I have been writing quiet a bit about the transformative power of surrendering in this blog so far and I think it’s time to clarify what I exactly mean by that. After all, surrendering is but another pointer to help break the resistance to the full experience of the present moment, to be fully present and alive. Only in surrender can we align ourselves with the depth of our being.
What probably to most people comes to mind first when they hear the word “surrender” is a conscious act of giving up in the face of having lost all hope of a better outcome. In this context it suggests weakness and defeat. For others, “to surrender” does not have this negative connotation. For them it means allowing, accepting, embracing.
I try to carefully avoid using any of these words to describe surrender. To me, they imply the notion that something needs to be done. Surrendering in a spiritual sense, however, is not something that can be achieved or brought about actively, because it is the very absence of interfering in any way, that is the hallmark of surrendering. Even the very trying not to resist is, at its root, a form of interfering and resistance.
If surrendering is an absence of resisting, how to not resist?
There are realizations and methods that can help “trick” ourselves into surrendering mode. One of them is the realization of Oneness, another is what I would call “only awareness” and, last but not least, self-compassion. These realizations have in common that they establish some sort of intimacy with all experiences, pleasant and unpleasant. Which makes sense, if we think about it, because we are biologically wired up for survival and surrendering is only a viable option to the reptilian parts of our mind if it does not constitute a threat to the organism. No matter how surrendering happens, though, what it ultimately leads to is a liberating acceptance of oneself.
Let’s start then with Oneness. To come to the realization that all is One in many different shapes and forms releases the anxiety vis-a-vis an “other” that may threaten our survival. It is a realization of highly devotional character. All is fundamentally known to be a manifestation of all there is (call it the divine, supreme intelligence, creator, God or whatever). As such, it cannot be flawed. In Oneness, there is no reference point to make such a qualitative statement anymore. All must be exactly as it is supposed to be, because all is IT. That includes all my experiences, conditioning, biological make-up etc. Nothing is neither in any way wrong nor right. It just is. And therein lies a deep acceptance, a surrender to everything.
“Only awareness” is the realization that at the heart of our being is awareness, while we usually identify with the content of awareness, that is, our memories, thoughts and sensations. It is a realization of clear discernment. When the mind is quietened down enough (e.g. by means of contemplation or transcending opposites) one gets a glimpse of content-free awareness. In these moments it seems as the experiencer alchemistically merges with the experience to reveal that what’s always there is the capacity to experience, the experiencing through and within awareness. Since this capacity is ongoing and unconditionally allowing all experiences in, there is an understanding of the impossibility to block unpleasant experiences from coming into awareness. And while it is realized that there has never been a choice over what’s experienced, there is profound inspiration from the fact that our fundamental nature does not discriminate. It naturally embraces it all. The giving up the illusion of control and the identifying with the loving nature of awareness leads to a falling into the grace of surrender.
Finally, self-compassion is the realization that everybody of us is struggling internally with similar issues. No one gets a pass on them. It is a realization of the heart wisdom. Since we are all born into this world vulnerable and weak, we are conditioned to be over-sensitively wary of threats which causes us to contract and suffer in variable degrees. You and me, we are going through the same thing. We are brothers and sisters in the human condition. Put into this perspective, our suffering becomes nothing to be ashamed of or to be avoided, since it is of universal nature among the human species. Again, this sort of natural opening to the whole array of human experiences is non other than a way to surrender.
When we fully surrender, we have come to fully accept ourselves. In this alignment of persona and soul is where the duality between inner and outer vanishes.
“Much of spiritual life is self-acceptance, maybe all of it.”
~ Jack Kornfield
In the next few paragraphs I’ll try something almost impossible. I will attempt to make some of the most common non-dual pointers from the Advaita Vedanta and Mahayana Buddhist traditions more obvious to contemporary readers. No matter how much they are rephrased and explained here, though, they will still remain what they are: pointers. They are but tools to bring about an insight but they are not truths in and of themselves. If these pointers are mistaken as such, that is, if they are used to create a new belief system about reality, they can make people more ignorant and delusional than ever before. I think of them as magic words or mantras or secret poems that have no purpose other than to spark an insight. Once the insight is gained, better to stay with the insight not with the pointer. There is a Zen saying that encapsulates this beautifully: “even gold dust can cause blindness”.
For the sake of orientation (our minds like that!), the pointers are grouped in four categories in the order of sequence of how they are sometimes presented to spiritual seekers along the path of unravelling. In no way, though, is this grouping suggesting that the pointers are only valuable at certain specific times. Some could easily be put in more than one category.
Pointing away from form (things)
– All is impermanent
– This is this, because that is that
– The world is an illusion
– It’s all Maya
What these rather straight-forward pointers have in common is a conveying of the notion that the world is not composed of independent forms or things as it seems to be, but that actually all is ever-changing and intimately interconnected. A big living organism, so to speak, into which we are interwoven. What is experienced is always only a snapshot of what the world looks, smells, feels, sounds and tastes like now in this very moment.
The interconnection is such that if one aspect of the world is changed all else changes with it, just as creating a wave minusculely affects the level of the whole lake. While everything is completely interconnected and ever-changing, things cannot exist in and of themselves as we tend to think they do. Whatever is dependent on other things to arise, is not inherently real. All is as it is, because all else is exactly as it is.
Pointing towards emptiness (or oneness)
– Only Brahman is real
– Form is emptiness
– No time or space
– No self or doer
– No birth or death
As we are moving away from “seeing” the world as composed of solid, independent forms and things we usually become more receptive to pointers to emptiness or oneness. What they are trying to convey is the notion that not only is the world a sensory illusion but what is ultimately real is beyond knowing, because all is one single infinite and endless thing (oneness). And since there is only one thing, no “other” exists that would help define it in conceptual terms like larger than, higher than, better than, etc. Having no reference point, it, whatever it is, is beyond concept. It is empty of such (emptiness). If all is one/ empty, we ultimately don’t exist either as independent, beings in time and space. We must be the infinite (non-)being with a local perspective.
The realization of emptiness/ oneness pulls the mind from a world of some-things to its opposite, a world of no-thing. Given, however, that we are still operating in dualistic pairs of opposites (form vs. emptiness/ oneness) we are not “done” yet. There is an acute danger to hang out in emptiness/ oneness and get stuck there (the so-called “Lucknow-disease”, or “stink of enlightenment”). After all, emptiness or oneness, the concept of no concept, is still a concept and, hence, not more “advanced” than the concept of forms and things. The time has thus come for the great unravelling.
Pointing away from emptiness (or oneness)
Most common pointers:
– The world is Brahman
– Emptiness is form
– Neither it is, nor is it not
– In this world, but not of it
These pointers are intended to transcend the opposites of form and emptiness/ oneness by conveying that paradoxically both, form and emptiness (or oneness) are equally invalid (or valid) at the same time. Metaphorically speaking we removed the thorn of form with the thorn of emptiness/ oneness and now we are instructed to drop that thorn. Being put in a position of having no opposite to grab on to, the mind “vanishes”. Cut off from its lifeline of dualistic concepts it can’t exist. That’s why paradoxes are mind-blowers. What’s important is that what reveals itself when the mind is “blown”, is the nature of who we really are.
Pointing to what you really are
Most common pointers:
– You are that
– You are what you seek
– You are never not there
– You are pure awareness/ consciousness/ knowing
– This is it
– I am that I am
Once the mind is transcended, what remains is just pure, direct experiencing. Since the mind is creating the illusion of an experiencer experiencing an experience, when it is gone, the experiencer collapses with the experience and just experiencing remains. This “just experiencing” is the bare bones of our existence. It is what can never be left or lost. It’s always there, closer than close. It unconditionally allows any experience in. Suffering is created when the (illusory) experiencer tries to do the impossible, to manage and control the experience that has already been allowed in. All pointers, therefore, ultimately point to a surrendering to the immediacy of the experience in whatever form it may come, pain or bliss. Which, by the way, is what all spiritual traditions point to.
“Resist, and the tide will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry you to higher ground.”
Words of wisdom from the “Dude” Lebowski 😉
A lot of times, it seems that people on the spiritual path have had an awakening into the illusory nature of the “you” but struggle to integrate the realization into their everyday lives.
A look into an etymology dictionary reveals that “to integrate” is derived from the Latin “integratus” meaning “to make whole”. It implies an un-wholeness which somehow can be corrected or, alternatively, a wholeness that can be brought about. Hence, the underlying assumption of “integration” is a sense of incompleteness.
By the same token, when spiritual seekers seek to “integrate” their realization into their lives they implicitly assume that their current way of experiencing or state of mind could be “fuller” or “higher”, or in other words, more complete somehow. The notion of incompleteness, obviously, can only arise if there is an opposing notion of completeness. The “complete” mind-state that is sought, usually, is either some idealized state of the permanent blissed-out kind or some previous experience that the seeker would like to enter into perpetually.
As long as there is the notion of incompleteness, there will be a seeker struggling for its own idea of completeness. And so what happens is that the seekers realization most often just shifts the seeking for realization to the seeking for integration. One goal to struggle for is simply replaced by the next.
What is fundamentally misunderstood by the seeker is not that his or her mind-state or way of experiencing lacks completeness but the realization does. If the realization of the illusory nature of the “you” was complete, then no particular mind-state or experience would be sought after because all phenomena would be seen as equally valid manifestations of the One, of that which is all there is.
It is then realized that there never was an incompleteness, only the idea of a “complete” state or “complete” way of experiencing created the illusion that there ever was incompleteness.
Once there are no more preferences for certain experiences, the seeker for completeness collapses and what remains is non-conditional intimacy with whatever (yes, whatever!) is experienced in awareness moment-by-moment. “Being, here, now” becomes naturally available.
It is in such surrender to whatever “is” that liberation is found.
“What we are looking for is what is looking.”
~ St. Francis of Assisi
This is my first blog entry. Whatever you will find on this blog is not intended for “you”. I don’t offer self-improvement or self-help methods because they assume that we are flawed, that is, not good enough the way we are. Therefore, although they may alleviate dis-ease with life to some extend, they will never be able to put to rest the seeking for wholeness. The intention of this blog is to release your being from the clutches of the “you” by pointing at its illusory nature. By illusory I don’t mean to suggest that the “you” does not exist but that it exists other than one usually thinks it does. And I am not suggesting either that the “you” is problematic. Just the belief in its inherent existence as a separate entity can be. If that sounds interesting, fine. Go on reading. If not, that’s fine too.
This is a nutshell version of what this blog is about:
What is the “you” and why can it be problematic?
I define the “you” as the embodied sense of a separate entity that likes or dislikes, accepts or rejects what it experiences based on previous experiences.
Due to the preference for certain experiences the “you” is bound to constantly oscillate between bliss and piss, desire and fear, thereby unconsciously enslaving itself by its own conditioning. For a “you” that often runs into experiences which it has predominantly unpleasant associations with, life can seem an endless struggle or even cruel. For a “you” that is often confronted with pleasant experiences, life seems easy, effortless.
No matter its conditioning, though, every “you” seems to be endlessly trying to avoid unpleasant experiences by means of seeking out for pleasant experiences through sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, relationships, fame, enlightenment, etc. This seeking for pleasant experiences (or escaping from unpleasant ones) is what drives most of the life of the “you”. It is the stuff its story is all about.
How do “you” come about?
The “you” is made up of a body and a mind. Em-body-ment arises when the “you” attributes sense impressions to a body in time and space. En-mind-ing happens when the “you” attributes memory and thinking to an abstract concept called “mind” within an embodied entity in time and space. The referencing of sense impressions, memory and thought arising in awareness to a separate body-mind in time and space constantly upholds a sense of “you” throughout the day and while dreaming at night. When the “you” is deprived of sense impressions, memory and thought, such as in deep sleep, the sense of it is lost.
Where do “you” go at night?
Every night the “you” disappears without us reflecting much about the philosophical implications. We just take it for granted that it reappears when we wake up. If we think about it, though, there can only be one possible explanation: something that can disappear and reappear cannot be inherently real, meaning, its existence must be dependent on other conditions. These conditions are, as stated above, interpretation of and identification with sense impressions, memory and thought. Without those you exist but not as the “you” it usually takes itself to be.
Who are You?
You are not the “you”. Think about this for a second: in deep sleep the “you” disappears but you still keep breathing, right? That which keeps you breathing is your fundamental essence. You are that which enlivens “you”. Some call it energy, some call it consciousness or essence, other simply call it life. Whatever it is, it is an impersonal no-thing that is ongoing. “You” is an illusion.
What is real?
Scientists have been telling us all along that fundamentally all they could find anywhere in the universe is one form or another of no-thing. The deeper they dig into the no-thing the more no-thing they find (for some reason, however, scientists, just like any anybody else, unconsciously exclude the “you” from this incredible discovery). Furthermore, the no-thing that scientists are finding, seems to be everywhere. The universe seems to be an unbroken wholeness of no-thingness that manifests to our senses in myriad forms. Hence, depending on the point of view one is taking everything is either of the same essence, or, alternatively, nothing inherently exists in and of itself apart from this essence.
Absorbing the “you” into the One
What does this leave us with? Every-thing is one no-thing. If all is this One, then body, mind, sensations, feelings, thoughts and emotions are this One too. They are but the One in disguise and, therefore, cannot be of separate “thing-ness”. Realizing this undercuts the duality between a “you” that is experiencing “some-thing” through the body-mind and the experiencing itself. This is called “at-one-ment”. It is the anti-dote to the sense of separation between experience and experiencer. With it, any type of experience, no matter how painful, ceases to be perceived as problematic, as the resistance to it collapses when it is realized to be none other than what one fundamentally is. The rejection of any type of experience then becomes a form of self-denial, a mental activity which, one realizes, can only lead to un-wholeness and suffering. The result of this realization is an unconditional surrender and acceptance to the experience of life because life and the One are one.
Paradox of existence
Even after the realization of oneness, perception of duality does not magically disappear, but it becomes transparent. The “you” is realized to be the fictitious character in a story written by interpretations of what is experienced in awareness. The same applies to the notion of oneness. If all is One, then oneness can’t exist in and of itself either, because it is a dualistic concept, that is, dependent on a notion of “other”. Hence, what remains when duality and oneness alchemistically “meet” is just “this” as it is: a super-ordinary existence beyond notions of oneness or duality in accord with what is experienced in the only reality there is and ever will be, which is whatever happens in awareness moment-by-moment. This is liberation.
How to realize oneness
Just like the eye cannot see itself, the “you” cannot go beyond itself and realize its illusory nature. The very trying to, will reinforce the sense of “you”. What to do? The role of the teachings is to engage the “you” into paradoxes or riddles which point to the linguistic “place” where conceptual pairs of opposites are transcended and the dualistic “you”, in a flash (sometimes called “insight”), looses any ground to stand on. Only “there” can no-thingness be known without conceptually asserting it (asserting a “no-thing” per definition denies it). It is in this spirit that this blog will hopefully unfold. If not, it won’t.
“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”