The End of Seeking
and beyond the end of seeking
The dawning of self-knowledge
We have covered a great deal of ground in these pages and looked at many aspects of the spiritual dimension of life. We have explored potential pitfalls on the path and the positives and negatives of the teacher-student relationship.
We have probed deeply into different facets of our own nature and attempted to understand ourselves in new ways. These are extremely subtle and nuanced explorations and are for most of us very difficult to do. If you feel you are getting lost or left behind, don't be in any way concerned. The terrain we are investigating is vastly different from any of our normal pursuits and engagements. We are having to develop new inner tools and skills for this endeavour and this takes time and dedication. Don't be discouraged. This is not a race or a competition. Be patient. Keep practicing. Keep the fire for liberation burning, and the insights and understandings will come to you in their own time.
Here are the steps we have taken so far to begin understanding ourselves and our potential beyond the limitation of the personal self.
The Fundamentals Part I
We looked into what we are searching for and why, and asked ourselves if this is what we truly want.
The Fundamentals Part II
We addressed the necessary requirements for the student: maturity, single pointedness, purification and integrity. We learnt a simple meditation technique and began to explore our relationship to thought and to time.
Methods and Means Part I
We familiarised ourselves with the nature of the personal self. In meditation we observed in ourselves the constant stream of thoughts, feelings and sensations and became aware that our attention is almost always preoccupied with them. We practiced being aware of the activity of thought and feeling, not just blindly being absorbed and identified with it.
The aim of the practice was to disrupt our habitual and unconscious relationship to thought and feeling and to begin to become familiar with ourselves as the observer or 'seer' of experience.
Methods and Means Part II
We gave ourselves the opportunity to dive deep within and discover something beyond the mechanical and limited functioning of the personal self. We were asked to notice awareness itself, not just the objects or content of awareness. Perhaps we were able to experience the peace, calm, equanimity and clarity of the Self and to know ourselves, even if only for a moment, as simple presence or awareness.
The aim of the practice was to discover or uncover for ourselves the ever-present ground of being or Self and to be able to recognise it.
Also In the 'Methods and Means Part II' section we were asked to begin to notice the stark difference between the nature of the personal self with its anxiety, contraction and unhappiness, and the freedom and spaciousness and wholeness of the Self.
The aim of the practice was to be able to start making a distinction between these two very different aspects of ourselves and to recognise that we contain in fact two very different 'selves'.
The end of seeking
Arriving at a profound understanding
If you have reached a point in your evolution where you are able to discern the clear-cut distinction between your always present Natural State with its peace, spaciousness and equanimity, and the unsettledness and unhappiness of the personal identity, you have obtained a profound level of understanding.
You are now in a position to answer with authority, the question: who am I?
Am I the changeless, peaceful ever present knower of experience or the thought-obsessed, anxious ever fluctuating, experiencing, personal self?
WHO AM I?
We are convinced that the personal identity/ego is who we are and we cling to this identity as if our very existence depends on it. It is an extraordinarily difficult task to break the identification with the sense of 'me' we have always known ourselves to be and upon which our entire life is based.
This is where our longing for liberation is truly put to the test. Are we willing to relinquish the familiar and perceived safety of the known 'me' for the radical and limitless frontier of our own being? Making the ground-breaking shift of identity to the Self is an act of tremendous courage and sacrifice and not many are willing to go this far.
But for those who are mysteriously drawn to making this leap into the unknown, there is Peace, cessation and the end of becoming.
The core objective of the different wisdom traditions and the purpose of all the rituals, meditations, retreats, chanting and all other spiritual practices is an effort to arrive at this juncture.
If your practice, discrimination, dedication and maturity have brought you to this point you are extremely fortunate. You have in your hands the means to your own liberation.
Recognise you have a choice. Your True Nature is always available and unchanging, always consistent, fulfilled and whole. Your personal self is a false construct created by layers of memory, history and experience, and is always shifting, never at peace, never fulfilled.
You decide which one is true.
You decide which one is you.
Knowing you are the Self is a profound and momentous attainment. Being the Self as yourself, unwaveringly and without effort is the fulfillment of the search and the end of seeking.
If the fruit of your search is fully ripened, and if you have the courage to meet and surrender to the call for awakening that is in front of you, you will make the life-changing shift in identity to your own Self, your True Nature, and come home.
Integration and embodiment:
Discovering, recognising and coming to rest in our true nature as awareness will bring us finally to the end of seeking. However this shift in identity will still have to be stabilised and integrated.
A reminder from 'Fundamentals Part I'
In the common, romanticised version of awakening this realization would be the end of our suffering and our inner and outer conflicts but unfortunately this is not the case.
Awakening revolutionises our whole being including our psychological and emotional structures, belief systems and societal/familial conditionings: sooner or later this inner change as it becomes integrated, revolutionises one's outer life as well, demanding that everything aligns with it.
Treasured relationships can unravel, ambitions dissolve and whole ways of life can disintegrate. You will most likely be faced with layers of unconscious psychological patterns coming to the surface to be resolved. If you want to be comfortable or are clinging to any aspect of your inner or outer life you will almost certainly suffer.
Part 1: Beyond the End of Seeking
Ordinariness and simplicity
My experience living as Anne/the separate ego for 50 years was to be honest, pretty miserable. I lived with an undercurrent of fearfulness and anxiety which I compensated for with the overly bright personality of a ‘happy’ person. I was anything but. I suffered the usual existential angst of the personal self, feeling fragmented and not at home in myself. Self-doubt, lack of certainty, and all the rest of it. I struggled.
In 2004 when I underwent a shift of identity from the personal to the impersonal Self I spent most of my time for several months in an ecstatic but still functioning state, drowning in the bliss of unity consciousness. It took several years for the shift of identity to fully stabilise and in that time the bliss states abated and the new way of being normalised. It all felt so normal and natural in fact that I wasn’t entirely sure what had happened. When the personal self falls into the background the problem falls into the background, and what is left is calmness and peace and inner well being. It is nothing remarkable and simply feels like a return to normalcy or coming home after a long absence.
What I find in myself now is that my inner state is almost completely uniform. There are occasional upsets but essentially there is a great consistency in my experience of myself. Every day is really just whatever every day is.There's nothing special but there's always this sort of uprising of joy or excitement. Not excitement as in waiting for something but the excitement of simply being, and the sense of spaciousness and peace and the complete ordinariness of that. It's all just very ordinary. The absence of the problem self makes everything completely normal, as it should be. Nothing special, just as it should be.
This isn't to say that my work is done. Realization destroys the identification with the personal self/ego but the ego construct with all its ingrained and unconscious behaviours, biases, and beliefs doesn't necessarily (and it seems, to rarely) dissolve. It may have been pushed into the background by the recognition and emergence of the Self but ruthless self-examination and aligning ourselves with the new perspective is what Francis Lucille calls post enlightenment sadhana, and this work is ongoing and most likely never ending.
I am a vast ocean of Being with no boundaries and I am a limited person in a complex world. I am radiant and eternal and I am subject to the painful vagaries of existence. I am Free and I am bound. I am all of it.
I am All.
Part II: Beyond The End of Seeking
Beyond all Concepts
There are many concepts and notions in spiritual life that have been held for so long and by so many that we do not even think to question them. Ideas and concepts like the 'Absolute' and the 'Source' and 'Oneness' and 'nothing exists but consciousness' are prime examples. They are ideas and concepts: useful ones which help to frame or structure reality for us but they are only speculation and unprovable hypotheses.
In spite of this there is much certainty and finality and absolutism espoused about these notions by almost every spiritual tradition and spiritual teacher.
I was surprised when I started becoming aware of some of my assumptions just how many notions that I had unquestioningly taken to be facts turned out to be only beliefs and conjecture. Much can be known but there is much that we simply cannot know, no matter how adamant and convincing the doctrine or how universal the consensus. The Mystery stubbornly remains a mystery.
What do we really know?
Leaving it all behind
Everything we have spoken of here is in the end a mental construct and the practices and investigations, though they can take us a long way and transform our whole perspective and notion of self, eventually also need to be left behind. Once we understand who we truly are there is no need to carry anything, hold on to anything or reference anything. Our unadorned presence as simple empty awareness is enough.
'... in order to ascertain the truth, one must doubt all traditions, scriptures, teachings and all of the content of one's mind and senses.'
- Gautama Buddha
'This one question - "What do I know for certain?" - is tremendously powerful. When you look deeply into this question, it actually destroys your world.'
'Some there are that prize non-dualism, others hold to dualism. They know not the Truth, which is above both.'
- Avadhuta Gita
Part III: Beyond the End of Seeking
Never ending evolution and the Void
If personal accounts and the traditional literature describing the various stages and levels of enlightenment are to be believed there appears to be no end to spiritual development and evolution.
For those interested in what lies beyond self-realization we have the accounts of those who have ventured even farther afield. Those who's very self has been completely annihilated leaving only 'seeing' or awareness with no central reference point, in fact no person at all. It appears that recognition and embodiment of the Self beyond ego is simply one major stage in the ongoing process of transformation. The following are two first-hand accounts of this further stage:
'When there is true awakening, all the sense of 'being' disappears. Even the sense that you are the Self, also dissolves.'
'The first contemplative movement is described as union of the self with God, where God is the "still-point and axis" of being. In the first
movement, self is not yet lost, but functions as a higher self in its union with God. The sense of personal selfhood remains. Abiding in God
remains. Being centered in God remains. The divine life remains. God and self remain.
But in the second contemplative movement, self and God fall away, and"that" remains. Union with God gives way to God beyond union. The mind
becomes fixed in the permanent now. The self's union with God transcends itself.'
'Here now begins the journey beyond union, beyond self and God, a journey into the silent and still regions of the unknown.'
'The onset of this second movement is characterised by the falling away of self and coming upon “that’ which remains when it is gone. But this going-out is an upheaval, a complete turnabout of such proportions it cannot possibly be missed, under-emphasized, or sufficiently stressed as a major landmark in the contemplative life.'
- Bernadette Roberts
'I had already gone through hell years before. I lost all my so-called Christian beliefs suddenly when I went to college. It was hell because every reference point and meaning left overnight. It's hell because the void has no reference point and therefore no way out. This makes it feel eternal. I've heard the void described as blissful, but that was not my experience.
The only thing I had was common sense, which told me that what I was feeling could not be the final answer, as no one would want to live like this, suicide would be the best answer, and if this was correct, the human race would extinguish itself. So I went about trying to make a life worth living. Not easy with no reference point. It took a long time.
If you are feeling a sense of unity, then there must be a separation that feels unified. There is a step beyond that. There can't be any separation when "You are That." You know you are in essence That, while at the same time expressing That as the relative human appearance. It gives you the freedom to be the person you are, warts and all.
Being a human is God's problem, not yours. On the other hand, knowing the essence of yourself as That, what harm would you want to do?'
- Maury Lee
The implications of enlightenment
What is it all for?
If enlightenment or realization have any meaning or significance beyond the individual, what might that look like? What would a demonstration of ‘living enlightenment’ be? How does enlightenment play out in the world?
In my case I spent over a decade keeping it to myself. I felt finished with spiritual life and rarely spoke of spiritual matters. I enjoyed the ongoing peace and equanimity of my internal ‘state’ and that was enough for me. Recently though there has been a strong, unexpected inner drive to explore and understand the nature of self-knowledge both for myself and to engage with others about it.
Quite suddenly my introspective, self-contained world broke open, and what had been a private matter for so long became public. I, Anne, had no hand in this development and was often in stark resistance to it. It was simply happening in spite of my personal feelings about it. I was propelled by an inner demand to share what I had learned and to offer what I could in the service of others' advancement. Not as a teacher, but as a friend and fellow traveller. None of this was planned or even conceived of
In a very real sense it seems I have lost control of the narrative of my life: in the early years of integration and assimilation as the identification with ‘me’ dissolved, I still felt I had agency in the world as far as my life and intentions went. That now seems to have disappeared: I am here as an experiencing entity/person with all my quirks and flaws, but I am no longer in charge. Somewhere along the way the reins were handed over and the personal will relinquished. I do not know when or how this occurred.
So how will enlightenment of the individual play out in the world? There is no way of knowing. Each person as they pass more deeply into the Mystery will come to discover the answer for themselves. The ‘who’ and ‘what’ of the personal identity will be subsumed into that which can never be known, and having been subsumed will be refashioned into the living, choiceless service of a Will far greater than one’s own. No-one can know in advance what form that service will take.
'All spiritual teachings are in vain if we cannot love. Even the most exalted states and the most exceptional spiritual accomplishments are unimportant if we cannot be happy in the most basic and ordinary ways, if with our hearts, we cannot touch one another and the life we have been given.'
- Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life.
'The created world is not an illusion, not something which must be overcome. It is created to be hallowed.'
- Martin Buber
'I've been a monk for 65 years, and what I have found is that there is no religion, no philosophy, no ideology higher than brotherhood and sisterhood. Not even Buddhism.'
- Thich Nhat Hanh