I returned home after doing some errands on a clear November afternoon in 2014, and pulled into the carport.
A man hurriedly approached me from the sidewalk. “Is this your house? Is this your house?” he excitedly asked. I said yes.
“It’s on fire!”
Thus began my two-year journey of upheaval and loss, illness, despair, and the total failure of my spiritual foundation to bring me any peace of mind whatsoever. Everything I knew completely failed me when it was put to the test.
Luckily the road has smoothed out a bit, but this journey is not over. In fact, it’s never over. There is no destination. There is no end.
Here I am making proclamations and definitive statements again, already. I wasn’t going to do that anymore. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last two years, it’s that I don’t know a damn thing. And I sure don’t know what “the point” of all this is. Luckily, that’s the beauty of it – the not knowing, and the pointlessness.
I started “What Never Changes” in 2006, and I wrote about non-duality, as I understood it. My influences were mainly John Wheeler and other Bob Adamson disciples. In about 2010, I came across James Swartz, a teacher of traditional Vedanta. The structure of that teaching was a welcome new flavor in my spiritual soup, and I took my website down while I considered this whole new (to me) approach to the non-dual teachings.
For several years, thanks to James and Vedanta, there was a nice detached bliss that was ever-present, for the most part. My website was back up again and very active, and things were good. I had a sneaky feeling I was caught in a comfortable dead end, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I was aware, deep down, that I was not “done” – I was avoiding something.
This is a common pitfall of the spiritual search. James Swartz called this dead end “stuck in sattva,” or being mesmerized by a peaceful, clear energetic state of being, thinking this state is something permanent. You experience life from a transcendent standpoint, and your peace is dependent on it. This is a fragile place to live – you are deriving your bliss from the absence of “world.” Hell, it’s so easy to be peaceful without the world! But it’s cheating. And more importantly, it WILL catch up with you.
It caught up with me. It knocked me off my cloud and made me look around, at the world I live in. It invited me to come to terms with that world, to find a way to be what I already knew I was – Presence, untouchable – and also, at the same time, to be completely open and vulnerable to every speck of this tragic and beautiful apparent world.
This is the whole point of a world. We’re supposed to feel deeply, to care about people, about the planet. We’re supposed to be fully immersed in it, to be affected by it, because this is where Presence lives. We see ourselves as Presence by seeing ourselves in the world. Whatever it is we think we are looking for is found RIGHT HERE, in the midst of this whole messy business, right in the thick of it. There is no destination beyond here where we find Presence living removed and somehow untouched by it all. Presence is right here – as the world, as living beings – and this is the only place we can know it.
I tried to skip this step and go straight to transcendence. It worked for a while. But it’s not possible to be in a body and have this part not catch up with you, one way or another. Something may happen that will upset your world, or previously unknown feelings may start bubbling up. But this is such a beautiful thing. All the pain you’ve been trying to hide from has been hungering for so long to be seen, to be heard. Your denied pain is you – a part of you that has been cut off and not allowed a voice. It wants to feel – it wants to live.
But isn’t the world just an appearance in me, awareness? Yes, but how does this work in a practical sense? Have you had much luck denying the existence of the world as something you are part of? No, you haven’t, because the world is how you are anything at all. Without a world, you still exist, but as something “you” can’t know. Sure, there is only Pure Being, but try to find it – try to know it. You can’t, even though it is what you are! It is possible to go right up to the very brink of “knowing” yourself as consciousness, but it is not possible to cross that line of knowing. Why? Because there is no you beyond the line. There is no one there to know “I am this.”
But the good news is, none of that is necessary. Here is Presence, as me, right now, as these experiences, these feelings, this fear, this aging body, these sights and sounds and sensory pleasures. There is no end point to knowing myself as Presence, here in the infinite variety of expression. There is no final destination. This is a journey, and there is nothing about it that is not absolutely already perfect.
But we don’t always see that perfection. Even if your faith is strong, doubt creeps in. That doubt even crept in for Jesus on the cross – he cried out asking if his Father had forsaken him. This is how the mind works. It creates a feeling of separation, and that is very alienating and painful. A lot of you who have been looking into non-duality for a long time are still experiencing great pain – emotional pain, physical pain. Even spiritual pain. Let it bubble up. Let it speak. It wants to tell you something important.
I want to talk to you about your pain. I want to talk to you about health problems, and about anxiety and depression. I want to talk to you about the horrifying state of our world, and how impossible it is to make sense of such suffering.
And I want to talk to you about the perfection of everything happening at every moment, and about that unshakeable part of you that silently nods in approval, always, beneath all the turmoil – your ever-present Beingness that is so in love with it all.
I’ll try to offer up something useful here….I am only just starting to make sense of it myself. I am not pretending to be an expert on anything. I’m a student – we’re all students together.
I do know that there is no one answer, there is no formula, there is no right path, and there is no ending up at a place where you are not touched by the world. You are supposed to be touched by the world. This is Presence, touching you as your own creation.
I welcome your comments and questions. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. No email will be posted without your consent.
Mill Valley, California