Jonathan Robinson: For new listeners, Awareness Explorers is dedicated to exploring ideas and methods for awakening and how to integrate such experiences into daily life.
live in a state of discovery all the time
So we have a well-known spiritual teacher Adyashanti. Most of you probably know who he is but I’ll just mention a few things about about him. Adyashanti is an American spiritual teacher that offers silent retreats around the world. He’s the author of a lot of books The Way of Liberation, Emptiness Dancing, True Meditation, End of Your World and most recently The Most Important Thing. If you want to find out more you can look him up at Adyashanti.org. And I want to welcome you Adyashanti, thanks for being on the program.
Adyashahanti: Thanks Jonathan, it’s nice to be here with you both.
JONATHAN: Great, great. Well you know we have a bunch of listeners that we said what would you like to ask Adyashanti and we got inundated with questions, and of course Brian and I have questions. But the first question I want ask is, I want to assume that we don’t really know what’s best. And you have a lot of experience awakening, you have a lot of experience people asking you questions. What question do you think is really good for people to focus on, or to ask you to get to their next level? What question do you rarely get or you want people to ask you that you don’t always get that opportunity to answer?
ADYASHANTI: Mhmm. That itself is a kind of interesting question. One of the things I’ve noticed over the years I’m often surprised how seldom I actually get asked directly about awakening. I think every spiritual teacher probably has that right. Because everybody comes to us has their life and whatever they’re dealing with, and whatever you know, emotional state they’re trying to navigate and so often questions around that. But I think you know, when since you framed it the way you did, you know around awakening or you know questions I think I’m most important, it’s hard to say what’s most important because that question is relative to each individual‘s life what is important to them. But I think you know in a broad sense, it seems like there’s this line of demarcation where our whole orientation shifts from you know, life and spirituality itself and everything you can be…and usually this is where we start. Where we’re coming from, I guess you would call it egocentric perspective which I don’t say that with any judgment around it right, it’s just a particular way of experiencing and perceiving life. And from that perspective we tend to look at things especially things like spirituality let’s say. You’re like, well how can this improve my life, how can it help me deal with, how can I feel better, or more free, or connect with God, or you know, whatever that agenda might be. But then there becomes this sort of shifting of orientation. And I guess you could call it shifting of agenda too, where all of sudden it becomes less about how to manage your emotional life let’s say, that’s important of course. But it becomes more about sort of our most…I like to think of it as our most existential sense of identity, right.
ADYASHANTI: Because we realize all this is pertaining to me, every aspect of life, at least from the egocentric perspective. It all is…is about oneself. And again I am not saying that with any kind of positive or negative spin, it’s just like that tends to be where we spend a lot of time. And then there comes a point when you go, well geez what is that, that I call me? What is it that seems like every question I have, you know, all my motivations seem to be coming from this sort of central place that we call me or I. And I think that’s where a real critical turn and almost our spiritual evolution comes when we become interested in what that is…rather than how to make it feel as happy as possible or good as possible even as connected as possible. Or like what is that which seeks…that is seeking connection, or happiness, or freedom, or… And that to me it’s… And to really be legitimately interested in that, is…we kinda have to evolve our way into it, like you know people can hear the question, “Who am I,” or things like that. But until they’re at that place where that question is alive for them, it will feel dry and it won’t really resonate. They just can’t get any energy behind it, but I think once somebody crosses a kind of, you know, unwritten line you could say, all the sudden it’s like, hmmm. What is that I call myself that seems to be living this life and on a spiritual pursuit and all the other orientations that it has? That I think is the beginning of a deeper form of spiritual engagement.
BRIAN: Right, yeah. That’s so interesting because that so dovetails with…actually what I was planning to ask as my first question, because in your book The Most Important Thing I’m really fascinated by that idea the most important thing…and for instance when I started my spiritual search I wasn’t looking for enlightenment, the most important thing for me was simply to not be depressed anymore and to not be afraid of shame and criticism. But um…
ADYASHANTI: And that’s legitimate, right? Like when that’s a big part of our life, then those issues and those questions around those issues are where we need to be focusing.
BRIAN: Yeah, yeah, that’s right. But I had a hunch that maybe the way, maybe the way into it was because I spent so much time protecting my ego, my niche was maybe to inquire into the reality of the ego.
BRIAN: So then now the most important thing for me is trying to see through the illusion of the ego, or you call it the false self, when perception of subject and ob…and…when the perception of subject and object collapses.
BRIAN: So to try to understand, or experience, or deeply realize that the absence of self. But that’s pretty tricky, but I think that’s…
ADYASHANTI: So it is, yeah. It is pretty tricky because all of the sudden we enter into a realm of extreme paradox. You know and it’s…that becomes a way. And then we have to learn how to navigate intuitively rather than just a linear conceptual part of our brain because I think the deeper we go we run into paradoxes. You know, like there is no self and there is a self, and both of them sort of have a kind of legitimate…legitimacy to it. Almost like if we could push those two perceptions or experiences of being together they form this greater whole that is often to our minds quite paradoxical.
BRIAN: Well when I think of the self I think of the body. And I hear people talk of the separate self because the body is what seems separate. But um, I don’t really find a sense of self that’s not actually in thought…so, but the sense of self seems to describe the body so it’s difficult to see the concept of no self. I mean what is that self that there is none of?
ADYASHANTI: Yeah. It’s a…it’s a…so this is a tricky area, ok? So because I approach this maybe a little bit more paradoxically than I think a lot of people do, and especially let’s just look at it from the ego’s point of view. I think in spirituality I talked this way a lot, I think a lot of spiritual teachers throughout time have talked about the ego, you know as some version of saying the ego is sort of a false identity. It’s an image as you suggested. It has to do with the ways we think, it’s this unending seemingly unending sort of narrative, right?…behind everything we do. So there’s ego as a sort of conceptual and image that our mind holds and then there’s…and so that, that can be seen through, right. We can start to see…we can see through like oh that is…if I am not thinking about about myself, geez, what just happened to the self that I know and so familiar with, if I don’t have a…refer to an image…you know? Obviously something is still here, in the present moment even when we see that all the thoughts about ourselves are just thoughts and all the images we have…good, bad and indifferent are just images. So that’s sort of the beginning…that’s just a description of course.
I’m starting to see through the illusion of sort of the solidity of ego. The ego is a sort of thing inside of us, like ego as a noun when it’s not, at best it’s a verb, right. A verb of thinking and imaging. But the other part of it is there’s also ego as function and I think those two can be useful to sort of pry apart a little bit. Because ego as function is our…has something to do with self-awareness, right, that we don’t…ego and self, ego the evolves out of becoming self-aware. That the moment that we start to realize that we are…we are somebody or something in this vast world. Usually happen somewhere between like two and six, seven years old. And then there’s a certain function of ego which is that…which from that function, from that ego as function, part of that function is also our ability to differentiate me against…me and you and me in the world. And part of that of course is we could say ultimately illusory but at times practically useful.
So how to call…to call you by your names, right. To call you by Jonathan and Brian is a useful fiction, right. We can say that there’s a reality of you transcends not only that name, but a lot of the ideas, memories, and all the rest that go along with it. But nonetheless, as a function it’s useful to be able to differentiate and discriminate. So when we’re seeing through the ego I think it’s important to realize we’re seeing…we’re not really…we don’t want to be deprived of the ability to differentiate when we need to do that and discriminate that’s part of wisdom. And actually we’re using the differentiating and discriminating aspect of ego to see through ego.
JONATHAN: Mhmm, mhmm.
ADYASHANTI: Right? Because it’s the differentiating part that can go, okay there’s my sense of being and then there’s a bunch of thoughts…that’s differentiating that’s using discrimination. So I find this really ironic we’re using the function of ego to ultimately see through ego as soon as it’s fixed image and in our minds and not just in our minds, we feel all the stuff too. It’s so then you feel it and it’s part of your emotional environment.
JONATHAN: Yeah it’s like that old story about the thorn that’s used to take out the other thorn, and then you throw them both away.
ADYASHANTI: Exactly, that’s a great image. Yeah, yeah.
JONATHAN: Speaking of those thorns, thorns to me in that metaphor, really tools, that we’re using, techniques. And you know I’ve been on the path awhile…meditation is you know, very enjoyable for me, rather easy at this point. But 95% of my life has not been spent meditating.
JONATHAN: And well I’m always wondering is, how to make use of that 95% you know, while doing email, while walking to the car, (indecipherable) Are there attitudes or methods that you suggest for people on the path so that it’s not just their time alone meditating or contemplating that would be useful?
BRIAN: Before you answer that, Jonathan you were breaking up a little bit in that question.
BRIAN: Just wondering if you could ask it one more time so I can edit the good parts together, thank you.
ADYASHANTI: So since we spend most of our time doing activities nowadays and talking, and email, whatever…I’m always curious what can help with awakening awareness when we’re not meditating, we’re not separating ourselves, that might be useful technique or tool. Getting to bridge that gap between what people experience in meditation in there and then their lives is…and our life becomes…well it’s the more challenging version of meditation really. I think it would almost be best if we just saw meditation as an orientation of being. But sometimes I practice it in a seated traditional way and then the rest of the time I’m still oriented in that direction through everything I do.
So what does that actually mean? In a simplified version I think one of the things we hopefully get in touch with, with meditation is…at least initially, as we start to realize that there’s more going on than just the endless narrative in the mind that that narrative is going on within an actually very quiet space. So it’s going on in a quiet space that’s kind of…for a lot of people that’s kind of revolutionary. All of that mental noise is happening within a quiet space. Hmmm. So we can explore that, right. What’s that feel like what’s the sense of it, intuitively explore that. So it’s happening within a quiet space.
Okay now we go into our daily life. What would it be like for me to have the next conversation I have if I was having a conversation from that quiet space? Right, what if I was in a state of being that was not just me experiencing quiet but sort of being a quiet space and letting it talk? And, or… letting what is the difference between like walking to your car, lost in your narrative, and how does the quiet space inside you walk to your car?
And there is no right or wrong way to do it right. It’s not like you come up with a prescription, here’s the way I’m supposed to do it because then that gets very, you know, still and overly self-conscious. But it’s what I find when people just start to kind of enter into this, it’s kind of like a living inquiry, right. So then walking on the hallway at work and they realize I could walk down this hallway kind of lost in my narrative, or I could think how would…how does quietness, or how does silence, or how does this awareness walk down the hallway.
And there’s no answer to that in our minds right. It’s like I can evoke a perspective. And what I find is when people actually do it, you know sometimes it’s a little confusing to hear about it, but when they actually do it, when they actually ask the question… Like what’s the difference between walking down the hallway lost in my narrative for letting the quietness walk down? It’s usually very, very quick do they realize, there is a difference, There’s a difference in what you send and what you feel. Even in what you hear and what people say, the way you respond so this is just a sort of an initial way of starting to close that gap you know between some of what we can experience and meditation and then the rest of life.
We just see what life is just another opportunity for the meditative perspective let’s say. There’s a difference in what you send and what you feel…even in what you hear and what people say, the way you respond. So this is just a sort of an initial way of starting to close that gap, you know, between some of what we can experience and meditation, and then the rest of life. We just see that life is just another opportunity for the meditative perspective, let’s say.
ADYASHANTI: To function, and of course that’s easy to say. It’s challenging like when you’re challenged and your boss criticizes you and you know… One of the nice things about meditation is that you get a little bit of space between the next reaction of your mind, and you, whatever you’ve experienced yourself to be. So all of a sudden your boss criticizes you and you feel this rush even physically, you know of energy, of emotion, and how all that might turn into thought. One of the nice things meditation gives you, it gives you the space to notice it, right, not just immediately deluge, and identify with it. And then there’s an option, okay where am I going to respond from, right? I can respond from this title wave of conditioned emotion that you really have no way of keeping that from happening right, you can’t stop things that start before you even aware of them right from happening. But once they do happen, I think meditation…this is sort of initial stuff but it’s really important…meditation gives you options.
It shows you there are options. Actually I can get lost or I could not get lost. I can listen to the noise, I can listen to the quiet spaces. I can speak from my noisy mind, or what if it might be like if the quietness inside of me spoke. And so all those are kind of options and I think that’s the beginning of, sort of bringing spirituality and our life together because in its truest sense spirituality is really just another word for life. I think we have to get out of this mindset that it’s this segmented part of our life, right. That I do spirituality for 30 minutes in the morning when I’m meditating and then when I’m not, then it’s segmented. But life, spirituality and life are actually synonymous. They’re the same thing really…then there’s a different engagement.
JONATHAN: So your life becomes…
BRIAN: Sorry, go ahead Jonathan!
JONATHAN: So your life becomes a living exploration. Like I like your question, “What would it be like if this was done in a different part of my being than my narrative self?
ADYASHANTI: Yeah, Jonathan I like the way I like the way you put that because I often utilize that. I see spirituality as…I call it living in a state of discovery.
ADYASHANTI: And I think that’s in some sense that’s a essential because that’s, that’s what it is. If we have that orientation, it sounds simple but it’s so different than probably the way a lot of us begin our spirituality. And may do it for a very long time which is, that we’re chasing after preconceived ideas or an explanation of awakening, or what we read about enlightenment or something. And then we’re not really living in discovery…we’re trying to duplicate an experience that we’ve heard or read about. I think spirituality when it’s honest…and that’s not always easy…and it’s connected with you in your life, that fundamentally it is to live in a state of discovery all the time.
ADYASHANTI: Not trying to chase somebody else’s conclusions, or trying to be in a particular state all the time. Like all that sort of egoic orientation. But to live in a state of discovery, to me that’s the foundation of the spiritual life.
JONATHAN: That’s beautiful.
BRIAN: One of the discoveries I think that you highlight many times in your latest book is that discovering that the quietness or awareness or consciousness or being this, is already there. When all this stuff is happening it’s not that we have to get more awareness or more beingness, it’s that we have to notice what’s there already now, effortlessly.
ADYASHANTI: Yeah, yeah. That’s the whole…that’s the whole…I think that’s the key. I call it the practice of acknowledgement. Like you were just doing that actually, you were just acknowledging that awareness is always present, right. Just a minute ago we were acknowledging that there is a quietness, even when the mind is busy. Of course there’s quietness when it’s not busy, but these things are actually already there. We don’t have to chase them, we don’t have to try to make them happen. Really if you want to think this as a practice, it is the intuitive practice of acknowledgment. What happens when I just say to myself, not just an empty idea but you start to sort of sense it intuitively. Oh, the awareness that I’m always trying to practice and create…oh it’s already here before I’m even trying to create.The mere fact that I can see what I see, feel what I feel, sense what I sense, that means the whole, my entire experiences are sort of flooded with an awareness from the very beginning. Now what happens we acknowledge that? That awareness is. It’s functioning now, and then we stop for a moment. You know like, just sense it, feel it, even in your body. Because we have it, it kind of comes down and we sense it, or beingness. Oh, that’s here that weird sense of “I am” even if I’m not an image or an idea or something and hold onto. That’s the sense of being, a sense of existing. And so yeah I think, it’s a very underappreciated sort of practice, which is the practice of acknowledgment. And maybe even the next step could be a moment of appreciation after we acknowledge. So I’ll take a moment, I’ll take 15 seconds to appreciate, to feel what awareness…the sense of it. And I think that’s when things can really start to take off because then we’re back in our own immediate experience of being…and we’re acknowledging those aspects of it that lead to opening, and freedom, and awakening, and connectedness. You know where in many ways if you look at it, we’re often taught to acknowledge it and give so much attention to those things which confine us, and define us, and separate us.
BRIAN: You know it’s something we can do many, many times, all day long, throughout the day.
ADYASHANTI: That’s the nice thing, isn’t it?
BRIAN: An appreciation. Yeah!
ADYASHANTI: Yeah. Yeah, you don’t have to have any special thing, you don’t have to be curled up on a meditation cushion, you can just at any moment you know, you can just choose awareness here and now. Oh yeah, it is.
JONATHAN: That’s the great thing, it’s always there.
ADYASHANTI: Yeah! Thats’ the great thing about it. And for a lot of people especially people have been in spirituality or done a lot of meditative practice where they’re always doing something with an awareness…it can be revolutionary to realize the awareness that they think they’re producing, was there from the very beginning. From the very start. Doesn’t mean those other practices have no use because they do, but they can be almost revolutionary to go holy smokes the quietness and the peace and the awareness that I’m chasing in my meditation is actually there all the time.
ADYASHANTI: And if I was just to acknowledge it, maybe it would actually start to sort of grow and experience as it happens in life, whatever we give our experience to, tends to grow.
BRIAN: Yeah, thanks so much. In fact I think holy smokes is such a great term I think that’s going to be my new mantra.
ADYASHANTI: Yeah it’s an interesting thing in life, you know. It’s so fascinating. I mean sometimes it can be very humbling to see like, oh what do I give my attention to? And so often you know, the ego mind is giving an inordinate amounts of attention to the very things that cause it to feel separate, and isolated, and alone, and it’s judgments and you know all this stuff and you realize well…that’s not all that’s going on. That’s just what I’m conditioned to give my attention to. If I give my attention to something that seems more fundamental…it’s amazing, just that can sort of open whole new doors, whole new vistas of insight.
Jonathan Robinson is a psychotherapist, best-selling author of 12 books, and a professional speaker from Northern California. Mr. Robinson has made numerous appearances on the Oprah show, as well as many other national TV talk shows, and articles about him have appeared in USA Today, Newsweek and The Los Angeles Times. For the past 30 years he has spoken to dozens of Fortune 500 companies including Google, Microsoft, Dell Computer, Coca-Cola, and Fed-Ex.
Jonathan has written several bestseller books including, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Awakening Your Spirituality;” “The Experience of God,” “The Little Book of Big Questions;” and “Communication Miracles for Couples.” His latest book is called, “More Love, Less Conflict.” Jonathan also co-hosts the podcast “Awareness Explorers” with author Brian Tom O’Connor. This podcast focuses on revealing the easiest and most powerful practices for directly awakening to one’s true nature.
Through TV, live lectures and radio, Mr. Robinson has reached over 100 million people around the world. He is known for providing his audiences with immediately useful information presented in a fun and entertaining manner.
Brian Tom O’Connor is the author of Awareness Games: Playing with Your Mind to Create Joy, and is a formerly depressed guy who found the source of happiness through knowing himself as awareness. playawarenessgames.com
Continued in Part II…