WELCOME TO THE TWENTY-FIRST EDITION of Awakening Clarity’s Guest Teaching Series. We’re glad you could join us for another round of teachings from another leader in contemporary Nonduality. Clicking with the right teacher or teaching can be a tremendous boost for us. We can only hear who we can hear. Not every teacher or teaching is right for all of us. If we go out onto the Internet, or into a well-stocked bookstore, we can be overwhelmed by the choices. The idea behind the GTS is to help you narrow that down. You can come here and get quite a good sampling of a teacher’s style and approach; probably enough to see if you resonate. As the database grows, I think our community will find this site becoming more and valuable. Another great use of the site is to broaden your exposure to different approaches, which could help keep you from identifying too closely with a single view. Vault posts from a month ago, and six months ago are read and reread every day. I invite you to explore the site thoroughly.
STEPHAN BODIAN is, by virtually any yardstick you want to pick, a heavyweight. He’s been on the spiritual path for 40 years. I’ll have more of a bio later in this introduction, but let’s start by saying that has been on this path for more than 40 years. He began practicing Zen in 1970 after studying Asian culture and language at Columbia and Stanford. Ordained a Zen monk in 1974, he trained with several Zen masters, including Shunryu Suzuki Roshi and Taizan Maezumi Roshi, practiced intensively at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, and directed the training program at the Zen Center of Los Angeles. He also practiced Dzogchen-Mahamudra with several Tibetan teachers and spent 10 years studying Advaita Vedanta with Jean Klein.
I FIRST CAME INTO CONTACT with Stephan’s teaching three years ago, when I read one of his books, Wake Up Now: A Guide to the Journey of Spiritual Awakening. It’s really an excellent guide to studying and practicing Nonduality; a standout among many titles. I loved that one of the books he recommended in the back was Byron Katie’s beautiful A Thousand Names for Joy, which I had read a some years before. Katie’s book is a one-of-a-kind, real-time look at awakened living written through someone so transparent that she shines like an illuminated diamond. I knew from his take on that book that Stephan’s teaching would click for me, and it did. I liked Wake Up Now very much, and highly recommend it, particularly if you are looking for a soup-to-nuts guide to Nonduality. He’s a fine writer and very much an awakening being.
STEPHAN IS THE FORMER EDITOR-IN-CHIEF of the magazine Yoga Journal, a contributing editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, and an editorial board member of Undivided: The Online Journal of Nonduality and Psychology. His articles on meditation and spiritual themes have appeared in numerous national magazines, including Fitness, Natural Solutions, Cooking Light, Tricycle, and, of course, Yoga Journal.
HE’S THE AUTHOR of the popular guidebook Meditation for Dummies, which has sold over 200,000 copies and is now in its second edition with instructional CD. The book is available in English, Dutch, German, Italian, French, Russian, Portuguese, and Spanish editions. His other books include Living Yoga (with Georg Feuerstein); Timeless Visions, Healing Voices; and Buddhism for Dummies (with Jonathan Landaw). In addition, Stephan contributed the chapter “Deconstructing the Self: The Uses of Inquiry in Nondual Psychotherapy” for the anthology The Sacred Mirror (Paragon, 2003).
STEPHAN HAS ALSO WRITTEN developed, and narrated several meditation-based audio programs in conjunction with Mentalworkout.com: Freedom from Stress, Stay Happy, and Mindfulness Meditation. These programs are available as mobile applications for the iPhone/iPod Touch, Droid, and Nokia platforms, and as web-based applications.
IN ADDITION TO REGULAR TELECLASSES, satsangs, and intensives, Stephan offers an annual eight-month School for Awakening that begins again in Fall 2012. A licensed psychotherapist as well as a spiritual teacher, he has been a pioneer in the integration of Nondual wisdom and Western psychology and has evolved a vibrant, intimate approach to counseling and mentoring that blends psychological insight and spiritual realization. His most recent book, Wake Up Now is currently available in both hardcover and paperback. We have a nice excerpt from it here, as well as a meditation/exploration with Stephan at the end of it. It’s worth noting that I went through every single one of the phases listed below. He’s right on the money.
AND NOW . . .
WAKE UP NOW
A Guide to the Journey of Spiritual Awakening
Although spiritual awakening itself is generally a blissful, expansive experience that may be accompanied by weeks or months of extraordinary inner peace, joy, love, and freedom from reactivity, it’s often followed by an extended period of insecurity and confusion. After all, you’ve just experienced the most profound paradigm shift imaginable–the seeming center of your universe, the separate self you’ve spent a lifetime cultivating and serving, has revealed itself to be a colossal illusion. Even though you may have encountered spiritual teachings that helped prepare you for this tectonic shift in consciousness, the experience itself can be frightening and disorienting as your accustomed world collapses around you.
In particular, the ego may feel threatened by the radiant emptiness that has revealed itself to be your essence, your true nature, and it will do everything it knows how to make you forget who you are. (Remember, that’s its job description, its reason for being, and it’s been doing its job well for a very long time.) Committed to seeing itself as a separate someone with a particular life story–with all the suffering and exhilaration, success and failure, this story brings–the ego is terrified of being annihilated. The tactics it employs may be heavy-handed or subtle and range from trying to stuff awakening back into a conceptual box to attempting to co-opt awakening for its own purposes. But the result is the same: the clouding or distortion of the truth to which you’ve just awakened and the reassertion of the ego’s control. Here are seven of the ego’s favorite ploys.
Pretend Your Awakening Never Happened
If you had no interest in awakening in the first place or didn’t realize it could be so intense and unsettling, you may try to go about your life as if nothing has changed, pretending to be interested in the same achievements, possessions, dramas, and roles as before. The problem is, the awakened view keeps reasserting itself, like an abyss opening up beneath you and revealing the emptiness at the core, or a voice speaking truth from the whirlwind beyond the mind. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t get your life to fit back into the comfortable little box you once inhabited. You’re in no-man’s-land now, uncharted terrain. The old maps are worthless, and new maps have yet to be drawn–or more accurately, can never be drawn because reality is constantly changing and doesn’t lend itself to predetermined directions. Eventually, you need to find a way to accommodate your new identity.
One of my students, for example, had a lucrative, high-profile job at a software company that gave him a sense of status and power. After his awakening, status and power lost their luster, and his work revealed itself to be inherently manipulative and dishonest. But he pushed on as if nothing had happened, attempting to talk himself out of his misgivings, because he was afraid of making changes that might cause him to lose a lifestyle to which he had become attached.
Discredit the awakening
Because your awakening doesn’t resemble the ones you’ve read about in books, you may dismiss it as inauthentic. Or because you still feel angry or afraid, you may conclude that the awakening was inadequate in some way. “After all, someone like Eckhart Tolle went from self-loathing to bliss overnight,” you may argue, “and his ‘negative emotions’ completely dropped away. Whereas I just had this moment of insight where I realized that I don’t really exist. My awakening just doesn’t measure up.”
However, genuine awakenings come in all shapes and sizes and don’t necessarily guarantee an immediate, thoroughgoing transformation in your way of being in the world. You’ve merely discovered who you really are–transformation follows or not, depending on how effective your ego is in its attempts to derail the process. But the spiritual superego likes to compare your insights to the enlightenment experiences of the great masters and sages and find them wanting. What better way for the ego to stay in control?
Co-opt awakening and make it your own
Rather than allowing awakening to unfold and continue to illuminate the emptiness of self, the ego obscures the light of truth by claiming awakening as its own possession and creating the fiction of an awakened separate self, which is a contradiction in terms. The proliferation of spiritual teachers claiming to be enlightened attests to the widespread popularity of this tactic, which is known as “ego inflation,” or “spiritual drunkenness.” As I mentioned earlier, no one ever becomes enlightened, and awakening can’t be owned in any way because it’s not an object or a mind-state, but the unseen subject of all objects, the mysterious and ungraspable background of all experience, the light that illuminates all phenomena. Attempt to grasp it, and it slips through your fingers. Let go of it, and it fills your hand.
Even the ultimate pronouncement “I am That” (where That refers to ultimate reality), which recurs in the Upanishads and other great spiritual texts, doesn’t mean that the separate self has in any way encompassed the absolute. It simply means that the separate self is not, and only the absolute exists. In complete self-realization, any sense of identity, even with ultimate reality, dissolves in the ocean of the Self.
Yet the mind may grab hold of a particular mind-state, such as bliss or love. “How blissful or peaceful I am,” the ego proudly declares to itself (and possibly to others as well). “It’s a mark of my spiritual attainment.” But such fabricated emotions have nothing to do with awakening and naturally arise and pass if you let them. Awakening is the impersonal nonstate that remains unchanged while all states come and go.
Cycle back and forth between getting it and losing it
“Now I have it, now I don’t,” thinks the mind, as it chases the awakening it believes it once possessed but now has somehow misplaced. Because awakening can’t be owned, it also can’t be lost. But the mind mistakes a particular experience for enlightenment and keeps attempting to recreate it. “Once I felt so open, so spacious, so loving, so empty, and now I don’t,” says the mind. “Maybe this means I’m not awakened anymore, and I’d better do everything I can to regain it.”
For this reason, the word awakening can be misleading; it seems to refer to an event in space and time, whereas it’s actually the instantaneous awareness of the timeless and boundariless dimension of being. Even though the energetic phenomena that accompany this awareness–the rush of bliss, the upsurge of love, the profound peace –can be extremely appealing, the point is not to focus on the passing states but to open to the awakeness, the timeless presence, that’s been revealed as your very own self. Just as you don’t keep trying to recreate your wedding once you’re married, but instead enjoy your partner and the life you now share, you don’t keep trying to recreate awakening, but relax and allow awakeness to express itself through you.
Hide out in the transcendent
Adyashanti has observed that spiritual people tend to be more afraid of living than they are of dying, and some respond to the powerful transformational process that awakening precipitates by retreating from active participation in the world to the detached position of the disengaged witness. Also known as the Zen sickness or spiritual bypassing, this tactic turns awakening from a living, breathing reality into a fixed position or point of view and prevents it from unfolding, deepening, and embodying in an ordinary, everyday way.
Claiming that there’s no doer, for example, you may decline to do anything and spend your days in stubborn and determined inaction. In social situations, you may remain on the periphery, detached and undisturbed but also unresponsive and inflexible, with a smug, knowing half smile on your face. In relationships, you may participate to the degree that suits you, but pull back into a forced equanimity and insist you don’t have any feelings or needs when difficulties arise. “Who, me? I never get angry or upset. After all, I don’t really exist.” In this way, the ego uses awakening as a pretext for remaining in control by withdrawing from a world that seems demanding, frightening, overwhelming, or chaotic. If you can’t control the board, you simply refuse to play the game. (For more on spiritual bypassing, see Chapter 9.)
Fear the emptiness
When you first awaken to the emptiness at the heart of existence, you tend to experience it as vast, radiant, silent, and infused with love. But as the fullness and richness of the experience fades, the ego may turn it into an intimidating absence of meaning and identity, a groundless abyss through which it’s terrified of falling, endlessly and without support. People who were inadequately nurtured and held as infants may project onto this emptiness the desolation and isolation they endured when they were young and helpless, and those who were abused may view emptiness as potentially invasive and engulfing. In essence, the ego is once again frightened of dying and losing control, even though at another level it longs for its own dissolution in the vast ocean of being. (Otherwise, why would you pursue awakening in the first place?)
My friend Suzanne Segal (whose awakening story is told in Chapter 6) had a profound dropping away of the separate sense of self, which was followed by years of terror in the face of the absence she encountered whenever she attempted to locate herself. Finally, she met Jean Klein, who told her to simply give up this habit of trying to locate a self inside. When she followed his instructions, the emptiness of no-self gradually flowered in the fullness of the realization that everything is my very own self.
In other words, you need to stop peering into the void from the detached perspective of the mind, but instead allow the mind to dissolve into the void and peer out at the world as the void encountering itself. Emptiness is what you are, it’s not an object of your perception. This shift inevitably releases the fear and brings deep peace and relaxation of being.
Lose your way in the “wintertime” of the experience
After the initial awakening to the emptiness of self, life may suddenly lose its appeal and seem dry, flat, and lifeless. “What’s the point?” you may wonder. “It’s all empty anyway.” Especially if you once harbored high expectations for a life of unending bliss and delight, you may find yourself disillusioned and dissatisfied. Suzanne Segal, who spent years in this limbo of boredom and resignation, called it the “wintertime” of the experience. Here again, the mind has reified emptiness and determined that it’s empty of meaning. The only antidote is to stop conceptualizing the void and keep dying into it as a vital reality, until it blossoms as the source and essence of everything. (Needless to say, the void doesn’t blossom, it already is the source and essence—what blossoms is your realization.)
* * * * *
Awakening to the Limitless Body of Awareness
Set aside 15-20 minutes for this exploration.
Begin by sitting quietly with your eyes closed for five minutes or so. Rest your awareness on the experience of sitting, and allow your body to relax. Now open your awareness to the full range of bodily sensations, which at any moment may include heat, pressure, pulsing, energy, pleasure, pain, lightness, density, etc.. Don’t focus your attention on any particular sensations, just be aware of the rich, multidimensional play of sensations throughout your body. Set aside any images or ideas you may have about your body. The only body you have is the play of sensations you’re experiencing right now.
Be sure to include the sensations in your head, including the feelings of the face you take to be yours and the sensations of thoughts as they apparently arise in the brain. Set aside all names and interpretations and experience the sensations directly, without conceptual filters.
After several minutes, allow the body’s boundaries or edges to dissolve and “inner” sensations to merge with “outer” experiences. Your awareness now includes the full range of sensations both outside and inside the body. Indeed, the distinction between outside and inside no longer applies. Everything is happening inside of you!
If this doesn’t make any sense yet, just keep allowing the edges to dissolve and your awareness to expand indefinitely. You feel infinite space in every direction—front, back, side to side, above and below. Who you really are is this inexhaustible awareness without center or periphery, this groundless ground that gives rise to and embraces all things. You are the limitless enjoying its expressions in form. No matter where you look, there’s no separate self to be found—just this!
Keep letting go of all boundaries and concepts and surrendering to the groundless ground of inexhaustible awareness. No need to hold on to anything. This limitless vastness is what you are!
©Copyright 2007 by Stephan Bodian
Stephan’s website: www.stephanbodian.org/