Awakening the Spiritual Heart with Adyashanti
Tami Simon: Welcome to Insights At The Edge, produced by Sounds True. My name’s Tami Simon. I’m the founder of Sounds True, and I’d love to take a moment to introduce you to the new Sounds True Foundation. The Sounds True Foundation is dedicated to creating a wiser and kinder world by making transformational education widely available. We want everyone to have access to transformational tools, such as mindfulness, emotional awareness, and self-compassion regardless of financial, social, or physical challenges.
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You’re listening to Insights At The Edge. Today, my guest is Adyashanti. Adyashanti is an American-born spiritual teacher devoted to serving the awakening of all beings. His teachings are an open invitation to stop, inquire, and recognize what is true and liberating at the core of existence. His books include The End of Your World: Uncensored Straight Talk on the Nature of Enlightenment, Emptiness Dancing,and a new book called The Most Important Thing. In this conversation, Adya, as he’s called by friends and students, talks about the new Wake Up Challenge that he’s created with Sounds True, a 30-day program, where you’re invited to engage in a series of “pointing-out exercises” that Adya delivers in 10 to 15 minutes a day for 30 days.
The idea is that you listen to Adya guide you through each daily exercise, and then you repeat the exercise on your own several times throughout the 30-day challenge. The exercises serve as pointers designed to evoke different intuitive insights into what it’s actually like to be spiritually awake, so we can shift out of our identification with being a separate self, and discover in our own experience what could be called the enlightened view. The Wake Up Challenge begins at Sounds True on August 15th, and it runs for 30 days, and includes two live question-and-answer sessions with Adyashanti. You can find out more at SoundsTrue.com. And now, here’s my conversation about the Wake Up Challenge with Adyashanti.
Well, Adya, one of the best parts of my job here at Sound True is getting to have conversations like this with you, and getting to create new projects with you. It wasn’t that long ago that you and I were having dinner, and I mentioned to you that one of the interests that we’ve been hearing from the Sounds True audience is, “We’d love to have more teachings that were short and daily. Can’t you just help us, Tami? Can you help us discover the depth of the spiritual journey in 10 minutes a day or less? Is it possible?”
And I was sharing this with you, and the fruit of our conversation was something that you came to call the Wake Up Challenge, the Wake Up Challenge. Thirty days, less than 10 minutes a day. And as I’ve described this to some people, that Adyashanti’s offering a Wake Up Challenge, less than 10 minutes a day for 30 days, I do get met with some mixed responses. And one of them is a kind of, “Aren’t you overpromising, Tami? How did you and Adya cook something like this up?”
Adyashanti: That’s actually a good reflection. I never thought of it to begin with. The reason I wanted to frame it as a challenge is two things. Because I wanted to take the most succinct, what I think of as sort of, “pointing-out instructions”, which are basically pointing awareness, and attention, and consciousness in directions that are really conducive to awakening, but may not, often aren’t necessarily intuitively obvious.
And the second part, I wanted to have the challenge part of it is, I wanted to actually challenge people. What if we all just committed to something? Not like, “Well, maybe something will happen in, whatever, a decade or two decades, or sometime in this lifetime. But what if we contextualized it so that we bring all of ourselves to these 10 or 15 minutes a day for 30 days, which actually ends up to be a lot to ask of somebody. For any of us to really, really, really show up in a really committed way, even for a short period of time, is not the most common thing in the world that we do. We often show up 90%, maybe something less than that.
TS: Now, Adya, after you and I spoke at dinner and you said, “Okay, a Wake Up Challenge. Short, daily. This is interesting. I feel excited about it. I have a feeling about it,” you designed this 30-day program, and you created a certain architecture for it. And I wonder if you can share with our listeners the design of the program, and how this occurred to you, why this occurred to you, why you thought it would, to use your language, would work, would be effective?
A: Sure. So, at least those people that are familiar with my teachings over an arc of time, whether it’s the last five years, or 10 years, or 15 years, as time’s gone on, of course, the people that come to me, there’s always a lot of new people but there’s always a lot of old people. But there’s a change in the spiritual culture, and more people have had various kinds of spiritual shifts, and more people are looking into this sort of more subtle and complex nature of awakening, and embodiment, and living what we realize, and all of that, which is so important. So, I’ve been giving a lot of focus to it.
But also, I’ve noticed for years now, I actually have thought about creating what we ended up creating, actually. But I probably had this bouncing around in my head for the last five years. And I thought, but also as sort of a counter to some of that complexity, and subtlety, and all of that, that it can be easy to lose your way in all of that really subtle teaching. I thought what I really wanted to do also, was to really focus something that’s exclusively on trying to evoke different dimensions of what I think of as the awakened view.
And another one of those things that experience has taught me is, when we are looking into a certain dimension of the human experience, the more we can sort of isolate it and focus on it, the quicker we can get somewhere with it. Later, I think we want to integrate the vast variety of human experiences, spiritual and otherwise, into a bigger vision, or a bigger, a total version of a human being, actually. But, I think it’s really important, because I’ve seen when you really focus down on something that’s very specific and articulated very specifically, that that becomes really powerful. And since there’s still a huge number of people that come to me that really don’t, they feel like, “Well, I’ve read about these interesting shifts of perspective, but I haven’t really had one.” Or, “Maybe I’ve had one, one kind. But some other kind I haven’t had,” and all these kind of things.
I thought, “I would really like to just see how stripped down of a version of awakening teachings that I could provide. Again, not simply through the intellectual exercise of stripping them down, because my experience is, they get more powerful and they get more potent the more you do strip them down and articulate them in the most concise way possible. So, this isn’t like a… The 30-Day Wake Up Challenge is not a lifetime of spiritual teaching. Like I said, there’s a whole arena of complexity, and subtlety, and embodiment, and there’s so much, so much to spirituality.
But I’ve always seen that to have one of these are almost… I think often, our initial awakenings are almost like initiatory experiences. Like we are being initiated into a different way of seeing ourselves, and seeing life, and experiencing things. And although it’s by no means the completion of spirituality to be initiated into something early, at least we know then, what we are working towards, right? And awakening is no longer a theory.
So that’s what I, when I was putting this together, those are the kind of thoughts that I had in mind. And I had the very specific, I guess you could say, audience in mind. Somebody like I was when I was young, and I was like, “Man, I really want to know what this awakening thing is. I don’t know what it is. I’ve read about it. It’s intriguing, but I don’t know what it is. But for some weird reason, I deeply want to know what it is.” And I used to just scour bookstores and books by the hundreds, looking for…You know those little sentences that just sort of strike you, and they ring like a bell, and you know they’re significant for you? I think when that happens, something’s being evoked in this.
TS: Yes, yes.
A: And that’s when I think I’m like most… Probably most of your listeners have done this, right? Gone on the Internet, read through the books, listen to the tapes and CDs, and you’re looking for those moments where the little bell rings and something goes “Oh! I think something just got evoked in my experience that’s significant,” and you feel it. Although I almost certainly won’t achieve this with anywhere remotely like 100% success, the North Star that I was aiming at when I did this, Tami, is I thought, “What if I stripped it down?” So, as much as what I say has the potential to be one of those evocative or evoking statements, that’s really what the Wake Up Challenge is boiling everything down to, as potent as I can make things.
TS: And you created this architecture, Adya, of four different progressive weeks. Can you explain that?
A: Yes. I kind of skipped past that whole point, yes. Well, this kind of goes into, basically, and this is a simplification, but I’m a big fan of simplification, to a certain point.
TS: I’m a bottom-line thinker. I like it.
A: Good. All right. And I’m also very pragmatic, so I think of this in terms of three awakenings. They’re not always linear in the way that I lay them out. Sometimes you get a package deal, all three in one moment of insight. Sometimes you get one, but a little bit the others, but the other one’s a little hazy. So anyway, even though these will sound like they’re totally linear, I don’t necessarily mean them to be heard that way, although they often unfold this way.
The first one is, I call awakened to awareness. That’s basically where we wake up from our ego-constructed and ego-oriented identity to a sense of being founded on something more like being or awareness, right? A formless dimension of being.
The second one is what I call awakening to the heart. Now, the heart, to me—this isn’t just, of course, the physical heart. We could say it’s the whole area in and around the chest orient of the body is the heart—is not only where we feel our emotions and feelings, but there’s also this perceptual, this subtle perceptual capability we have. But it’s generally not online. It’s generally not being utilized. In a certain sense, it’s just sort of there, I guess you could say in a sleep way or a potential way.
When we awaken at the level of heart, that’s when we experience the unity of being, whether you think of it theistically, and you look all around you and everywhere you see is God, including the eyes that are looking at that, or everything’s Buddha nature, or everything’s awareness, or somehow just intuitively, everything seems to be participating in some unified vision. And of course, that’s the kind of sense of connectedness, and love and meaning, these flow out of the awakened heart, actually. They don’t necessarily flow out of awakened awareness, but they certainly flow out of awakened heart.
The third one is awakening to the ground of being, which in a modern context, you could think of that as the absolute ground, or perhaps the source, of the human psyche, the source of our entire experience of being. And then, we’re accessing, we’re accessing something deeper than the clear space of awareness, of awakened awareness. We are actually getting something deeper than, or more fundamental, let’s say, than even the unity of being. We are kind of getting almost something more like the source of being, although that’s a tricky word to use. And that’s generally, the more challenging realization to have.
So you just go down this hierarchy, and awakened awareness is the most accessible for most people. Awakened heart, a little less. Awakened ground of being, that has our deepest, our deepest non-conceptual defense mechanisms against it.
And then the fourth, which is really, really important, it’s not necessarily an insight or an awakening moment, but it’s in many ways, what all this aims at, what makes it relevant, and that is, I call it putting it all together, which is we can have these insights. Not even awakenings. I think we all have our moments of insight, our deeper moments of clarity, and we also all have an instinct to, “Gee, wouldn’t it make for a more amazing life to be able to live from our depth more often than we often do?”
And that, of course, involves integrating our insights, our awakenings, our experiences of all kinds. So, I try to touch upon that in the last section of the program of sort of putting this—at least beginning to put it all together, and what that might look like, and some pragmatic, practical means of doing that. Because that’s the theme of this whole Wake Up Challenge. It is, I tried to make it as pragmatic and as tangible as humanly possible.
TS: Okay. So, I have some questions, here, Adya, having had a preview of the Wake Up Challenge. Which is, I think a lot of people when they hear about spiritual awakening, this shift out of being identified with being a separate mind and body, and discovering awareness, being. They follow this first level that you introduce. They’re awakening to awareness.
TS: But actually, this second phase that you introduce, awakening to the heart, you call it the spiritual heart. I’ve noticed, a lot of people don’t seem to make it to the spiritual heart.
TS: And I’m very intrigued by this.
A: Me, too.
TS: What is it, in your experience, that really helps people discover what you call the spiritual heart?
A: Well, it’s a great question. I think the first thing is just recognizing, “Oh, there might be something called a spiritual heart, and it might actually be really, really, really useful.” The challenge, of course, of the spiritual heart is that we tend to have a lot of wounding around our hearts. We’ve all been through the things we’ve been through in life, and some people, much more challenging than other people. But you don’t get more than a couple decades without going through some really challenging stuff.
And so, we tend to emotionally barricade ourselves, and our hearts are comprised of all sorts of emotional experiences that we’ve never really integrated or been allowed to course through our system. So that’s kind of what we’re encountering. So, when people often simply put their mere attention on their heart, it’s not at all unusual that people will say, “Gee, I have some sort of weird pain,” or “There seems to be some constriction,” or, “I feel sadness, or a sense of meaninglessness.” What’s there will often show up simply through the mere attention on the heart.
And yet, in the Wake Up Challenge, of course, you’re not going to process all of the conflicted emotions of your human heart, although you may go a surprisingly long way in doing that, potentially. So, I like to define the human heart, that vulnerable, fragile thing that can get hurt, and then it gets afraid, and it protects itself, and all that. But that is enfolded into a bigger dimension of being, and that’s what I call the spiritual heart. That dimension in you that is, it’s where we ultimately experience something even deeper than willingness to be emotionally vulnerable and things like that. But we actually can feel connected with existence.
And I think that’s our primary Western dilemma right now, actually, Tami, is a disconnection from our actual experience of being. We tend to live in these sort of abstracted lives, so much in our minds. And to various extents, caught up in whatever our emotional and intellectual narrative of the moment is. Those can be so very painful. But I think it’s a really important part of spirituality, and it’s one of the reasons I think I’ve given more focus to it for the last few years, because I’ve seen that, “Wow, in the West, we really need to connect to the heart. Look around our culture, look around our society, and look at some of the impulses that are driving us on all sides.” And I think it really shows, “Boy, this heart component is really important.”
So, what I try to do in the Wake Up Challenge is, start again some really pragmatic things. Because I think you may be terrified to go swimming in the ocean, but you can probably dip your front toe at the edge of the water. And what I found, if I can get somebody to dip their front toe, metaphorically speaking, at the edge of the water, then they’ll go, “Hmm, maybe I’m ready to put my foot in. And maybe I can get in now, up to my waist, and I can feel safe and okay. And now that I’ve done that with a little encouragement, I’ll be darned, maybe I’ll go for a very short swim.”
I just tried to come up with these practical ways of… If I summed them up, a lot of them would be trying to move someone into the place where they feel just a little emotionally uncomfortable, almost without saying this directly. But in essence, what I’m inviting them to do is, “Can you hang out there for a little bit? Don’t try to push too far, just hang out there. And as you hang out there, does it start to feel safer? And then, can you continue to open from there?” Because I think what a lot of people are trying to do is make these immense leaps, you know what I mean?
A: “Gee, my heart is terrified, and I have really good reasons for being very suspicious of vulnerability, and intimacy, and closeness, because I’ve had some terrible experiences with that.” And a spiritual teacher comes along and just says, “Well, you just got to throw your heart open in devotion.” Okay, hey, if you can do that, good for you. But what I found is, boy, it doesn’t actually take very long to just sort of encourage somebody. Like I said, like, “How about 10%? Let’s just open 10%, and let’s see how that feels. And let yourself feel what you feel when you do that. And see if you can emotionally digest that level of insecurity.” And what people find is, if you don’t ask them to do too much too fast, very quickly, they go, “I can do that.”
TS: All right, Adya. Well, let’s go for it. Let’s dip our toe in the water of the spiritual heart. Help people really know and feel what that is, that view. “I’m now in the spiritual heart, experiencing the world.”
TS: Experiencing myself.
A: Right, right. Okay. So, I’m going to give you… This is one of my favorite exercises. It’s something that most people are probably going to do after they’re listening to this program, but because it’s such a cool one, I’m going to tell it to you anyway. So, just putting attention on the heart, right? You just kind of rest it there. And the key to all this stuff is, with as much ease as possible, so you don’t get too hyper-focused. With as much ease as possible, you just sort of rest in intention on the heart. And you might just look at something and your surroundings.
Most people are probably going to be listening to this, they might be in a room, who knows? Maybe they’ll be driving a car. I don’t know. But there’s something to look at. And you just look at it the way you normally would look at anything, any old object. And you just look at it for a moment. Just choose an object. Could even be a wall, or the sun outside, or the sky, or whatever. And then after you’ve just looked at it in a very casual, ordinary way, then simply have the intention with your attention just residing in heart area. Look at the same thing again, but also imagine that you are kind of looking at it through your heart at the same time.
Now, of course, this is sort of an intuitive thing. You’re not going to get your eyeballs down into your heart or anything. But it’s like you are emotionally engaging, let’s say, with what you’re looking at. And you just look at it for a moment, and you kind of feel whatever you’re looking at. And I have yet to have a person that tells me, “I experienced absolutely no difference.” Every time, someone will say, “There’s something different. I can’t say exactly what it is.”
Now, the even more interesting version of this is, today, when you’re walking down the hallway or down the sidewalk, and you’re going to walk up towards let’s say, a stranger. You know how you just pass each other. An interesting experiment to do is, when you get within about 20 or 30 feet of the stranger, that you’re just going to walk past without saying anything to. Imagine that you’re just reaching up to the front of you, like right on your chest, and you’re just like pulling your breastbone open, or you’re just opening some veil, energetic veil that’s there without you even knowing it.
And so, when you walk past the person, just have the feeling you’re just pulling back this little veil from your heart. And as you walk past them, you’ll notice that you feel, it’s a very different feeling. These are just like a little foretaste of beginning to experience a moment in a more connected, even intimate way. And if we were to take this more towards the awakening part, then we’d just keep delving into including that intuitive capacity. Because the heart is a perceptual center, not just an emotive center, but a perceptual center. You’re bringing something online that’s highly intuitive. And so, to see through the heart, like I said, you just go through the day and you start looking at things at odd moments. And you just imagine, “What would it be like if I actually felt into what I’m looking at, if I engage from the heart?”
It’s one of these practices that sounds quaint, and overly simplistic, and not the most transformative thing in the world. But when people actually do it, every time, they tend to come back with their jaws a little bit on the floor, like, “Wow, there’s a whole different way of moving through life in a connected way.” And this is before even having any kind of awakening on the level of heart. And that’s a great thing, because boy, do we need that.
And people need to rediscover the difference between the vulnerability of the human heart and the sort of strength and courage of the spiritual heart, right? Because when that intuitive capacity just starts to come online, you also feel, there’s a feeling of just a little more stability, a little more confidence. People often tell me they just, all of a sudden they had this little upsurge in courage. It’s not like the fear disappeared, but they could move forth in an open connected way anyway. And like I said, those are all precursors to kind of a deeper orientation into the heart, or certainly a deeper awakening. But it all starts with attention.
TS: Let’s take it further. You know, my jaw was on the floor during this part of the Wake Up Challenge. I found it so helpful, Adya, for somebody to be pointing out the spiritual heart. So few teachers of spiritual awakening do, as I mentioned to you. So, if we are just in the precursor land, or as they say, in the foothills, take me up to the mountaintop of the open, aware, awake spiritual heart. What’s that like?
A: Okay, Okay. Well, we can give some orientation in that direction, for sure. Okay. So, when we start to have that sense of the heart, that’s the first thing, right? That you just notice, “Hey, things do seem a little different when I connect with the heart.” Okay. That’s a great place to start, and so we keep going with that. A lot of these little exercises that I did would be, I often began them with several times throughout the day, number one, so we know that they don’t take a lot, a lot of time. But also, several times is better than one or two times, Okay?
So, another one that kind of goes into that same orientation is when we rest in the heart, that’s (silence). And when we are in the heart, we’re at least to some extent, we’re below the conceptualizing of self. Often that’s… still there’s some of that going on, too. There’s whatever our emotions are of that moment. Maybe we like the moment, maybe we don’t. Maybe we’re in resistance to it, maybe we’re perfectly fine with it. There’s that whole environment.
And then there’s something else, and that something else, that sense of open availability to whatever might be being experienced at the moment. Now, I like to approach this next little step, even though it’s sort of a transcendent and trans-rational realization, it does help to have something that makes sense as a pointer. So, let’s boil this all down into something approachable, I think, for anybody. I think we could all agree that in one sense or another, we’re all expressions of life, right? No life, certainly as human beings, no human beings. No cosmos, no human beings.
But we have all these ways that we—not arbitrarily, but, in the end—we kind of invent these demarcation lines between ourself and the world around us. So, just the way we define a human beingtwo legs, and two arms, and two eyes, and so it goes, able to walk upright and the rest, and has the capacity for language and consciousness. But that leaves out a tremendous amount, doesn’t it? That, literally, leaves out all of the rest of life. The entirety of life that you’re walking around in and experiencing yourself at every single moment.
And yet, this may be a useful, but at the end of the day, a somewhat arbitrary line to draw, because without an Earth there is no human beings, right? Without the sun, there’s no human beings. Without the stars, and the water you drink, and the food you eat, and the people you interact with. And like our whole cosmos around us, in one sense, we are an expression of that whole cosmos. So, just imagine that that deeper connection, the fact that, “Yes, I’ve been told that the reality of me ends at my skin, at the borders of my skin. But clearly, that can’t really be true, because I’m basically dependent on all of existence to be here. And without it, I wouldn’t even be here.”
So, there has to be something more than a… even more than a connection point, something even more primal and fundamental that maybe there’s something about me, and all of life that we share. Maybe we’ll just call it life, all right, so it doesn’t sound too spiritual or too out there. We’ll just call it life. In awakening of the heart, it’s actually the life that becomes conscious in you. All of the sudden, it’s like, “Oh!” Not life as it appears as a human being, or as a tree, or a cloud, or the ground underfoot, but sort of, life as such. Just life as such.
Well, I’ve certainly found by working with people, even though what I described is a quick version of a pretty logical argument for unity. But I think that’s a really good place to start, like, this division thing doesn’t even hold up under logical analysis, much less spiritual intuitive experience. And not that we need to believe, like, “Okay, my new belief is going to be going to be, ‘I am all of life.'” But you start it as a possibility. And so, you’re looking out the window and you’re not trying to make yourself believe something, but you’re looking out there and going, “Okay, life is this immense thing, and somehow it seems to have produced me, and there is a consciousness of it. So is the consciousness of all this mine? Or maybe does it belong to something bigger than that, something like the totality of life?”
Now, you just hold that as, maybe, as you literally just look out around the world around you. Every single thing you see, taste, touch, feel, think, smell is an expression of life. And you’re just intuitively in your heart, you’re not trying to grasp, trying to have some big experience, but you’re just sort of intuitively easing back into the intuitive place in the heart where you might start to feel more connected. And I think it’s really important, Tami, that we do not dismiss even those little moments that seem unimpressive, they’re not revelatory, necessarily. But those little moments we feel a little more connected, like even a little moment, that’s worth paying attention to.
TS: Now, Adya, one question I have is the relationship between the physical organ of the heart and the chest area in the body. I mean, you pointed out how it helps to just bring attention to that part of our body. And then we have our emotional heart, the heart that processes all of our different [feelings]: happiness, sorrow, etc. And now, this spiritual heart that’s so strong and courageous. How do these three: physical, emotional, and then spiritual heart, how do they connect?
A: Well, it’s kind of a funny thing. I don’t see them as connecting as so much just existing on one spectrum, right? The whole big spectrum of the human heart. I know at one point of that spectrum, let’s say on one side of that spectrum, is the physicality of our beating, physical heart. And as that spectrum expands a little bit, there’s something about the heart that’s associated with feelings. Now, that’s something intuitive, and people have felt that for thousands of years. You don’t have people talking about experiences of love and connectedness, and then providing images of their feet to depict that. It’s always been of the heart.
So, there’s something about even this physical reality of the beating pump in our body that pumps fluid through us. It’s in some way connected with this perception of deep human experience, including spiritual experience, as well. And if we kind of push that spectrum, and of course, with the human part of it, there’s the vulnerability, and we all get hurt, and we have the consequences of that. And the nice thing is, we can, for the most part, heal from most of that.
But then on the same spectrum, if we keep going in that same spectrum, not connecting three things, but just pushing the spectrum a little bit more, then we kind of come almost full circle. Because when I’m using a word like life, your actual, physical, beating heart, that’s the material expression of life. But there’s also this other definition of life that’s not just a material thing, like when you feel happiness, or joy, or sadness, or ecstasy, or something. You are experiencing life that’s a different kind of life than a rock is, or even your foot is.
Well, there’s something also in the heart region that, as you were mentioning, or talking a moment, Tami, that I thought of that also in our whole chest area is our breath, right? Spirit and respiration has always been connected. The literal physical experience of breathing in and out has also been connected with this ephemeral formless nature of spirit, like something that’s a nothing that’s actually something. Like the air you breathe. In one sense, it’s nothing at all, but in another sense, it’s absolutely vital for your life.
The heart region, and the symbolism just kind of goes endlessly, then you have the cross, of course. It’s like, the heart is where all these dimensions of being, at least as I see it, this is where they all come together. Like the awakened awareness, or sometimes awakened mind, and awakening at the gut level, like really deep, primordial. And then the whole human experience of being, all of this comes together and lives in the heart. That’s why our greatest challenges and our greatest revelations always have to do with the heart.
And I see it as a spectrum, because I just, this whole thing of form, and formless, and material hearts, and spirits, and spirit, or pure awareness, or pure consciousness, my experience is they all exist on one spectrum. They’re almost like you run light through a prism, and then you look at the different spectrums of light, and they each look very different, but they’re actually all the same light. I think there’s something very akin to that that’s happening when we get down to these, like you were mentioning, even the physical attributes of our material heart, right down to our spiritual heart. And spirit being associated with breath, and respiration, and life force. And yes, the heart’s just, it’s really the center of being.
TS: Now, Adya, briefly, before we conclude our conversation, believe it or not, I want to touch on the two other architectural components, if you will, of the Wake Up Challenge. The third one has to do with awakening to what you refer to as “the ground of being,” and in describing it here in this conversation, you talked about how for many people, it’s even more challenging than awakening to awareness or awakening to the spiritual heart. And in the Wake Up Challenge, you talk about how at this point in people’s awakening process, often it can be experienced, this awakening to the ground of being, as a type of death. And that there can be a lot of fear for some people at this point. And I wonder if you can describe a little bit how it’s experienced as a type of death, and how we deal with the fear that comes up for many of us, at this point?
A: Sure, great. Two great questions. A very quick feeling. So, at the level of gut, when I’m, say I’m talking to somebody, and we are in a room of people, and I’m teaching, and they’re talking to me about fear, what they don’t see and what the room doesn’t see, that 95% of the time they put their hand on their belly without even knowing what they’re doing. Because so many of our fears have to do—well, they’re survival fears, and at the level of our gut…
If we back up a little bit, at the level of our mind, our sense of separation is conceptually created with ideas, and beliefs, and opinions, and memories, and images, and all that. In our heart, it’s emotionally created. There is an emotional environment that feels the most like us, you could say. It may not be a pleasant one. For a lot of people it’s not. But fortunately, that can be shifted. But at the level of emotion… so our self is, in our mind, is a narrative. In our emotions, that narrative is reflected and turned into feelings, and emotions, and reactions, and all the rest. Down in the gut, however, the self, it’s not… It’s preverbal, pre-conceptual.
So, it’s not a thought, it’s not an image, it’s not a belief, it’s not simply an emotion or a collection of emotions. But the self at the level of the gut is, if you could just… The image I use is, if emptiness could make a fist and put itself into your gut, that would be the most primal, fundamental experience of self, is this sort of … And if you could give it a word, the word would be no. No to life, no to death, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, right? But it’s pre-conceptual, so it doesn’t usually have a word.
Okay, so this gets formed in a hundred thousand different ways, but this is the most fundamental core constellation of self, it’s just a grasping at the gut. So, what do you do with it? Number one, when you get close to itnot always, so I don’t want to create an unreasonable expectation that fortunately, not everybody experiences fear. But it’s not unusual to experience some fear, because if the self opens up at the level of gut, it doesn’t have a deeper dimension to go to, right? It’s not going to go into your head, it’s not going to go into your heart. It’s like, this is fundamental, this is just like, consciousness in a fist.
And if that fist lets go, opens itself up, well, it’s no longer going to experience itself the way it has. And that’s a huge unknown, and the gut also has to do with all of our issues around survival and death. But I, again, Tami, the way I try to approach this isbecause I find it’s most useful, I’ve had a lot of time to experiment with this stuffis as pragmatic as possible.
So, the first thing when people feel these fears, our minds aren’t necessarily good at telling us what is a reasonable and unreasonable fear, right? So, if you’re being chased by a lion across the plains, that’s a really reasonable fear to have. If you’re sitting watching a television show about a lion running, and all of a sudden you get terrified that you’re going to get eaten, it’s an understandable fear to have. But it’s not really, it’s not relevant to the moment, because you’re actually really, really, really safe. So, when people have this kind of fear come up, they’re actually, generally, in pretty safe environments. Usually in pretty safe environments.
So, often what I do is, I’ll just remind them, “Think of times in your life where you’ve felt fear. And maybe not a crushing fear, not fear that disabled you, but fear that you felt, but you were courageously able to move forward anyway.” And everybody that has two decades of life under their belt, which isn’t much, but even that, can come up with numerous times when they’ve felt some amount of fear and they courageously moved forward. Because what we need to know, not our rational mind as much as our unconscious mind is that fear, number one, doesn’t always mean danger even though it always feels like it means danger.
And number two, that fear doesn’t need to mean that we are immobilized. We can notice fear, acknowledge fear, be willing to feel fear, and then courageously move forward anyway. Because what a lot of people do is, “I feel great fear,” and it’s like, “What do I do?” And they’re waiting to not feel the fear. Well, you don’t have to wait until you don’t feel the fear. And you also don’t want to unreasonably push yourself into the fear, because that’ll just make you more afraid. It’s just sort of recognizing the fear and going, “Okay, I’m afraid, but there seems to be this deeper instinct that wants to open anyway.”
And that’s the deeper thing that you’re trying to get in touch with. It’s something that’s deeper than the survival instinct. When we start to access that in a courageous way or in an obvious way, we can start through this fear, because we’ve found there’s something more important. That’s an oversimplification, but a lot of it is just normalizing the fear, and reminding somebody, “Look, the worst that can happen is, you can have a few minutes of a waking nightmare, but nothing’s actually happening. You’re sitting wherever you’re sitting, you’re actually quite safe. It’s just something that’s inside of you is afraid of letting go.”
A: And it has its reasons for being afraid to let go, so be a little bit compassionate with it.
TS: One of the things you point out in this section of the Wake Up Challenge on discovering the ground of being is that we can bring our loving devotion to taking the leap into the empty space that we discover in our lower belly. How does loving devotion help us, at this point?
A: Well, it goes back to where we were with the heart. Well, because, look, what we encounter down in the gut, what we are really encountering is the great unknown, right? All those unknowns. “Who will I be if I let go and surrender?” And we can either approach that as some sort of technical problem we have to solve, but that doesn’t evoke very much of our depth. Or, we can see it as, well, it seems that in some way this great mystery of being has been part of the spiritual impulse from the very beginning. It’s what pulls us like a moth to a flame towards it. And so, even though at a certain level it may be a little scary because it’s so incredibly unknown, but it’s useful to remember this is the object, simultaneously, of great devotion.
The numinous, the deeply spiritual, has a long history of evoking some amount of uncomfortability, because we are encountering something, after all, that’s infinite and beyond conventional knowing. But we can approach that with a kind of heartfulness, like a sincerity, like we are really, to whatever extent we can, we are devotedly offering ourself. Which is, I call it sometimes, I’ll call this self-giving, which is when you give your attention as an active devotion to something, rather than just as a spiritual exercise, like, “I’m giving my attention to my belly. Okay, I’m doing the right thing. I’m being mindful of my belly.”
Okay, but what’s it like if you devotedly offer your attention? Because after all, our attention is extremely highly valued. We don’t give our attention to that many things during the day, actually, that we don’t have to. And so, this is a really important thing. So, maybe it’s useful for us, every once in a while, to remember that when we give our attention, we are actually giving something of incredible value, and that might even be worthy of offering it in a devotional attitude.
And that really, really helps, because it pulls upon some deeper dimension of our being. And I think in the end, Tami, it also, it can come from this very rudimentary intuition that even the great mystery that we encounter in these deepest experiences, that somehow, we’re not apart from that. Somehow, we’re not apart from the mystery, even when we feel like we’re apart from the mystery. Somehow, there’s a reason that we are simultaneously drawn to the great unknown within us like a moth to its flame, we’re drawn towards it, but also a little afraid of it.
But that’s the spiritual domain, isn’t it, and that’s where, to get your heart along with you, to be emotionally—I was going to say committed, but it’s not just committed, it’s emotionally invested, that you really care. And then it’s an act of self-giving, really. That attitude, like an act of self-giving, it’s just indispensable. And yet, it’s very hard to articulate really clearly.
TS: I find it very inspiring. Thank you, Adya. You know, the last week of the Wake Up Challenge you call Putting It All Together. This is the fourth and final section. And listening to you describe this program, I want to ask you this and I want to see what you think, which is, here I’ve been at this, as you know, Adya, here at Sounds True 34 years—a long time. And I’ve talked to a lot of people who I think have had a mental level of awakening to awareness.
And yet, it seemed to me in getting to know them, that they’ve had a hard time embodying it, putting it all together, bringing it into all of their relationships, conversations, business, all of that. And I wonder if part of the reason it’s so hard is because people haven’t awakened their spiritual heart in the way that you teach in the Wake Up Challenge. So, it’s, there’s this mental level. But without the spiritual heart really being fully open, this last embodiment section can’t come online consistently.
A: Yes, that’s an interesting thing you reflect on there, Tami, because I’ve had very, very much the same sort of reflection. Because, I mean, first of all, it’s not uncommon for any of us. We have our deeper moments, our more meaningful moments, and then we seek to live them and we bump up against our imperfections as human beings, I guess you could say, is a straightforward way of saying it. But I do, I think that awakening the level of heart, nowadays in the modern spiritual culture, well, in the non-dual culture, one of the powerful gifts that non-dual spirituality has to give in many ways, is its non-duality, right?
But it has to do with its directness. And its teaching can be focused. It’s really powerful to focus on awareness as a—that’s why I do it in the first mode of awakening. The part that’s not generally… In some of the traditions it’s there, but not generally as highly developed as the whole part about awakening at the level of heart, because it’s a much bigger thing. I mean, it’s a bigger thing in the sense of not only embodying what we know, but getting our life orientation right. What am I devoted to? Devoted to? What do I love enough to devote my life towards?
I’ve found that any deeply happy person I know has come up with in their own way, something bigger than their own human self that they’ve really devoted their life around. And it could be a million different things, but I think this is a really important thing. And I think awakening is a lot. But having said that, even awakening at the level of heart doesn’t necessarily mean we have our emotional lives all together. Because it can help tremendously with our emotional life, but it doesn’t necessarily confer upon you exactly how to, you know, spiritual awakening doesn’t model how to be in a good healthy relationship. It can show you the unity of all existence, but it may not show you, “How do I have a conversation with somebody that’s deep, and meaningful, and enriching?” It may still be a mystery.
So, I look at this whole fourth part as yes, we are integrating our deeper insights, and awakenings, and pulling the veil back on what might be getting in our way. Back to the honesty and self-truthfulness component where we have to be willing to be truthful with ourselves and see, “Hmm, this may not be… This may be sort of a weak area for me.” So, it’s integrating our insight, but it’s also recognizing that there’s a real utility in being a good, functional, relational, mature human being.
And sometimes in spirituality, we suffer under this delusion that, “If I have a big enough awakening, I will just become expert in all these domains of human experience and human relating,” and find out it’s not quite that simple. The awakening of the heart, I think, is just indispensable, for sure. And I think it’s one of the reasons that when you start to hear spiritual teachings that start to feel like they are a bit too removed from everything, and abstracted, it’s often the case that they’re not really grounded in the reality of the spiritual heart. Because, of course, a spiritual heart is the perception of the connectedness of existence. And I do think we treat, not only other people, but our environment and things differently when we really feel deeply connected to them. So, I would agree, that I think it’s a super-important part of the picture.
TS: Yes, it sounds like you agree, but you’re also pushing it a little further, which is saying that’s an important step, but there’s a further step that is required, which is a type of values clarification and embeddedment, like embedding those values in your day-to-day activities.
A: Yes, exactly, exactly. Because what I saw, and this came as kind of a surprise to me, that so far, anyway, every sort of spiritual insight, every awakening has its own potential high-level delusions with it. So, delusion can survive incredible insight, at least some amount of delusion, right? So, for instance, we can have an awakening at the level of awakened mind, where we feel ourselves be pure awareness. “I’m not the body, I’m not the mind, I’m not my ego. I’m this pure awareness, sort of hovering gently above the fray of the human roller coaster.”
And it’s not that that’s not true, that that’s not a legitimate perspective. It is true, and it’s very useful to have, but from that, one of the high-level delusions you can get involved in, which is number one, “That’s all that I am, I am just this free-floating, formless sense of awareness, and nothing else has anything to do with me,” that’s a delusion. And number two, one of the delusions is from that perspective, especially if it’s deep in the awakened mind, the world can be experienced to be kind of like a flimsy illusion, almost like a dream, that you question whether it’s really happening or not.
I guess you could say it’s almost a by-product of a certain dimension of consciousness, and people can therefore conclude, “The world is an illusion, why involve yourself? You’ve had your insight. Even if your ego’s a mess it doesn’t really matter, because it’s not who you are,” and so the thinking goes. But number one, that’s extremely dualistic thinking, to begin with. It’s not true, which is probably the biggest hit. It’s not true that we are just one little spectrum of human consciousness, and we can just summarily dismiss ourselves from all the rest. That’s not true either.
So, it’s interesting to me that even insight itself, if we are not really careful, has its own embedded potential delusions, or let’s just say misunderstandings, that we can bump into. And to be pure awareness is a pretty safe place to be, so people have their reasons for not wanting to reengage with the spiritual heart. It can remind them of some scary stuff. But the result of engaging from the spiritual heart actually goes a long way to healing them from a lot of that scary stuff. So, yes, I think it’s… That’s just one example of how we can even get confused with our own insight.
TS: Well, Adya, I have to say, you have risen to the challenge of creating a 30-Day Wake Up Challenge. I want to thank you for that. That’s for the whole Sounds True audience, and especially listeners of Insights at the Edge, I want to invite you all to please join me—I’m going to be taking the 30-Day Wake Up Challenge —and our team here at Sounds True. It begins on Thursday, August 15th. It also features two live question-and-answer sessions with Adya, where you can ask him your questions.
And you know, Adya, the fact that you’re willing to be so practical, and to simplify so much, and to not get entranced with all the sophisticated nuance, to the point that you’re willing to just put it out there for everyone to benefit from the core and the essence, which is what I think you’ve done in the Wake Up Challenge, I just want to thank you for that. Because it’s a certain type of courageous forwardness on your part, to just put it on out, the 30-Day Wake Up Challenge. Thank you.
A: Thank you for saying that. It never would’ve occurred to me that it was a particularly courageous thing to do. Just bumbling along in my own nature, I guess I’d put it down to. But I’ll take the courageous interpretation anyway. But I will say, Tami, that I think I put more work into this than anything I’ve ever done for Sounds True.
A: Which is ironic, because it’s one of the shorter … You know, when it comes to making a book or a lot of the other projects. It’s another project, but like I said, I just went so much over making every sentence that I could count, that it’s certainly the best I could do at the time. And I love a good challenge, so I kind of … I joined everybody that would take it. I took it upon myself as a challenge, “Can I up-level the way I deliver this stuff, so it’s as effective as possible?” And well, we’ll find out how effective that was. But I enjoyed stepping into the fray and giving it a good shot.
TS: And very 21st Century of you, I think.
A: For a very old-school guy, admittedly.
A: I know.
TS: A 30-day challenge that you can take on your mobile device. Come join us. Starts on August 15th. Thank you for listening to Insights at the Edge. You can read a full transcript of today’s interview at SoundsTrue.com/podcast. And if you’re interested, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app. And also, if you feel inspired, head to iTunes and leave Insights at the Edge a review. I love getting your feedback, being in connection with you, and learning how we can continue to evolve and improve our program. Working together, I believe we can create a kinder and wiser world. SoundsTrue.com, waking up the world.