“There is no greater mystery than this,
that we keep seeking reality
though in fact we are reality.”
– Ramana Maharshi
YOU ARE NOT A ‘PERSON’
When you bring your attention right back to the present moment, to present experience, to what’s actually happening right now, what do you find? Do you find that anything is fixed, unchanging, solid in present experience? Or do you find that everything is constantly changing, moving, from moment to moment?
Thoughts appear and disappear, all by themselves. Images, memories, ideas all ‘pop’ into awareness, linger for a while, and then disappear. Thoughts of the past, thoughts of the future. Thoughts about what you should be doing, about what you should have done, about things you need to do tomorrow. Thoughts about what should and shouldn’t happen. All sorts of feelings come and go – sadness, boredom, frustration, anger, fear. Sensations happen all over the body. Sounds appear out of nowhere – traffic outside, a television buzzing, a door slamming, your own breathing, a bird chirping outside.
Throughout the day, all sorts of thoughts appear, all sorts of sensations, feelings, sounds arise and fall in the vast ocean of consciousness that you are. Everything that appears in what you are, we could call a wave of experience. And so, this thought is a wave. This sensation is a wave. This sound is a wave. This feeling is a wave. These thought waves, sound waves, feeling waves, sensation waves are all the ocean of consciousness waving, dancing. The ocean dances as all that’s appearing right now.
Can you recognise that present experience is always simply a present-moment dance of waves, all happening in the vast ocean that you are? (And for ocean, you can read the word ‘consciousness’ or ‘awareness’ or ‘Being’ or ‘spirit’ or ‘source’ – or whatever word feels right to you. It’s all beyond words, anyway.)
What you are, as the ocean, simply watches as all these little waves of experience arise and fall, are born and die. And because it sees all of these waves, it is somehow beyond all of these waves. Beyond them, and yet somehow intimate with them. What you are sees everything, and yet it is somehow inseparable from everything it sees.
THE CALM IN THE MIDST OF THE STORM
From the perspective of the ocean, from the perspective of what you are, although the waves are all different in appearance, they are the same in essence. They are all water. And so, using this metaphor, you could say that the ocean knows that all the waves are simply part of itself. Every thought, every feeling, every sensation that appears in you is simply the ocean dancing. The strong, violent waves as much as the soft, gentle waves – they are all water. And so, on the deepest level, the ocean does not have a problem with any of the waves, because it knows that none of the waves can threaten who it really is. There is therefore a deep okayness with all of the waves, a peace beyond understanding, which comes from recognising their basic inseparability from the ocean.
None of the waves can harm the ocean. None of the waves can destroy it. None of the waves can detract from it, and of course, none of the waves can add to it. None of the waves are alien to it.
And so whether the ocean appears as a thought wave, a pain wave, a fear wave, a sadness wave, or any other wave, the ocean knows that on the deepest level, all of these appearances are deeply okay. They all have their place in what you are.
THE TRUE MEANING OF ‘ACCEPTANCE’
I want to talk about an acceptance that goes beyond all your ideas of acceptance.
What you are, as the ocean, ‘accepts’ every wave, simply because it is every wave. It has no choice but to accept. The ocean does not accept some waves and reject others – the ocean is the acceptance.
This acceptance of the ocean for its waves is beyond the conceptual opposites of acceptance and non-acceptance – the acceptance is the inseparability of the ocean and the waves, and as such it has no opposite. Every wave is already accepted by the ocean. This is the deepest acceptance of life – that you as an individual cannot do.
It’s not a question of you trying to do this deepest acceptance – it’s a question of recognising it, seeing it, noticing it in every single experience. You don’t have to ‘do’ this deepest acceptance; in a sense it has already been done, and what’s left is to simply and effortlessly notice that in this moment, and in every moment, every wave of experience – every thought, every sensation, every feeling – is already allowed to be here. By the time a wave appears it has already been accepted by what you are. The appearance of a wave is its acceptance. The floodgates are open – this moment has already been allowed in.
In a sense, what you are has already accepted the present moment, exactly as it is. What you are has already said ‘yes’ to what is – otherwise it would not be appearing like this. What you are cannot actually resist anything appearing now, for it is everything appearing now.
Everything is simply irresistible to what you are.
In my meetings, retreats and books, when I talk about acceptance, I’m not using the word in the way we have been conditioned to use it. I’m using the word in a new way, that points to this deepest acceptance of life, an acceptance, an allowing, that has already been done. And so, when I suggest that you ‘accept’ or ‘allow’ what is – it’s a shorthand way of directing your attention to the fact that in this moment, these thoughts, sensations, feelings, sights, sounds and smells, are already allowed in, because they already appearing!
To ‘accept’ thoughts and feelings is to simply, gently, effortlessly notice that in this moment, those thoughts and feelings are already accepted – they have already been allowed in. They are already here. It’s not a time-bound doing, but a present-moment seeing.
You cannot accept – for what you are is that acceptance.
This turns many spiritual teachings on their head. Now acceptance is not a place to reach in the future – it’s not something to look for, wait for, hope for, beg for. It’s not an achievement or something that comes through years of effort. It’s not a magical event that will happen one day. It’s not even grace. It’s something to rediscover, right in the midst of your present experience, here and now. ‘Acceptance’ is not a future goal – it is a present reality, always. If it is grace, then it is an ever-present grace, available to all, no matter what is happening.
This totally revolutionises our understanding of acceptance and rejection. Acceptance is no longer about me – a separate individual – trying to accept, trying to be in a state of constant acceptance – that could so easily just be another form of seeking. It’s about recognising yourself as the open space of acceptance, the ocean which accepts all of its waves.
EVEN YOUR NON-ACCEPTANCE IS ACCEPTED
I remember, years ago when I was identified as being a spiritual seeker, hungry for the release and escape of enlightenment, I used to believe that doing ‘acceptance’ 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year was the key to becoming enlightened. If I could just accept everything all the time, I would be free, or so I thought. It was a beautiful idea, but no matter how much I tried to accept everything, to be present with everything, to allow everything unconditionally, to be choicelessly aware of everything, there were still some things I just could not accept. Extreme physical pain, rape, torture, genocide – how could I accept all of this? When extreme pain happened in my own experience, I would try desperately to accept it, but would exhaust myself along the way.
I realise now of course, that there was an agenda (in other words, seeking) behind my attempt to accept. I secretly believed that if I accepted the pain, it would go away. It was my rejection of pain disguised as acceptance! What an ingenious place for the seeker to hide – right at the heart of a beautiful spiritual practice! Acceptance done with any kind of motive is not real acceptance – it is rejection in disguise.
What I didn’t realise back then was the unconditional, all-encompassing nature of this deep acceptance. I was so busy trying to accept that I ended up missing this deep acceptance of life – in which even my failure to accept was accepted! Yes, this is how radical this acceptance is – even your non-acceptance of pain is accepted here. All waves are accepted by the ocean, and if what’s happening right now is non-acceptance of pain, then that is accepted too. The pain is okay, and your dislike of pain, your wanting to be free from it, is okay. The seeker is accepted even in their failure.
And of course, here is a total paradox. If my non-acceptance of pain is accepted by life, totally accepted, then it is no longer non-acceptance. The non-acceptance transmutes. Logically, philosophically, rationally, this makes no sense – but it is so. I don’t want you to believe me – I want you to discover this for yourself. Everything that I share is about that discovery.
This is about a deeper sense of okayness, even when on the surface things are not okay. It is about a deeper completeness, even when on the surface things don’t seem complete. What I’m talking about is the ultimate relaxation, the ultimate peace. It’s not about you – a separate person – being relaxed or peaceful – it’s about a deeper sense of relaxation that comes with knowing that every thought, every sensation, every feeling is already accepted in the space that you are. Knowing that, in the moment, even your non-acceptance is accepted is something that can crack even the most hardened suffering at its core. You could say perhaps that all suffering is simply our blindness to this deepest acceptance.
SUFFERING: THE CONSTANT INVITATION
Your suffering or stress or psychological discomfort is no longer something ‘bad’ or ‘evil to be transcended or destroyed – it is a unique opportunity to see what you are still at war with. Suffering is always, always the invitation to deep acceptance.
Within suffering, you will always find this war – you will always find a blindness to this deepest acceptance. And so the war is always an invitation back to this deepest acceptance. Suffering hurts, and the hurt points us home. There is a very beautiful word in the English language – nostalgia – and it means ‘the pain of coming home’. But it could also mean ‘the discovery of home, even in the midst of pain’. Because of course, home is always present, even in the midst of all those experiences you’d rather escape, just as the ocean is always present, in and as every wave.
We try to cultivate qualities in ourselves such as love, peace, acceptance and non-attachment. We exhaust ourselves trying to love, trying to accept, trying to relax, and even trying to stop seeking. But in discovering who we really are, we come to recognise that these qualities are not the result of the effort of a separate person, but naturally present in who we are before identification as that person. Who we are is naturally loving, accepting, deeply relaxed and always at peace, never attached to any form – and has never been seeking anything. It is the ocean, always at rest even in the midst of the storm of life. Perhaps the end of the search is always infinitely closer than we think.
THE HEART OF ALL SPIRITUALITY
As all the authentic spiritual teachers throughout the ages have been reminding us, in reality you are not a separate person, not an individual ‘self’, but the open space in which all these little waves of experience – thoughts, sensations, sounds, feelings – come and go. You are, quite literally, what you seek – you are the consciousness that holds the dance of form, you are the vast expanse of awareness in which the world appears and disappears. No matter what appears and disappears in your experience, you remain as the calm in the midst of the storm, the deep, vast ocean that cannot be destroyed by even the most violent wave. The waves may rise and crash – but in the ocean’s depths, there is silence. Silence, and knowing.
This is where all religious and spiritual teachings point in the end: to the fact that there something here, call it what you will (for not being an ‘it’, it is truly unnameable), right in the depths of present experience, that doesn’t come and go, that cannot break or rot or shatter, even in the midst of extreme sadness or pain or fear. It is a place that is always deeply okay, even when things seem not okay. And being beyond the opposites, being beyond the dualistic world of thought, it is beyond the cycle of birth and death. It was never born and cannot die. It is the completeness the separate wave is seeking but can never find. It is Home.
We are so busy trying to move away from discomfort and pain and reach ‘completeness’ in the future, that we end up missing this present completeness. We are so busy trying to come home, that we miss the inescapable fact that we are already Home. We are so busy trying to hold up an image of ourselves, trying to prove who we are to ourselves and the world, that we miss that what we are is simply the wide open space in which all images come and go. We are so busy seeking that we end up missing this open space which holds everything, an open space which is itself the end of seeking.
You are what you seek, as the great spiritual teachers have always been telling us. And you won’t find it in the future – it can only be found here and now.