While neither time nor effort is required to awaken, I notice that most people who actually do awaken have had to employ a lot of both. Even most people who appear to wake up suddenly with me never got to me until after they had already tried a host of other things, often over the course decades.
In post-awakening it is abundantly clear that you practice and you progress, or you don’t, and you regress. Why? Who cares? It works.
Humans are social beings, and society is constantly conditioning us. We, in turn, are conditioning, affecting everyone and everything around us in a more direct and powerful way than most of us imagine. We turn our backs on our spiritual path to our own peril. This thing isn’t offered to everybody. And typically it doesn’t stay where it’s not regularly welcomed.
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj is my guru, and Ramana is my spiritual godfather. They are both excellent dispensers of sound advice. And the primary advice both of them give us over and over and over again is “Wake up!”
If you want to fix the world, first wake up and find out if it really needs fixing. If you want to relieve the world’s suffering, first wake up and find out if there really is suffering. And on and on and on. Don’t point your finger at what needs changing outside. Turn your attention around and see what’s not changing inside.
Waking up is one thing, and clearing up is another. Waking up is the opportunity to the dance, but the real dance is abidance and embodiment. When Ramana and Maharaj tell us to “wake up,” they are really telling us to wake up and follow up. Ramana did most of his following up in solitude and silence. That wasn’t my situation—and I bet it’s not yours either, if you’re reading this.
That wasn’t Nisargadatta Maharaj’s situation either, although he tried to make it so. He thought he should renounce the world, wander the forests, wake up, and then wander the forests some more. He left his family and did just that for a while.
However, a fellow pilgrim encouraged Maharaj to go back to his own story and inhabit it. That’s what Maharaj did—he went back to selling cheap cigarettes and corrupting the health of his neighbors. Go figure.
He’d made the wise, if unromantic decision, to renounce his thinking instead of the apparent world. He turned attention onto his attention—what he called “focusing on the I Am,” and woke up in three years flat. It took me 24, but Maharaj had a much keener focus than I did. He wasn’t drunk.
Clearing up is the process whereby Awakeness begins to embody us, not the other way around. It isn’t about clearing a non-existent Fred up, it’s about clearing the patterns of Fredness out. In order to clear our character out of a given unit it takes real dedication. It’s not a “paying your dues” situation, or about earning anything. The truth is far more direct and practical than either of those. Here it is:
In order to stabilize, to move into real abidance, what seems like your attention has to pay a lot of attention to what seems like your attention. It is actually unowned attention.
It worked for Maharaj. It worked for me. Does it sound crazy? Doesn’t matter. It’s still what you gotta do.
You say there’s no one there to do it? Fine. Get the thing that feels like you to help You. Get the unit to do things it’s not keen on doing. See the rub already?
Everyone wants to wake up, but I find that very few truly want to clear up. I was the same way—I get it.
When I first joined AA, after I had been around for maybe two or three months, I felt like everyone should be treating a fount of wisdom like me as if I was five years sober. Was I not the smartest guy in the room, regardless of the room I was in? So why should a smart and special guy like me need to wade through years of this lower level nonsense in order to get a little respect around this joint?
A year or two down the road, my approach to spirituality would be much the same. This is the advantage of being a unique character—you don’t have to do the stuff everyone else has to do in order to get what everybody else is trying to get. Good luck with that.
And just so you know, as a teacher I don’t talk to anyone who isn’t smart. What we’re doing is a form of jnana yoga, the yoga of wisdom, and most people are simply not drawn to it. It’s intimidating for everyone who doesn’t find it fascinating. Really, really smart people are the norm here.
After I woke up I didn’t want to clear, I wanted to be clear. I wanted to graduate before going through school. And heck, why should a special guy like me have to do any sort of practices in order to (apparently) achieve greater clarity and stability? Didn’t the world owe me at least that? Weren’t practices passé anyway?
I went shopping until I found me a teacher who said I needn’t bother with any of that stuff. And so I didn’t do any of it. And I went backward. Fast. I went backward until I got so depressed that I was forced into Plan B, which was ordinary people’s Plan A!
I once again began to read, to meditate, to at least try to be a little mindful of the moment and the unit’s activities within it. I confess that I prayed, and I wasn’t injured by it. And everything turned around. I only report my experience here. Yours could be quite different, or not.
Ramana’s message and Nisargadatta’s message were the same. Commitment means time. Not just “quality time,” but time-time, clock time, the employment of consistency and duration. If you’ve had an awakening experience and you’re not doing any sort of practice, the odds are extremely high that you’re moving backward (reidentifying with the body) while egoic thinking patterns are telling you that are doing great.
Egoic thinking patterns are good at that. I’ve never yet met egoic thinking patterns that wouldn’t lie to get what makes the programming survive.
Since the egoic program’s false analysis means you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do when you don’t want to do it, it tends to be where we cast our vote. As a general rule, that won’t work. I know there could be exceptions to this rule, just let me state that I’ve never met one, and that my experience extends to include a long list of spiritual teachers I’ve talked to over the years.
Those of you who are employing time and consistency paying attention to attention will see surprising calm and clarity start to show up in your actions and reactions, regardless of what thinking is doing. It can’t not. That’s the law. It’s a dream law, but it’s a dream awakening of a dream character, so what the heck. I’m only interested in what works, not the why of it.
Speaking of thinking, thinking patterns can be slow in coming around to this new view of the world and the One who’s viewing it. That’s been the case for me. Crazy thinking still shows up in my head, but only every day. It used to be every minute—that’s a lot of progress for a guy like me. And you know what? I could not care less about crazy thinking. I don’t feed it with the food of precious attention, and pretty soon they wander off to bother someone else. Someone who’s not alert.
They can fly in, but they can’t roost here, because I don’t believe them. I don’t trust them. These days I don’t even really listen to them, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to weasel in. That’s why, after all these years of clearing, I still do practices.
Frankly, most of what I do now takes place in one-on-one and group sessions as part of this teaching. That’s a constant clearing practice for me. I not only don’t do all of these every day, but whole days pass where I don’t do any of them. There has been a fundamental change here, and things are not as they once were.
For students, I recommend that they choose from the Practices Menu below, find out what they like, and then go for broke. Most people will probably use two or three, but they need to make one of them their Accountability Practice. What I mean by that is that when we find ourselves not doing our priority practice, we don’t lie to ourselves about it. We start where we are, and move forward, never looking back.
- I still do The Sense of Being Meditation prior to going to sleep on a very regular basis. It’s a great way to end the day and my secret internal Efficiency Agent.
- I still use a mantra—the one in the Unborn, Unbound, Untouched video below—upon occasion.
- I still Stand As Awareness all day every day. I can’t not!
- I still do different variations of Shifting Practice, chiefly with clients. It never, ever fails.
- I still do Attention Practice with clients, and occasionally on my own just to see what comes up. I have never once done this practice and had it fail to take me significantly deeper than I was when I started.
- I still do inquiry all day every day. I don’t even have to think about it anymore. It just happens by itself. It’s a way of life. Here are a few you can try. You notice you have a strong opinion about something. Stop and ask yourself, “Is that true?” Another: “Who’s asking that?” Another: “Can you find the one who’s making that statement?” And on and on and on. Byron Katie’s The Work is very skillful. I highly recommend it. I did it, and other types, for most days for five years. I’m not sure how reliably effective it is in actually waking people up, but it’s marvelous for clearing. See if you can locate her Question Your Beliefs Worksheet. If you can’t, use the standard procedure to inquire into your beliefs. Whose are they? Are they true? etc. etc.
- I used to read voraciously. I wanted to know what my guru and all the rest of my spiritual tribe had to say throughout history, and how they said it. I asked why should I reinvent the wheel when I can stand on the shoulders of my teachers? That’s what teachers are for. Even if it’s self-serving for me to say this, it’s still true—personally, so to speak, I never got stable until I hooked up with a real-live, face-to-face and heart-to-heart teacher. Other than one time, all I could afford was group work. Turned out it was enough. Who knows? Your mileage may vary.
- I listened to a ton of audio and watched a fair amount of video back in the day. I still listen to philosophy, spirituality, science, and history via The Great Courses through Audible.com. For those of you who feel drawn to employ this teaching, I strongly recommend listening to my videos and podcasts. If not me, then find another teacher to give high priority to, give their work your attention and devotion, and listen to them until you get what you want—which is No-thing.
The less I know, the clearer I Am. Yes, on one hand, I Am omniscient, but on the other I am clueless. Nothing can exist without My observing it, but I don’t know what it is that I’m looking at. I can tell you that there’s a sense of being. There’s a sense of existence, but I don’t know what that is. I can’t say that I am, and I can’t say that I’m not. The Absolute Is everything, but ultimately It knows nothing. It doesn’t even know I Am.
There are numerous practices I can suggest for you, but the best one for you is the one you’ll actually do. When you look at the list below, please recognize that you’re looking at a menu, not a to-do list. You can always come back for another meal tomorrow.
As your attorney, let me remind you that it’s not against the law to watch any of these videos, or listen to any of these podcasts more than once. All podcasts are also available on iTunes.
These are the practice recordings I recommend you become familiar with. Good luck!
The Story of Awakeness — video
The Story of Awakeness — podcast (coming soon)
Silence Speaking — video
Silence Speaking — podcast (coming soon)
The second most important thing you can do, the first being to get yourself an authentically awakened teacher.