Part II: Am I Ready?
Prerequisites and preliminaries
We will need to meet, or at least be willing to meet certain requirements if we wish to come to the end of seeking. These requirements are not esoteric in any way and their sole purpose is preparing the seeker for the demanding road ahead.
The most fundamental and unarguable pre-requisite if we truly want to come to the end of seeking is to be choicelessly consumed with the need to know and embody the truth of our own being and be willing to make sacrifices when necessary. We have to be willing to overcome the obstacles in our path and persevere over time no matter what the difficulties.
'In my experience, everyone will say they want to discover the Truth, right up until they realize that the Truth will rob them of their deepest held ideas, beliefs, hopes, and dreams.
The freedom of enlightenment means much more than the experience of love and peace. It means discovering a Truth that will turn your view of self and life upside-down. For one who is truly ready, this will be unimaginably liberating.
But for one who is still clinging in any way, this will be extremely challenging indeed. How does one know if they are ready? One is ready when they are willing to be absolutely consumed, when they are willing to be fuel for a fire without end.'
'You must long for freedom as the drowning man longs for air.'
- Paramahansa Yogananda
Purification: straightening out ourselves
and our lives
The goal of purification isn't about attaining some conceptual ideal of perfection. It's about coming to a functional state of balance and integration in ourselves and in our lives in order to provide the inner and outer conditions conducive for liberation.
'You cannot leave a mess behind and go beyond - it will pull you back' - Nisargadatta Maharaj
"You cannot leave a mess behind and go beyond - it will pull you back"- Nisargadatta Maharaj
This can't happen if our attention is continually diverted and distracted by unresolved psychological, practical or emotional issues. We must be willing to face, with compassionate self-awareness, uncomfortable truths about ourselves and our lives; our dishonest relationships, inauthenticity or unhealthy sensory excesses or denials.This is not always work we can do alone and seeking the right assistance and support when needed is highly recommended.
Feelings of unworthiness and self-loathing seem to be at epidemic levels and are a terrible and unnecessary blight on the minds and hearts of many.There is no benefit to be had from this kind of continual and unproductive suffering and taking the steps necessary to understand and resolve these painful and limiting self-beliefs is invaluable and essential work.
'To open deeply, as genuine spiritual life requires, we need tremendous courage and strength, a kind of warrior spirit. But the place for this warrior strength is in the heart. We need energy, commitment, and courage not to run from our life nor to cover it over with any philosophy—material or spiritual. We need a warrior’s heart that lets us face our lives directly, our pains and limitations, our joys and possibilities. This courage allows us to include every aspect of life in our spiritual practice: our bodies, our families, our society, politics, the earth’s ecology, art, education. Only then can spirituality be truly integrated into our lives.'
― Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life
We need to develop maturity and objectivity and be able to:
Recognise that nothing outside ourselves can bring lasting fulfilment.
Accept responsibility and accountability for our lives and our actions.
Handle the ups and downs of life with equanimity. Avoid conflict and drama. Show up for our responsibilities without complaint or victimization, while not allowing others to misuse our time and energy.
Not demand that life be as we want it to be, and accept that uncertainty and change are a given.
Be willing to pay more attention to inquiring into the functioning of our own nature, than we are to the myriad distractions of our thoughts, feelings, sensations and desires.
Develop discernment and discrimination.
Create a reasonably balanced, disciplined lifestyle.
Deal compassionately and courageously with our psychological wounding.
The dedicated spiritual practices involved in coming to the end of seeking are one part of the effort required. The other is the ongoing mundane work of consistent self-examination/radical self-honesty and straightening out our lives and ourselves so that the shift of identity we are working so hard for has a suitable place to land and take root. This mundane but essential work is ongoing and will be required after liberation as well as before.
A useful guide to this essential maturation process is Dustin Dipera's ' Wake up, Clean Up, Grow Up and Show Up.' Here is a brief summary from 'The Coming Waves: Evolution, Transformation and Action in an Integral Age' by Dipera and H.B. Augustine:
See also Ken Wilber's video "Clean Up, Wake Up, Grow Up" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mROP49BeJc
'What we strive to be liberated from is our habitual thought patterns and the pull of our senses. Lightening up in these areas gives us the space to refocus and deepen the benefits of centering the mind with meditation.'
- Ram Dass
Values and Integrity
Moral development sits at the heart of the major spiritual traditions and they encourage us to align ourselves with 'the deepest laws of existence' and 'hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards'. We surely don't need more corruption and dishonesty in our fractured world and spiritual training and development is the obvious setting to cultivate the integrity and values we so desperately need both individually and collectively. Of special importance to the serious seeker is creating a suitable container in themselves and in their lives to be able to hold their realization with dignity and integrity.There are many very troubling contemporary examples of what can go wrong when individuals overlook this foundational step.Those who claim to be enlightened but are still causing harm are not yet enlightened, regardless of their status or spiritual realization. Unfortunately, it is possible to be corrupt and be self-realized but this is not enlightenment as I understand it. If enlightenment is to mean anything at all, surely it must represent our highest and greatest human potential, unmarred and untainted by the outward demonstration of our lower instincts, compulsions and desires.
In Buddhism, these three factors (right speech, right action, and right livelihood) of the eightfold path constitute ethical conduct. This moral conduct is regarded as the essential underpinning for all higher spiritual attainments.
Do no harm. Be kind. Leave no stain.
For further reading on the significance and importance of 'Values and Integrity' click through to the following Blog post:
Meditation: revealing that which is always present
Meditation is not an exercise - it is not something that you do. It is who you are, your true nature, and what is revealed when your attention is no longer distracted by thoughts, feelings and sensations. In the context of coming to the end of seeking, meditation is not a means for attaining peace and stress release for the ego, nor an opportunity for the ego to lay claim to the experience of bliss states or other spiritual phenomena. It is an opportunity that we give ourselves to sufficiently slow down the habitual identification with thoughts, feelings and sensations so that the subtle nature of the Self, which is simple present awareness, can reveal itself. This is your true nature, the ground of your being.
Simple meditation instructions
Sit with eyes closed
Be comfortable and attentive
Notice what is happening in your body
Notice the thoughts that arise
Notice the feelings that arise
Don't try to change anything
Just notice and allow.
Nothing in particular is meant to happen,
or not happen
If you find your mind wandering,
gently bring it back to noticing and allowing.
On thought and thinking
There is a common fallacy in some spiritual circles that we should be aiming for ‘no thought’ or the complete absence of thoughts if we are to discover our true Self. This sets an impossibly high bar and is also completely unnecessary.
At a certain point in our development the thought processes will slow down and become more silent and peaceful as a natural consequence of resting quietly in the Self. What is needed in the meantime is the development of a conscious relationship to our thoughts.
A clear-thinking mind able to make sound judgements and distinctions is something to be treasured. Anyone in spiritual circles who tells you to ‘leave your mind at the door’ is misleading you. What does need to be addressed however is the habitual, obsessive thinking patterns that most of us find ourselves engaged in and to which we are unconsciously identified. What does this mean? It means that we tend to believe every thought that appears in our mind simply because it is appearing in our mind.
Some thoughts are useful and productive but many are simply random and meaningless, generated by past experiences or future desires and anxieties. Not all thoughts are true or useful and we need to be able to decide as the ‘conscious arbiter and observer’ of the thought process which ones to listen to and which ones to ignore. The thoughts that consistently shame or belittle us need to be traced back to their origin, deeply understood and eventually resolved.
The paradox of time in relation to the search.
It seems most of us need time to develop and mature in our understanding and experience in order to make the fundamental shift of identity we call awakening. What so easily happens however is that along the way we lose our sense of urgency and passionate longing for liberation and settle comfortably into our practice and spiritual lifestyle. We allow time to stretch out before us and in many cases allow our practice and the teaching we are engaged with to lull us into a state of complacency.
This is one of the greatest dangers on the path. The intensity and fire of your desire for awakening is your greatest and most precious resource. To make the shift in identity to the Self and resolve the essential dilemma of your existence you will need to have a sustained burning desire and single-pointed focus. This sort of focus is not often found in spiritual circles.
One of our most difficult tasks in the endeavour to come to the end of seeking will be to manage this paradox of time: on the one hand accepting that in many ways this is a developmental process and giving ourselves time to mature, and on the other knowing that if the urgency and fire for liberation isn't our ongoing priority we may easily get lost on the way and find years or even decades slipping by without any fundamental transformation. Waiting is the antithesis of liberation.
The ever present now
This moment is all we ever have. Unfortunately we are rarely available to experience it. We are busy with the next moment or the moment after that, or the earlier moments which have already vanished. Our natural state is one of simply being present and aware but our continuous thought processes keep us distracted and preoccupied. We will be examining these thought processes more closely in the following section 'Methods Part I'.
'As you watch the mind, you discover yourself as the watcher. When you stand motionless, only watching, you discover yourself as the light behind the watcher.'
- Nisargadatta Maharaj
'Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?'
- Lao Tzu
'Be knowingly the inherently peaceful presence of awareness in which thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions appear. Allow these to evolve without interference, and if there is interference, simply allow that also. In allowing everything to be exactly as it is from moment to moment, we are, without realising it at first, taking our stand as awareness.'
- Rupert Spira
'In meditation, be at ease, be as natural and spacious as possible.
Slip quietly out of the noose of your habitual anxious self, release all grasping, and relax into your true nature. Think of your ordinary, emotional, thought-ridden self as a block of ice or a slab of butter left out in the sun. If you are feeling hard and cold, let this aggression melt away in the sunlight of your meditation. Let peace work on you and enable you to gather your scattered mind into the mindfulness of Calm Abiding, and awaken in you the awareness and insight of Clear Seeing. And you will find all your negativity disarmed, your aggression dissolved, and your confusion evaporating slowly like mist into the vast and stainless sky of your absolute nature.'
- Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
'To realise the constancy and steadiness in your life is to realise the deep nature of the universe. This realisation is not dependent on any transitory internal or external condition, rather it is an expression of one's own immutable spiritual nature. The only way to attain the Universal Way is to maintain the integral virtues of the constancy, steadiness and simplicity in one's daily life.'
- Lao Tzu
More than any practice it is the burning desire for liberation that will bring you Home.
The terror of annihilation
To the ego or personal sense of self there is enormous and instinctive resistance to the possibility of liberation. Liberation is intuited by the ego as annihilation and tremendous fear and a scrambling for survival is generated in the face of it. And for good reason. In liberation the ego falls away or falls into the background and is replaced by the Self. Liberation is liberation from the ego as the dominant, controlling identity.
Nothing of value is lost however and everything is gained. In place of a limited, contracted sense of self you are returned to your natural state of unlimited Being. The endless, restless searching and sense of lack is replaced by peace, equanimity and wholeness. Nothing is lost and everything is gained. But it is not gained by the ego and it is not claimable by the ego. The ego's dominance is what is sacrificed.
In order to be returned to your natural state you, the personal historical you will have to face the fear of annihilation. This is the ultimate renunciation – not the attachment to sex or wealth or relationships, but this, this 'I' that you have become so accustomed to believing in as your true self. If you sincerely want liberation, you will have to come to terms with the prospect of this annihilation and begin to face the primal, instinctual terror that accompanies it.
Grace, or the Hand of the Unknown
There is no way to predict or determine when the end of seeking will come for any one of us. Our efforts and dedication will provide a fertile ground (although it's not unheard of for spontaneous enlightenment to happen to individuals who have no prior spiritual background. Not unheard of, but also not likely for most of us).
The path is not a linear one of self-determination but a dance with the Infinite and ultimately the Infinite will decide the outcome. Again, it is often a case of working intensely hard and long enough to eventually exhaust all hope for liberation and in that exhaustion and helplessness our rigidly held ideas about who we are can finally be surrendered and consumed.