Encouragement on the Pathless Path – From Initial Awakening through Embodiment
I recently finished the only retreat I conducted this year – a gathering at the Krishnamurti Educational Centre of Canada. The retreat was very different than my day-to-day work at the Kiloby Center for Recovery, which is often about helping people free themselves from the immediate shackles of their enslavement to addiction so they can begin a process of spiritual examination that will lead to greater depths. At this retreat, the energy and center of focus was very different, with many attendees interested in the more mature questions around spiritual awakening as well as embodiment.
The retreat reminded me of a time when I traveled the U.S. and overseas speaking of this subject. I haven’t done one of those tours in a few years. Since then, my own realization has ripened tremendously. I would have much different things to say these days, if I found myself back on the road. In some ways, this retreat reinvigorated my voice around the subject of authentic spiritual awakening, for I have been silent in many ways in the last few years. Rarely will you see a new video from me. From time to time, you’ll see these blogs. Writing is the way I choose to express myself at this time. Maybe one day, I will go back out on the road. I have a new voice around this pathless path to freedom, where present moment awareness and inquiry converge in a unique, liberating and sometimes painful way.
For those that are new to the subject, “pathless path” refers to slowly giving up the seeking towards future and settling into a profound recognition of “what is” as it arises in the present moment. This is very different than what our cultures teach us. They tell us that the answer lies somewhere down the road. We don’t grow up knowing that the present moment is such a deep and powerful doorway to a greater freedom. So many of us fumble towards a perceived ecstasy that is promised down the road. And many don’t find it that way, for the mind is always seeking something else, something more. It never reaches its final promise and so it lives in a constant state of deficiency or lack. That is the nature of ego – to live in an endless seeking towards future and to never truly feel that one has arrived at a place of contentment and deep satisfaction with life. The pathless path is the recognition of present awareness as the foundation of our existence (nondual awareness) and includes the allowing of “what is” as it arises. It includes the seeing that nothing that arises is what we are, so that everything comes and goes within or to this presence. This is liberating precisely because the state of suffering carries with it a kind of grasping and identifying with the thoughts, emotions and sensations that arise. To no longer grasp after and identify with these arisings is to live a life of freedom and love.
I cannot offer hope on the pathless path, for hope implies that there is a promised land (or end point) that one will eventually find if one continues seeking. If you peruse the various nondual teachings of the world you will find that one of the hallmarks of nondual realization is a seeing that the present moment is primary. Seeking towards future falls away. This comes in the form of real insights around there being “nowhere to go,” “nothing to get” and “no self to get it.” This insight alone is very powerful, for it not only ends the seeking, but it also brings a deep sense of rest in the midst of all that is happening. It also brings, however, a falling away of many of the previous motivations that once ran our lives. People often report losing interest in ego-based endeavors such as seeking attention, love or acknowledgment from others. Some report a disinterest in activities such as art, work and relationships. They find themselves in a sort of awkward phase where everything that once drove them or enthused them starts to quiet. The old way of relating to others and the world doesn’t seem to work the same way. One can’t quite connect on the level of ego anymore and can’t “get behind” anything, so to speak. But this is just a phase. A new way of being does show up.
This new way of being is where spiritual maturity plays such a big role. If one stays true to the insights and realizations that have shown up, this new way opens doors that weren’t even conceivable in the beginning. In the beginning, it’s often about a deep desire to recognize the stability of the present moment, to end the notion of seeking as well as the spiritual seeker. Some initial recognition or awakening does happen if there is both readiness and skill. Readiness is the willingness to truly examine all the ego-based stuff that is arising and sticking with the recognition of awareness in the midst of all that is arising. A lack of readiness merely delays the initial awakening. It keeps the focus on worldly endeavors and the rehashing of the past and worry and seeking towards future. But when readiness is there, that’s at least half the battle. The other half is skill. Being able to skillfully examine one’s present experience is so important. It is very easy to be seductively pulled into the old stories of deficiency and lack. These stories have a powerful momemtum to them. Skill involves knowing how to look, how to rest as awareness and how to inquire. Without skill, one can muck around aimlessly for years in a lot of unnecessary suffering, being pulled again and again into stories, compulsions, anxiety, depression, seeking and trauma. When both readiness and skill are present, the initial awakening into present moment awareness is virtually inevitable.
But what happens after that initial awakening is where the proverbial rubber really meets the road. Just as the ego-based way of living is so seductive prior to an initial awakening, the desire to feel as if one has arrived is equally seductive after an initial awakening. This can be a fatal error, sending people into all sorts of weird eddies along the pathless path. The initial awakening is often just a head awakening. The body has not yet come into alignment with this head awakening. So these weird eddies can include continued addictions, depression, anxiety, unresolved trauma, ongoing deficiency stories and a whole lot more. All of these things are the body’s way of trying to get one’s attention, to call out “hey, you aren’t quite done here so don’t leave me behind.” During this time, the disconnection to life can feel very palpable. The loss of interest in life’s activities can feel very real. Addictions can resurface as the body’s way of grasping at survival. In many respects, this awkward phase is just the precursor for the body coming into alignment with that initial head awakening.
At this point, I want to move into my own experience to encourage those on the pathless path to continue examining all these eddies and to drop the notion of being done. Spiritual maturity is about seeing that there is no end point. It breaks us free of the ego’s striving towards some final conclusion. It leaves a raw openness to what is and a willingness to allow the body to come into full alignment with what has been seen “in the head” so to speak.
This embodiment is another creature altogether. And many deny that embodiment is even necessary or that it ever happens at all. I know of at least three teachers who took their websites down after their initial awakening because they had no language and provided no acknowledgement of any kind of embodiment process. Perhaps they too bought into the idea of an endpoint – which is almost always a game of the ego. As people came to them asking “what comes next after the initial awakening?” they had nothing to say. I’ve personally worked with several teachers who experienced a great surprise when they found out that, after their initial awakening, their bodies had not come into alignment. They were dealing with addiction, trauma, depression or anxiety and didn’t have any answers. This is because the initial awakening doesn’t provide all those answers. It only provides an opening to explore the deeper aspects of our conditioning. So, as their own language or the teachings they had inherited provided no guidance, they felt lost in this new phase of awakening. They could not provide any guidance or encouragement to others.
I remember hearing criticisms of Adyashanti by some of these teachers. Adyashanti is a teacher who focuses not only on the initial awakening but also on the embodiment and how liberation moves through one’s entire experience after that initial awakening. These criticisms included complaints that Adya was keeping people seeking and that he wasn’t “clear enough” that the initial awakening is all that is needed. And yet, many of these same teachers were dealing with a lack of embodiment themselves, something that Adyashanti could have helped them with if they would have remained open to hear it. The first time I truly understood the value of Adyashanti’s talks on the subject of post-awakening came when the blockage in my throat chakra opened. I had been exploring a very thick blockage in my throat for a few years. It was quite painful and lied at the root of my “peacemaker” enneagram 9 type. For the first 30-something years of my life, this blockage kept me from truly speaking and expressing myself freely, out of fear and buried, unexpressed anger. The initial awakening for me was mainly in the head and heart areas. It was a complete surprise to find that this throat blockage was so persistent after that initial awakening. Truly painful! But with readiness and skill, eventually the throat area cleared. It was like being given a whole new lease on life, like 50 pounds of baggage dropped. I remember the morning it finally cleared. I was practically jumping in joy. The lightness of being in that area was so obvious that I felt compelled to never speak of liberation again as if it is limited to some initial head or even heart awakening. In that moment, I bowed to Adya and thanked him silently for providing the encouragement I needed to continue exploring and allowing the body to experience the same emptiness I had realized in the head and heart areas years before that.
Herein lies the paradox of authentic spiritual realization: seeking does die, but the unfolding continues. It’s like the initial head awakening does not become the endpoint. It becomes the opening into the continued deepening in the body. This unfolding, to the untrained eye, might look like seeking, but it is not. Embodiment is not about trying to get somewhere. It is not about trying at all. In fact, must of the bodywork I’ve created through the years is about helping relax all of the trying and the fight, flight, freeze around the various bodily blockages. I have used the term “infinite patience” to describe this process of deep rest in the midst of exploring the body. It is not about pushing the body to awaken. It is about allowing the body to naturally come into alignment. And readiness and skill are just as important during this stage as they were in previous stages. Without readiness, one can hang out for years in those eddies mentioned above that show up after the initial awakening. One can stay in a kind of stagnate state, repeating old pointers or pithy sayings that are no longer relevant after that initial recognition. But skill is equally as important. The greatest skill, perhaps, in the embodiment phase is the skill of doing nothing. We are so conditioned to try and do something with our bodies to make them feel better or make them feel “empty.” But learning to do nothing on the subtlest levels of our physical existence and in the deepest and darkest blockages is truly a skill. It requires one to bring to light all that subtle or not so subtle trying, to truly see that there is nothing we can do other than to remain aware and let the fight, flight, freeze mechanisms be seen and come to rest on every level. I find that many of the practices people try with regard to the body involve the personal will. This often keeps people struggling on that level for a long time.
Perhaps the greatest words of encouragement I can give are this: remain open. Don’t fall for the ego’s idea of some final moment of realization. Don’t fall for the idea of endpoints. Don’t fall for the idea that a head awakening is true liberation. Remain open to the unfolding. Let liberation come all the way down into your body and into every nook and cranny of it. If you are still experiencing anxiety, trauma, addiction, depression or even the slightest sense of deficiency or lack, there is something to explore there. Liberation is not a line on a resume. It is not something one brags about. It is not some final doorway that we enter, so that we never have to examine anything again. Liberation is an attitude of complete openness. That openness is the readiness. Once the readiness is there, all you need is to learn the skills that keep you from delaying the embodiment. There is a mature way to work with the body. It has nothing to do with seeking. Embodiment has been the greatest and most liberating surprise in my pathless path.
All those weird eddies die out during the embodiment phase. The new way of being brings with it not only a lightness of being but also a renewed interest in living, exploring, loving and being inspired and enthused about life. But it is different than being interested from an ego-based perpective. You come to find that you get nothing in return for what you are doing. So you don’t live, explore and love with the hope that it will bring you something better. You live, explore and love just for the sheer act of it. It is an act done for itself, by itself, without the hope of reward. Relationships are naturally more open, intimate and honest. This attitude of openness is precisely why inspiration and enthusiasm start to show up in a new way. You are no longer shackled to the old ways of being in the world and no longer weighed down by the painful sluggishness of the body and all of its stored anxieties, addictions and traumas. With this attitude of openness, you actually feel less and less dense on the physical level, which allows you to move much more freely in the present moment. Don’t miss this boat. Every moment is an opportunity to hitch the ride of your lifetime, to take spiritual awakening to its most depthful places.