From a talk by Jeff Foster on a retreat in Glastonbury, June 2012
“I will not forget you.
I have held you in the palm of my hand.”
Isaiah 49: 15-16
“It is so beautiful, just to sit in this open space together, where nothing needs to be resolved or solved; where we don’t need to fix ourselves or be fixed; where our questions don’t need to be answered; where, finally, our questions are allowed to just be questions; where our uncertainty doesn’t need to be transformed into certainty; where our doubts are finally given permission to just be doubts. Here, in this warm embrace that we are, in this place of true meditation without a meditator, without a goal, without a controller, we don’t need to find the answers, we don’t need to come to any mental conclusions about life, we don’t need to work everything out, because finally, finally, our wondering and our wandering, our trying-to work-it-all-out and trying-to-make-it-all-work, our seeking and searching and our desperation to find answers — it is all just allowed to be here, exactly as it is.
This place where nothing needs to be resolved or fixed – it has no actual location, for it is what you are. What you are doesn’t need to sort out this present mess, escape it, fix it, transform it, transcend it, or even get rid of it. Because what you are is totally in love with this human mess, just as the ocean is totally in love with all of its waves. And “being in love with” here just means “being inseparable from”. It is the essence of non-duality. The ocean of who you are, the vast open space of consciousness, the wide and unlimited capacity of awareness, actually is all the waves that appear in it – all the thoughts, sensations, sounds, feelings, smells, colours, images. Consciousness is inseparable from all that arises ‘in’ consciousness, and that is the very definition of love. Every thought, every sensation, every possible feeling – they are all children of consciousness, metaphorically speaking, poetically speaking. They are all your family – they are all deeply familiar to you. They are ancient friends.
Remember, it’s not one thing (the ocean) loving another thing (the waves) – they are not two, they never were. All thoughts, sensations, feelings are already deeply allowed to be here, in what you are. They already have a place here, just as every wave already has a place in the ocean, without needing to be given that place. What you are, on the deepest level, has already said YES to this moment, exactly as it is. What you are doesn’t need to get rid of anything appearing now, because it is everything appearing now! It doesn’t need to (and cannot) escape this, because it is this!
In the same way, the room that you are in right now doesn’t need to get rid of the fly buzzing around in it. The fly comes in, the fly goes out. We swat the fly and then the next fly comes in. We swat that fly and another one comes in. Where do the flies end? When we will be free from troublesome thoughts and feelings? But remember, the room itself doesn’t need to swat the flies. The room says, “Come, flies, there’s enough room for all of you! Relax. You are free to fly!” So nothing needs to be resolved by the room that holds it all; the flies can just be flies; the questions can just be questions, the doubts can just be doubts. Thoughts can just be thoughts, feelings can just be feelings. Consciousness allows it all in – there is always enough room in the room of you.
And so, the invitation, as always, is to sit in this very precious place of not-having-figured-it-all-out-yet. We just rest in that. We rest in this mystery that is life itself. We rest in wonder, not knowing, not knowing what to do, or how to change things, or what is yet to come. And we start to wonder what “having figured it all out” would even mean, if that were even possible.
What you are – in this moment – does not need this moment to change or resolve itself, does it? It does not require uncertainty to change into certainty; for what you are is already holding uncertainty. Even uncertainty is embraced in the room of you. All thoughts, sensations and feelings appearing right now are already being held and embraced in the vast, open, spacious, unbounded, unlimited room that you are. Nothing in the room of this moment needs to be ‘worked out’. Nothing needs to be fixed. Nothing needs to be purified or ‘worked through’. This moment is already holding itself up, perfectly.
And what you are gently whispers, “Come, all of you frightened children, all of you neglected waves in the ocean of life. Come, uncertainty, confusion, fear, doubt. It’s okay. It’s safe to be here, in this room. There’s no need to fear me anymore; I’ve remembered who I am. I won’t swat you down again. I know you are myself. I grant you your rightful place in me.”
What you are doesn’t need get rid of doubt, or to transform doubt into certainty, because it doesn’t see doubt and certainty as opposites. The ocean doesn’t see any of its waves as opposites. There’s a wave of doubt, it’s just a wave. It’s just water. There’s a wave of uncertainty. It’s just a wave, it’s just water. They’re not opposites – they are water. Essentially, they are the same, although they differ in appearance. There’s a wave of joy, that’s water, that’s consciousness. There’s a wave of sorrow, that’s water, that’s consciousness. Anger, fear, excitement, bliss, frustration, even despair – ultimately, it’s all just a dance of water, of consciousness. And all these waves are its beloved children – beloved, even when they appear to misbehave. Beloved, always.
Who you are is like a perfect mother or father, the parents you always longed for but never had. Your actual, real-life parents could never live up to this total, radical, unconditional embrace that is life itself. They could never love you in exactly the way you wanted. They would always love imperfectly. No human is capable of loving unconditionally, in the way consciousness loves its waves unconditionally. It’s too much to ask of any person. It’s too much to expect from someone. When we unconsciously expect this love, and it’s not delivered, we feel disappointed and even resentful. But the parent you always longed for is actually what you are. You always longed for yourself. This total, unconditional allowing, this constant welcoming, can’t ever abandon you even in your darkest moments. Everything and everyone else can abandon you, apparently, but who you are cannot. Consciousness takes care of all its children unconditionally, even when they are frightened. All we’re really ever dealing with is frightened children. No evil, no negative, no sin, no darkness – just frightened children, looking for a home. Who will give them a home?
When everything falls apart and you feel totally lost and abandoned, what can’t abandon you, even in the midst of those feelings of total abandonment? Even when everything else has disappeared, what can’t leave you? It’s who you are. Even the feeling of abandonment, if that’s what’s arising, is welcome in what you are. Even when you feel totally abandoned, this is still here, this ocean of consciousness, allowing in the wave of abandonment. So what you are is never “the abandoned one”, even when there is a feeling of abandonment. And what you are is never “the lost one”, even when there’s a sense of being lost.
In fact, you are never “this one” or “that one”, you are the one – the one-without-an-opposite, the wide open capacity that is life itself. You are not “the sad one” or “the happy one”, “the enlightened one” or “the unenlightened one”, “the successful one” or “the failed one” – you are the undefinable, ever-present space that holds it all. Even when there’s a very intense wave, a strong, violent wave – for example, a wave of fear or pain or sadness – the ocean that you are is still fully present. Even when there’s sense of being totally lost, the wide open space in which the sense of being lost is allowed to arise, is not lost. Lostness is allowed to arise and dissolve in you, but you, as the ocean, are never lost. Even the sense of being lost is already being held here, it’s already being allowed in. That’s why you – who you really are – can never be lost, precisely because it’s there even when you feel lost. Consciousness is never lost.
What’s present now? What’s been here since you were a little baby, and before? What will be present as you take you last breath? What’s present on the first breath and present on the last breath? What doesn’t know age? What doesn’t compare breaths? What doesn’t tell itself that it’s five years old, ten years old, fifty years old, eighty years old? What doesn’t know birth or death?
There is only this breath. And this breath. What you are doesn’t tell itself “this is the first breath”. It doesn’t tell itself “this is the last breath”. There is only this breath. Each breath is brand new. Who you are never gets bored of breathing.
What is always at rest? What doesn’t need to understand? What doesn’t need to understand the concept of ‘rest?’ What never needs to know how to rest, and is at rest anyway?
And so it’s safe. It’s always safe. It’s safe for all those unloved, un-met, unseen waves to crawl out of the depths, out of the darkness, out of the corners and holes and crevices of experience and come into the light of consciousness. Thoughts are allowed in, sensations are allowed in, feelings are allowed in, sounds are allowed in. All those waves that we used to call ‘dark’, or ‘evil’, or ‘negative’, or ‘dangerous’, or ‘sinful’ – fear, anger, boredom, doubt, confusion, frustration, helplessness – they are all finally allowed here, to rest, to breathe, to come Home, to be themselves. They are not enemies, they are appearances of you. They cannot hurt you, even if they hurt. They are welcome in this unlimited room.
The miracle of life is that this moment is already here – these thoughts, these sensations, these sounds have already arrived. This moment is already exactly as it is. The miracle is in this ‘already’. And, funnily enough, the ‘already’ is the last place the seeker would ever want to look for freedom, for peace, for rest. Because the seeker is time, and the seeker has no interest in the ‘already’, which is prior to the upsurge of time. The seeker sees the ‘already’ as death, plain and simple. The seeker needs a future to stay alive. This moment is the death of the seeker, and so it doesn’t interest the seeker very much. “As it is” is not particularly interesting for the seeker!
We talk about people dying, about people losing their lives, but upon death, all that really happens is the falling away of anything that isn’t “already”, or at least the falling away of the illusion of anything that isn’t already. In other words, it’s the falling away of the illusion of time, the illusion of there being a separate seeker, someone looking for something else, someone separate from something. It’s a return to deep rest, a deep rest that was never actually absent.
So we emerge out of this deep rest, the deep rest that we are, and we return to it. Did anything ever happen, actually? Everything begins with deep rest and ends with deep rest and in between there’s this amazing play of “trying to rest” and not quite knowing how! “Maybe one day I’ll rest”, the seeker hopes. But the only rest is here and now. The only true rest is this moment. Why wait?
From deep rest to deep rest, and in the middle there’s this desperate and often exhausting seeking for something we can’t even name. Do we even know what we’re looking for? When will we find it? Were we ever separate from it? Do we really want what we think we want? Don’t we just long to rest, to rest from the exhausting search?
So just sitting, alone and together, doing nothing in this way, actually there’s a lot that happens here. We say that meditation is “doing nothing” but really there’s a whole world appearing and dissolving here. Sitting quietly, doing nothing, there’s a whole world that emerges from you and dissolves back into you. Out of nowhere, out of the purest emptiness, here are feelings, sounds, thoughts, pictures, images, the story of a past, even the story of the creation of the universe. Yes, even the story of the creation of the universe is allowed in you! There’s always enough room here.
What you are gives birth to thought, feelings, sadness, joy, excitement, bliss, confusion, despair – all of it. It’s infinitely creative, never exhausting itself. Maybe all of our suffering boils down to wanting some of life and not wanting the rest of it. We only want half of life, or less, and that is our misery. We only want some of the waves in the ocean – the happy waves, the nice waves, the positive waves, the good waves, the spiritual waves, the enlightened waves, the pure waves – whatever those would be. But the ocean is all of its waves, and who can block half of life out? Who would want to? Don’t you long for all of life? Why would you block out what you have always secretly longed for?
Life constantly throws itself out of itself in an act of unspeakable creativity. And it gently whispers, “See, I give you all of this. I offer you all of this. Can’t you see what I have given you? Can’t you see what I continue to give?”
And we say, “But I don’t just want what is given. I don’t just want what is already here. I want more. I want all of this, and enlightenment, too.”
And as life continues to offer everything, and we continue to ignore it in our pursuit of some future attainment or achievement or goal, it continues to whisper, very softly in the background, “But, dear seeker, this is the enlightenment you seek. It is already here. Why do you hold ‘enlightenment’ outside of yourself, in space and in time? Why do you look for it in states and experiences and all that is impermanent? Why do you only want part of me, when I offer you my all? Why do you reject my constant gift?”
And we say, “Oh, but I am not worthy of it. Little old me, imperfect old me, I don’t deserve everything. I’m too limited. I’m too ignorant, I’m too young or too old, I’m too stupid, I’m too unenlightened, I’m too slow, I’m too weak, I’m too this or that.” We feel that we would not be able to hold all of life, if it was given. It would be too much for us. It would be totally undeserved.
And on our deathbeds we still ask, “Where is enlightenment? Where is that which I long for the most?”
And life replies, “Can’t you see that it’s been here all along? It was all of it. It was every breath you took. It was every sensation that surged through your body. It was every thought. It was every moment of doubt. It was there in the despair and in the bliss and even in the panic. It was not only hidden in one thing, it was there in everything. It was all the questions you asked and your hopes of an answer. It was there as you ran around the world looking for something you were never going to find – because you were it already. It was everyone you ever met. It was mother, it was father, it was your imperfect relationship with them. It was doing your best, and sometimes not doing your best. It was loving imperfectly. It was dreaming of enlightenment, and it was always feeling that you were distant from it.”
And we ask, “But where was grace? How come I never received it? How come I was always waiting?” And life says, “But it was always grace, all of it, all the time. The joy, the pain, the bliss, and the boredom. It was there in the certainty and in the doubt. It was all grace, far beyond all your second-hand ideas of grace.”
And we say, “But I haven’t worked it all out yet! I don’t understand!” And life replies, in silence, “But you don’t need to work it all out, my child. I never asked that of you. You don’t need to understand. Just be here. That’s all that’s required of you. Just be here. Be with this. Be present in the midst of everything you see as being unresolved.”
And we say, “But I don’t know how. I don’t know how to live, and I don’t know how to die.” And life replies, “Shhh. You don’t need to know how to die. I’ll take care of that for you. Just rest. Rest in me. Just trust, and rest, always.”
What if we just rest in the place where we haven’t worked it all out? Maybe we never will work it all out, and maybe it doesn’t matter. Because maybe right here, in the midst of the unresolvedness, in the midst of the untied, loose ends of life, in the total lack of neatness, something has already totally resolved itself. Perhaps it had already resolved itself a long time ago, and we are just catching up.
To the mind, meditation may be seen as “just sitting doing nothing”, but actually, that place is the place where everything resolves itself. Even if tomorrow never happens, and these questions and doubts never get resolved, and these dreams never come true, and these plans never manifest – and they may do and they may not – yes, even if tomorrow never comes, there’s still this. There’s being here. Do we need a future to be here, now?
There’s always this. It’s your constant companion. It will never leave you or abandon you or deceive you. It cannot be destroyed, for it is here even in the midst of the experience of total destruction. The crucifixion can’t touch it. It’s here when you open your eyes in the morning and it’s here when you go to bed at night. It’s your dearest, oldest friend. It’s the parent you never had. It’s the lover you always dreamed of. It’s yourself.
So forget about trying to love yourself; it’s hopeless. Forget about trying to accept yourself; it’s hopeless. Forget about trying to save yourself; it’s hopeless. In this place, there’s no need try to love yourself anymore. In a way that you’ll never be able to comprehend or put into words, you are already loved. Unconditionally loved. In the midst of your pain, your sadness, your doubt, your confusion, your lack of what you thought you needed, what you are is always here, embracing, allowing, holding it all. Yes, the seeker is loved even in their failure to find what they’re looking for, just as the wave is already the ocean, even its total failure to reach the ocean. The wave struggles and struggles to reach the ocean, and it’s bound to fail, for it is already what it seeks but doesn’t realise that yet.
The ocean holds its beloved wave, as the wave struggles to understand.
There’s something so beautiful about this failure of seeking. The wave is bound to fail to reach the ocean. It doesn’t need to, and it can’t anyway, because it’s already That. Even in your failure to find what you were looking for, to find what you thought you needed, what you seek is already holding you. It holds you even as you fail totally. That’s the kind of love that is unimaginable, unspeakable, beyond reason. It’s a kind of crazy love that cannot be understood. I like what Nisargadatta Maharaj says:
“Wisdom tells me that I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. Between the two my life flows.”
Wisdom, or clarity, is the recognition that you are the ocean, the vast, open space of awareness, or consciousness (or whatever word you want to use, for words are not important in this place) prior to form, and that is a beautiful, profound realisation. But it doesn’t stop there. For there is always love – which is the recognition that this wide open space is actually inseparable from everything that appears, that emptiness is none other than form. Awareness is radically inseparable from everything that arises in awareness. It’s not awareness of thoughts – awareness is thoughts. It’s not awareness of pain, pain is saturated with awareness, it is made of awareness, it is awareness. Every wave is made of the ocean, and so in the end you can’t even speak about the waves and the ocean. You can’t even speak about awareness and “everything that appears in awareness”. But perhaps it’s a useful, temporary metaphor, to point to the deeper understanding that the recognition of wisdom, of clarity, is somehow totally incomplete without the recognition of love. Really they’re the same thing. Heart and mind, nonduality and duality, the human and the divine, the absolute and the relative – however you want to say it – it points to the inescapable fact that every thought, every sensation, every feeling, however uncomfortable, however intense, however unexpected, is welcome in you. You are the capacity for it all. You are the room for the unloved flies. You are the home for the homeless. It is this radical embrace which we have always sought, beyond all our ideas about awakening and enlightenment and trying to be free.
The recognition of the ocean is somehow incomplete without deeply honouring the arising and the dissolving of the waves. Which means that spiritual awakening, rather than being an escape from the waves, or a disembodied transcendence of them, is actually a total love of them, an inseparability from them. It is a wild love affair with the human mess, with the loose ends of things. It is the discovery of unspeakable grace within the unresolved messiness of being human.
So, in this place, our questions are left hanging, and there are no conclusions, and our plans may or may not come to fruition, and our never-ending story is totally unresolved, and still, and still, there is this very alive, very still, very dependable, very peaceful space of deep rest in the midst of it all, and it is our true Home, and it never needs to be understood.”