“I MAY BE A TEACHER, BUT I’M JUST LIKE YOU”
“…it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am,
I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know,
you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on….”
- Samuel Beckett
Over the five or six years that I’ve been sharing this message of present-moment freedom and deep rest, I’ve been privileged to meet so many wonderful people, so many honest ‘seekers’ in the true sense of that word, those who hunger not for a future state or event or experience, but for the present-moment truth of themselves; those who are deeply willing to face whatever must be faced, even if that encounter brings tremendous pain, and who are deeply unwilling to settle for second-hand concepts and untested beliefs, however illustrious their source.
I’ve met students who think they’ll never find what they’re looking for, and I’ve met teachers who are quite certain that they’ve already found it. I’ve met those who are deeply doubtful and racked with confusion, and those who are totally certain and refuse to engage in exploratory dialogue. I’ve met those who cling to their teachers and lineages and ancient scriptures for dear life, and I’ve met those who have never met a guru except the ones that appear in their daily lives. For many, suffering has been their greatest guru. The death of a beloved parent or friend can teach us so much about letting go, more than words about ‘the absence of the self’ ever could.
I’ve met those who are kept awake at night by impossible questions, and those who believe they’ve been given all the correct answers. I’ve met those who have dispensed with their curiosity, those who believe that they are ‘nobody’ and ‘no-one’ and ‘nothing’, those who believe that all spiritual paths – except theirs of course – are based on ignorance and delusion, and who mock everyone else and call it compassion, and then excuse all of their behaviour with the classic line ‘There is nobody here in control’.
All these beings, teachers and students alike, are beloved to me, because I recognise myself in all of them. I have shape-shifted over the years, taking on many different roles. I have been the student of Advaita, certain that diligence and hard work and the yoga of self-knowledge would eventually lead to full enlightenment, whatever I believed that to mean at the time. I have listened and read the words of heavily bearded men and non-bearded women and have wanted so desperately to believe their inspiring stories. I have been the exhausted seeker, the failed seeker, the ex-seeker, rejecting all paths and practices as illusory, yet – in my private and unseen moments – still suffering underneath my façade, still angry with the world, and unwilling to admit it to myself or to anyone else, bottling it all up and pretending to be ‘peaceful’, forgetting that true peace resists nothing. I have been the ‘enlightened one’, convinced that my journey was over, seeing myself as superior to everyone else and totally unaware of my arrogance. I have been an absent ‘nobody’, in love with the teachings of neo-Advaita, thrilled by seemingly radical yet half-baked statements such as ‘nothing exists’, convinced that ‘there is no person’ and ‘there is only Oneness’ and unaware that this was all still a dream, forgetting that I had simply taken on another religion in my desperate attempt to free myself from all religion.
I have, at times, thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and thrown out the bath, too. And the bathroom.
Many times I have used spirituality to push life away. I have used concepts like ‘there is no me’ to avoid feeling pain. I have used ‘I am not a person’ to hold off intimacy with the ones I loved the most. I have not wanted to admit things about myself in order to promote an image of myself as ‘the perfect one’ or ‘the one who has finished’ or ‘one who has transcended suffering’ or ‘the compassionate missionary, sent back to earth to awaken the unawakened’ … or even ‘the one who has gone beyond all images of himself’!
How very exhausting.
Even after many ‘awakening’ experiences, or non-experiences, or whatever we’re calling them today, there were times of raging doubt, times when I thought I couldn’t go on (and I went on), times when I thought I was about to be consumed by madness or terror or humiliation, times when all the words of all the spiritual teachers in the world, even the most gifted ones, couldn’t even begin to touch what I was going through.
Nothing ever, ever brought true rest, neither the material world nor the spiritual traditions, neither Advaita nor neo-Advaita, neither the myriad rituals nor the rejection of them. Until the natural deep rest of myself was discovered, that is. For what I truly am never needs to come to rest, because it is always resting. Rest was never lost. What I am – and what you are – is this vast, boundless ocean in which every beloved wave – every thought, sensation, feeling, sound, smell – is allowed to arise and dissolve. And the ocean always remains, deeply resting in itself.
True rest does not happen in time, for it is already Here.
Wherever you are at on your journey, however much of a struggle it becomes, however misunderstood you feel, know that others have been there before; remember that others have swum through the shit and piss and have come out clean on the other side. If self-knowledge and understanding is one side of the journey, then the other side of it is love and compassion and a deep embrace of our humanity, without which everything crumbles to the ground. For beyond spiritual paths or lack of them, there is this eternal embrace that you are, this deep acceptance that is already allowing this moment to be, exactly as it already is.
Awakening does not reject our imperfect humanity, it embraces it fully, and in that embrace, transmutes it into gold.
It has taken many years and many encounters, both with others and with myself, and a lot of humility and soul-searching and witnessing the myriad traps the eager seeker can fall into in their pursuit of what they think they’re looking for, but in my new book ‘The Deepest Acceptance: Radical Awakening in Ordinary Life”, I speak in a new way about the non-path path of awakening. Or rather, I speak about what I have always spoken about, but perhaps using fresh language and a more human voice. It is the same music but different notes, and it hopefully avoids the traps of the “work your way towards full enlightenment and then sit on your enlightened throne” perspective, but also the traps of the neo-Advaita perspective (“there is no path because there is no person, so you might as well give up and keep on suffering, you silly non-existent seeker”).
Perhaps there is another way, a way that avoids these extremes, a way that honours the messiness and beauty of human existence whilst at the same time pointing to this freedom, not as a future state but as a present-moment possibility for all, regardless of background or lineage or how many gurus you’ve sat with. Time will tell if I’ve succeeded in my aim to make the unteachable teachings more accessible and down-to-earth and human and relevant for our times, and to take the arrogance and the “I’m more enlightened than you” silliness out of spirituality, but either way, I’ll hopefully be making a little contribution to the overall conversation. Perhaps sharing my experience will resonate with those who are going through a similar thing. We can only sing our song.
I’m glad to have met you all, and hope to keep on meeting you for as long as I can.
Thankyou for listening.