said something along the lines of, ‘well that was very nice but I can’t stay here forever, now what, what's next?'
The possibility is to not touch that thought. Not because you should or it's the right thing to do or the spiritual thing to do, only because you know quite well where the doubting mind takes you; in endless circles that lead nowhere. But in the willingness to stay true to this mysterious silence of our own being, something fresh and alive can be revealed and it is endless and it is deeply nourishing.
Think of shopping for clothes. You and your friend are looking at the same shirt that's folded on a shelf. You say you like it, your friend says she doesn't. So far there's no issue; just a shirt on a shelf and two different opinions. How different is this scenario had the person who liked the shirt was alone when she purchased it and her friend sees her the next day with her new shirt on and gives the same feedback; "I don't like it." Now it's not just an objective comment on a shirt that doesn't belong to anybody. Now it's MY shirt and there's a someone taking it personally. All the sudden there's no separation from the shirt and ME.
Ultimately that shirt is no different than my personality, my beliefs, my body, my gender, my religion, my god...all of which we either were clothed with at birth or layers of clothes which we have put on ourselves over the span of our lives.
The possibility is to see that these layers of "clothes" say nothing about who we are. They have a function, a particular value for a particular time and then they go; just like fashion trends come and go. We can look at a photo of ourself from a previous era and remember truly identifying with that look, or that belief system or whatever else and now it may seem silly or at the very least, outdated. What if what you're wearing now is the same? In noticing this, the opportunity is to see under the layers, something so real, yet untouchable; so true, yet unnamable; so authentic, yet so impersonal.