We bring awareness down into the belly where we have our deepest fears and also an access to courageous stability.
Down in the gut, deep in the belly, emptiness is experienced with a greater kind of density and weight. Up in awareness it is spacious and open. Deep in the belly it is centered and grounded.
It is the domain from which courage arises, which will be important when it comes to embodying and expressing what we have realized. Let your body experience that deep groundedness and courage.
– Adyashanti, The Way of Liberating Insight
Whatever the image of yourself,
it’s a mask and it’s hiding
– Adyashanti, My Secret is Silence
Whatever image we have of ourselves, it’s a mask. It’s imagined in the sense that our image of ourselves is made up of mental images and words associated with sensations. The sensations lends a sense of solidity and reality to the imaginations, and the imagination lends a sense of meaning to the sensations. It’s a mask since it’s not what we really are.
And it’s hiding emptiness. What we really are is this awareness (or consciousness) that our whole experience is happening within and as. Our experience is awareness (consciousness) itself.
What we are is empty of solidity and materiality. Any sense of solidity or materiality is created by the mind through associating stories with sensations which makes the stories appear solid.
It’s also empty of any identities or stories that are real in any final or absolute sense. What they point to are only real in a very limited and conventional sense.
There is a lot more to say about this. For instance, sensations appear solid and substantial only because the mind has stories about them which makes them appear solid and substantial. And these stories about the substantiality of sensations appear real and solid because these too are associated with certain sensations.
When it comes to the emptiness of identities and stories about ourselves, it’s similar. These too appear solid and real to the mind only because they are associated with sensations. Without sensations lending them a sense of solidity and substance, they would just be recognized as imaginaitons. They may be helpful in a limited and practical sense, helping us to orient and function in the world. But they don’t have meaning or substance beyond that.
This may seem quite naive and simplistic. I realize that. But it’s possible and within the grasp of most people to investigate this for themselves. Working with a faciliator of the Living Inquries, or learning how to apply the Living Inquries for ourselves (or the Buddhist inquiries the LIs are based on), is one way. It usually doesn’t take that much to see this for ourselves, although it does take more work before it is more present in our experience in daily life.
Many experience a feeling of emptiness. I remember it especially from my late teens and early twenties, and I still have feelings of lack come up now and then (which is a type of emptiness).
I would guess it comes from some sort of neglect early on in life. And most of us have experienced that at some point in time, in one or more areas of life. We didn’t get our needs met. Even if our parents were caring and healthy, we may still have experienced a sense of neglect at some point.
Parts of us feel neglected because they were, usually by others when we were small and felt dependent on them. And these parts may still feel neglected because we continue to neglect them. We try to distract ourselves from them when they come up, because they feel uncomfortable, and we do so through work, entertainment, analysis, food, love, sex, and so on. We continue the pattern of neglect, which continues the sense of lack, or feeling of emptiness.
There are a few different things we can do when the emptiness feeling is here.
We can meet our needs, in an ordinary and conventional way. If I feel alone, I can seek company. If I feel unloved, I can seek out someone who loves me. If I feel un-nurtured, I can do things that nurture me. This is very natural, and very sensible.
Another is to reverse our tendency to neglect this neglected part of us. I can meet it. Allow it. Notice it’s already allowed. Rest with it. See its innocence. See that it comes from love. See it’s worried love. Find love for it.
I can also do explore it through inquiry. While resting with it, I may notice sensations as sensations, the images connected with it as images, and the words connected with it as words. I can ask simple questions about these. For instance, does the sensation really mean what images or words says it means?
If I only do the first, the neediness behind it may create trouble. If I only do the second or third, I am neglecting some very basic human needs. If I do the second without the third, I may continue to perceive the emptiness and lack as real, solid and true.
When I wake up in the morning, I often experience a profound sense of emptiness. It’s been that way for the last few years.
It’s not emptiness in the Buddhist sense. The Buddhist emptiness can be taken as absence of a real separate self inherent in reality, or absence of experience of being a separate self. (Absence of identification as a self – or with images or words which tends to create identification as a self.)
It’s not emptiness in an ordinary psychological sense, meaning an unfortunate sense of lack of meaning or richness in ones life.
It’s more of an “energetic” emptiness. An absence of movement. A deep silence and stillness. It scares my mind still, since it projects it into my human self and the future. It creates images of an inability of this human self to function in the world, and complete lack of initiative. I often take time to experience the emptiness, and sometimes meeting and feeling the fear. Thanking it for protecting me. Thanking it for it’s love. Finding love for it, as it is. As soon as I get up and start doing things, this sense of emptiness goes into the background. (Although I can still find it, even now.) As soon as I can find genuine love for this emptiness and the fear that comes up in response to it, something may shift. I suspect I may notice everything as this stillness more and throughout the day, and also that what’s noticing is the stillness itself.
Without knowing, I suspect that the Buddhist emptiness may refer to two things. One is the absence of a real separate self anywhere, and the realization of this. Another is the deep stillness which comes into the foreground as all there is. The stillness recognizing itself as all there is. (This may be what’s happening in the mornings these days.)
I mean, what you got to lose? You know, you come from nothing.
You’re going back to nothing. What have you lost? Nothing!
Always look on the bright side of life!
Nothing will come from nothing. You know what they say?
– From Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, Life of Brian
There are two ways of looking at this…
First, within (the story of) time. There was a time when none of this was here. No me, none of the ones I know, no humans, no living planet, no solar system, no galaxy, no universe as we know it. And there will be such a time again, so nothing is gained and nothing is lost.
Then, here now. It all happens as the play of awakeness. Insubstantial. Ephemeral. No traces.
The first one happens within stories, wihtin the creations and play of the mental field. The second can be an immediate noticing and realization outside of the mental field. (Although guided by and later reflected in/expressed through the mental field.)
In both cases, it can be sad initially. There is a loss of the story of something happening.
But then it is freeing. Since all of this will be gone, why not act in ways that align with what is really important to me? Why not follow my heart? And since it is all the play of awakeness itself, why not do the same?
I mean, what you got to lose? You know, you come from nothing.
You’re going back to nothing. What have you lost? Nothing!
Always look on the bright side of life!
Nothing will come from nothing. You know what they say?
– Eric Idle’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life from Life of Brian
A common phrase among teachers is that nothing ever happens.
It may seem like an absurd statement. Something clearly is happening. And when we are identified with mental field creations, it even seems quite substantial and real.
So where does that statement come from?
It comes from what happens when the volume of emptiness is turned up and it is more in the foreground. Here, it is obvious that nothing ever happens. It is all no-thing appearing as something, yet never becoming anything else than no-thing. It is all the play of awakeness itself. It is appearance without substance.
And any of us can explore it here now, through the sense fields. I can first look at the mental field. What is it made up of? Does it have substance? Are there any traces of what just left, apart from another story about it? Is it awakeness itself?
When I get a taste of this in the mental field, I can explore the same in the other sense fields. What is sensation made up of? Does it have substance? Are there any traces of what just left? Is it separate or different from awakeness itself?
And what do I find when I explore sound? Taste? Smell? Sight? Is each one different from the mental field in these ways? In being insubstantial? Having no trace of what left? Being awakeness itself?
(When doing this, it is best to come from a more open-ended place of receptivity, curiosity and don’t know. These statements are no more than pointers, suggestions, questions to explore in own experience. And what is found may well be different from this, even if it is just a refinement or clarification… because it can be realized and expressed more clearly and simply than this.)
At the same time, something does happen. Something does happen in all of these sense fields. There are all sorts of appearances. When the mental field overlay is identified with and taken as true, it all seems very substantial and real. And when the mental field overlay is recognized as just a mental field overlay, it is all revealed as insubstantial, ephemeral, as no thing appearing as something. As the play of awakeness itself.
As Eric Idle so elegantly pointed out, nothing will come of nothing.
Emptiness – in this case refering to insubstantiality – can be explored through the sense fields…
When I explore the mental field, I notice images, verbal thought, and in general mimicking of each of the other sense fields. (Sensations, sound, smell, taste, sight.) What is a thought made up of? How long does it last? Where does it come from? Where does it go? I may notice that thoughts are insubstantial and ephemeral. They appear, quite literally, as no thing appearing as something. They are similar to a hologram: form without substance.
And as I explore appearances in each of the other sense fields, I can ask myself the same questions. What is it made of? Where does it come from? Where does it go? How long does it last? Again, I may find that whatever appears in each of the sense fields appears insubstantial and ephemeral. As no thing appearing as something.
I can then explore the gestalts created from an overlay of the mental field on top of the other fields. I can close my eyes and visualize my body and the room I am in, then open the eyes and notice that the mental field overlay is still there even with my eyes open. Or I may notice an image coming up as an overlay of sound, with a suggestion of what created that sound. Or memories from tastes and smells. Or a sense of a separate I, an I with an Other, a center with periphery, a doer, observer, overlaid on sensations in the head area.
And here too, I can notice that in immediate experience it is insubstantial and ephemeral. A no thing appearing as something.
Sometimes, someone will talk about both sides of the street and the importance of including both.
I imagine that they are talking about emptiness and form. Or, said another way, who (our human self) and what (that which experience happens within and as) we are.
So what do I find if I explore this for myself?
First, form and emptiness are always here, so that part is easy. And in daily life, my human self and what I am is here too. (I am not going into this much here.)
When I explore it through the sense fields, I find that what happens in each (and as gestalts) is awakeness itself appearing as form. Whatever happens is empty-awake-form. Empty as in insubstantial, nothing appearing as something. Already awake. Appearing temporarily as form.
Also, before and within awakening it is possible to temporarily emphasize one, the other, neither or both, and these are all ways God manifests, experiences and explores itself.
[…] After a while, and it can vary for different people, one will have gone through many cycles—with what will appear to be an underlying cycle beneath these surface cycles. When the underlying cycle comes to completion, the surface cycles and deeper cycle converge with a fruition, and there is a dramatic shift in perception where one begins to see what is meant by emptiness, now in real-time. This shift, which is the 3rd stage of enlightenment, has to do with seeing the empty, selfless nature of reality upon mere reflection. Where once emptiness was contained in the discontinuity experience at the end of an insight cycle, it now permeates all of experience. It comes obvious, for those of 3rd path, what is meant by the lines from the Heart Sutra, “form is emptiness.”
The time between 3rd path and 4th path tends to be the longest yet. Ingram breaks 3rd path into early and mature phases. In the early phase one is still looking for the cycles to bring further progress, whereas in the mature phase emptiness is so ordinary and integrated into one’s experience that the inquiry turns away from the cycles and toward the last subtle hints of duality, which remain.
Finally, there is another radical shift in perspective, in which the sense of a separate center-point, observer, or doer is completely undone. Apparently this realization can occur and then fade for some time, until finally the shift is permanent (i.e. nothing can interrupt this centerless perspective). This is the opening of the “wisdom eye”, the attainment of arhantship, and as Ingram says is the end of insight path: “For the arahat who has kept the thing open, there is nothing more to be gained on the ultimate front from insight practices, as ‘done is what is to be done’.” It’s also interesting to note that it’s difficult to predict how long it will take from 3rd to 4th path. It tends to be the longest path, though I have so little data (even anecdotal) that it’s really hard to say. […]
Four ways we can recognize emptiness…
I can recognize emptiness of the world and not of myself. I can recognize emptiness of myself and not the world. I can recognize neither. Or I can recognize both.
This comes up since my wife now seem to realize (or at least taste) the emptiness of self but not of the world. And for me, it is reverse. I clearly realize emptiness of the world but still get caught up in some stories and emotional attachments. (Although when I look, it is easy to notice the emptiness of those as well.)
Of course, the two are not only not separate, they are really the same in several ways. The world and (my human) self both arise as content of experience. And if the emptiness of world/self is not clearly recognized, it just means that one or more stories are still taken as true.
Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the sky have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” – Luke 9:58
Again, this can be understood in several ways.
It can be taken literally. Jesus was a wanderer with no home to call his own. He gave up his family, career, house and everything else to give his life to God and teaching.
Also, as human beings none of us have a place to lay our head. All is in flux. There is no solid ground anywhere. Everything is a guest – this body, the house we live in, this planet, this universe.
Finally, when we recognize the emptiness of everything, there is clearly nowhere to lay ones head. All is awareness itself. All is ephemeral. Insubstantial. Similar to a holograph where there is form but no substance. There is quite literally nowhere to lay ones head, and there is no head to lay anywhere.
The experience of this may be of the bottom falling out of everything. The sense of “ground” that comes from taking stories are real and substantial, and what they refer to as real and substantial, falls away. What is left is all as awareness itself. No-thing appearing as something, yet without ever being anything but no-thing. A brilliant emptiness everything arises as. The ground falls away, revealing all as Ground. The Ground of awareness, of no-thing appearing as something.
It may sound strange and far removed from how most people experience existence. But it is really there in all of our experience all the time. It is just temporarily covered up by taking stories as substantial and real.
I have been reminded of deep time this last week, from attending the archeology film festival, reading an article about the life and death of the solar system, to watching some snippets from Cosmos online. It is a revisiting of an interest I have had since childhood in these themes which are, in some ways, next door to Big Mind.
Deep time, the long now, infinite causes and effects, evolutionary spirituality, the universe story, the epic of evolution, the great story… all of these are in many ways one step away from Big Mind, they can lead us into it from the form and emptiness sides.
From the form side, contemplating the evolution of the universe and our place in it, almost requires shifting into Big Mind to hold it all… And from the emptiness side, realizing the utter impermanence of it all is an invitation to a shift into emptiness, the void, which is what is left when everything else is gone.
To really grasp for instance the universe story requires a shift into Big Mind, and to really grasp the impermanence of it all requires finding ourselves as the void. At least to some extent. It requires dipping into it, tasting it. And is an invitation to explore it further.
I am actually surprised not more Buddhist teachers use the universe story (and deep time, the long now, etc.) in that way… as a nudge, an invitation into Big Mind and finding ourselves as the void. It seems like a perfect teaching vehicle.
I would have jumped on it right away if I was in their position, and I guess many will in the future… maybe through a combination of multimedia and experiential activities such as the practices to reconnect and the Big Mind process.
Emptiness (shunyata) can be used in several different, although relatively closely related, ways…
- As the Ground, the void everything arises from, within, and as.
- As awake emptiness and form, Big Mind… which is emptiness dancing as form
- As what is being inherently empty of any separate self, anywhere. It is just one field of awake emptiness and form, absent of any separate self… there is doing, but no doer.
- It is empty of separate self because it is emptiness dancing. (The void is just the void, no separate self there, not even when form is included).
- And it is empty of any separate self even within form. The world of form is a seamless whole. Everything happening has infinite causes and infinite effects. It is the local manifestations of the movements of the whole.
- And finally, as absent of beliefs. Empty of believing in the stories of I and a particular identity. Empty of taking relative truths (stories, thoughts, maps, frameworks) as absolute.
I am sure there are other forms of emptiness here, but these seem to be the main ones.
And the funny thing is that these are not intellectual fabrications. It is not something thought out (although it can be thought out, and it can make sense, to some extent, within the realm of thought).
It not only comes from what is alive in immediate experience, but what is alive in immediate experience for all of us… right here now. If we look, investigate for ourselves… using pointers from the Big Mind process, headless experiments, or other forms of inquiry.
Some of the ways there is, and is not, a separate self…
Finding ourselves as emptiness, there is an absence of a separate self… and anything else for that matter. The void is void.
Finding ourselves as awake emptiness and form, and form as no other than awake emptiness itself, there is also an absence of a separate self. There is just one field of awake emptiness and form, with no more or less identification with any part of it. This human self senses, thinks, acts in the world, but there is only the doing and no doer there. It all happens on its own, as part of the field.
Within form, there is also no separate self. There is just a seamless field of form, with infinite causes and infinite effects to anything happening locally… including anything happening to, within and as this particular human self.
And finally, within form, there is a separate self. This human self exists within the world of form. It is a whole as well as a part of a much larger whole. It is a holon in a holarchy. And in that sense, there is a separate self, or rather a separate individual living, relating and behaving in the world.
It is just that this separate self is not really separate from the wider world of form, nor is there a local doer there, nor is it anything else than emptiness itself.
All together, there is emptiness awake to itself and the inherent absence of a separate self in anything. There is the seamless whole of the world of form, with everything local having infinite causes and effects. And there is also the differentiation of this human individual from the wider world, allowing it to function in the world with a particular identity (an identity used for differentiation only, seen as only a relative, utilitarian, limited and temporary, truth.)
We can explore the inherent neutrality of anything happening from its emptiness and its form sides.
From the emptiness side, it is emptiness dancing. It is awake emptiness itself taking various forms, in an unending stream. There is nothing inherently good or bad, or desirable or undesirable, in it. Just the play of the void.
From the form side, we can explore the many stories about it and their reversals and find the grain of truth in each of them. This reveals that they are all only relative truths. In a sense, they all cancel each other out, revealing the inherent neutrality of the situation.
Together, there is a more thorough exploration of the inherent neutrality of anything happening, gradually allowing us to release identification with more and more stories, including our core ones. Which, over time, allows Ground to start noticing itself, more and more, in our daily lives.
There are many forms of dark nights… In a more technical sense, there are two of them, and in a loose – daily – sense, lots of them.
The two formal ones are…
- The dark night of the senses, which is an initial stripping away of beliefs and identities, enough to notice all as God, to notice that everything is a field of awakeness, of consciousness, even of awake emptiness. It can be painful, maybe an experience of being pulled apart, dismembered, even of dying. What dies is really only beliefs and identities, but when we are identified with these, when we take ourselves as that, the experience is of being dismembered and dying. For me, this was a very intense time, but there were lots of rewards in the middle of it as well. It was painful, but also immensely blissful.
- The dark night of the soul, which is similar but goes more to our core beliefs and identities, and specifically the one of a separate self, of someone that this is all happening to. Here, any and all beliefs are stripped away, and it often happens through a profound disillusionment. Everything that we found comfort in is stripped away, taken away from us, and none of our practices have meaning or even work anymore. Nothing is left. God is gone. Any sense of accomplishment is gone. Any ideas of being special, or chosen, are gone. There is no place to anchor any of those beliefs anymore. They get stripped away, whether we want or not, and most often we desperately cling to them as long as we can, making the torment even stronger for ourselves.
Having cleared out some space through the dark night of the senses, the soul realm is revealed. Bliss, clarity, alive presence, all as God, inspiration, luminosity, and so on.
And having cleared out even more, including the sense of a separate self, through the dark night of the soul, the emptiness is revealed in its completeness. When I am gone, emptiness is revealed, as the Ground of it all… of awakeness itself, of the soul level, of mind, of form. It is all emptiness dancing, already and always absent of any trace of any separate self anywhere.
Our core belief, and core identity, of a separate self is greatly diminished through the dark night of the senses, and that is exactly what allows the soul realm to be noticed and come more into the foreground. Here, there can be a sense of no separation, of all – absolutely all – as God, as divine, as consciousness, as the divine mind, there can even be a sense of oneness, but there is still a trace of a sense of a separate self here. And this serves as an anchor for a sense of being special, privileged, of having accomplished something, of being chosen.
The dark night of the soul takes care of that. Every reason for feeling special, privileged, of having accomplished something, of being chosen, is taken away. And none of the practices or tools that at one point work so easily and so well, have any use anymore. They are all broken.
Where the dark night of the senses is more of a dismemberment and a sense of dying as a human being, the dark night of the soul is a deep existential falling away… my most core identity of being something at all, separate from anything else, is wrestled away… leaving just emptiness. No angels. No luminosity. No bliss. Nothing special. Just emptiness. The emptiness that allows, and is, the dance of everything.
The dark night of the senses leads into an amazing awakening, with lots of bells and whistles… God in all its glory. Alive luminosity. Guidance. Inner God, and all as God. Amazing insights. Amazing abilities to do things in the world. Amazing energies.
The dark night of the soul leads into nothing at all. At the threshold of it, it appears thoroughly boring, neutral, like nothing. And inside of it, there is the Ground of all, that which allows the dance of everything. It is nothing special. Just what is, here and now, always.
The void that never changes, and allows all change. The no-thing that allows all things. The absence of everything which allows the fullness of everything. The groundless ground, which already and always allows every fruit.
The bottom falls out of everything. Leaving only the dance of emptiness, with no separate I anywhere.
This is another thing that keeps coming up for me, especially as I am exploring the soul level more actively these days…
- Ultimately, there is void. Emptiness. Nothingness. And awakeness and form all show up from, within, and as this emptiness. For a while, it sounds abstract, but then becomes a living reality (even obvious).
- Then, there is awakeness, as nothing other than emptiness itself. It is awake emptiness. In itself, this awakeness takes the form of pure seeing, pure awareness, pure witness.
- Then, the soul level, alive presence, which can be filtered in innumerable ways… as alive luminosity, alive presence in the heart area (indwelling god), fertile darkness, luminous blackness, and so on. All of these too arise as emptiness, void, as emptiness dancing. The void is right there in it, and they can exist only because of and as this void.
- Finally, the world of form as we typically think of it. All the contents of awareness, from physical objects to energies to sensations to thoughts. These come and go and live their own life, and these too are no other than emptiness. Their ground and essence is the void.
More about each
So we have the void, which is the ground of all there is. It is the one thing that does not come and go, because it is no thing. It is just pure emptiness. It is what allows anything else to be, to come and go.
Then, awakeness… timeless, spaceless. This too, a no-thing.
Then, the soul level… also timeless and spaceless… Sometimes as a field without center and any particular location, but also sometimes with a particular location, as the indwelling god. The soul level comes and goes in different ways, and especially in our awareness. We may notice it, or not. It is present, or not, to us. And it seems that it can be present or not, in different ways, beyond that as well.
Finally, the form level… obviously in time and space, and actually that which creates any experience of time and space. Very much coming and going, as a stream of form.
And all of it arises as emptiness, as insubstantial, transparent, as awake emptiness itself.
Needless to say, what we take ourselves to be within all of this hugely influences our experience.
- If my center of identification is in the world of form, I am at the mercy of the world of form.
- If my center of gravity is in the soul level, I find myself as the fullness here, deeply nurtured, guided, and at home. (Breema)
- If my center of gravity is in the awakeness, I am the witness, the seeing of it all, detached yet also (apparently) free from the comings and goings of everything else. (Sitting practice)
- If the center of gravity is in emptiness, then there is only the Ground allowing all of it to exist and come and go on its own… allowing awakeness, the infinite realms of soul, and the infinite richness of the world of form. (Headless experiments)
As form, I am at a particular location and the rest of the world is out there. As soul, I am formless, timeless, spaceless. Something, yet nothing. As awakeness, I am seeing itself, with the seen as slightly Other.
As Ground, it is all revealed as, always and already, absent of any separate self. The seeing and the seen has one ground, one nature, they are not two… only a field of seeing-seen.
I did a phone session with Karen this afternoon, and one of the things that came up for me was the fear of nothingness… and of infinity in all direction without a center…
It is one of those gateless gates that seem so real and substantial before we step through it, yet when we are on the other side and turn around, the gate is not there… it wasn’t there in the first place. It was there only in appearance, mind made, and since it was taken as real, I lived as if it was real. And still do, for that matter, to some extent.
Sometimes, we need to go through it many times, to become more familiar with the terrain, and also to really see that it isn’t there – over and over, until it sinks in more.
It is only natural to have a fear of nothingness and infinity. If we take ourselves to be something and finite, which most of us do (until we don’t, as Byron Katie says), then it is a terrible thing to be nothing and infinite. We die, or are stretched into spaghetti and die then too.
Either, I am here, something and finite. Or I am emptiness and infinity (and dead.) Not both. Or at least, so it seems.
Exploring two parts of the terrain
There are at least two areas of exploration here.
One is to become familiar with the terrain of emptiness and infinity, dipping into it, first noticing it as an Other, and then finding myself as it, tasting it.
The other is to become familiar with the fear around it, and the identities which appear mutually exclusive to emptiness and infinity, at least as long as I am identified with them…!
So we explore what we already are, directly, and we also explore the box which keeps us as a finite thing here and that as emptiness and infinity out there.
And at some point, it is all clarified enough so the boundaries are revealed as transparent, insubstantial, not very real, and then fall away altogether.
Finite and infinite, thing and no-thing
Now, there is still this human self here, as a finite thing in the world. That didn’t change. It didn’t die, or explore, or get stretched out into spaghetti.
Yet, at the same time, there is… and I am… emptiness. It is emptiness taking the temporary form of this human self and its surroundings. Emptiness dancing, as this human self and whatever else is happening.
There are lots of identities, of being human, male or female, of a particular age, liking strawberry ice cream, voting republican, and so on.
Yet, at the same time, there is no identification with these identities. They define who this human self is, in a relative sense, and that is essential for its life in the world. But they do not define what ultimately is… and what I ultimately am… emptiness.
Together, there is a far wider embrace. It is closer to what already is… an emptiness as a ground of all… an awake emptiness as the seeing… forms arising, as no other than this awake emptiness itself.
Knots are the whole complex of a belief in a story (as absolutely true), and the accompanying emotional and behavioral patterns. It brings identification into the content of awareness, and comes from and props up a sense of a separate self.
To see what is already more true for us, we can explore these knots from the emptiness side and the form side.
Exploring from the emptiness side
From the emptiness side, we find ourselves as awake emptiness, and see that all of it – the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors – are nothing other than this awake emptiness. We can explore and become more familiar with this through the headless experiments, the Big Mind process, or other forms of inquiry.
Exploring from the form side
From the form side, we can look at the effects of holding onto a particular story as absolutely true, what would happen if it was not attached to in this way, and finding the grains of truth in the reversals of the initial story. Through this, we discover that what we held as an absolute truth is really only a relative truth, which allows the grip on it to relax and identification go out of form and back into the field of awake emptiness (often just experienced as more spaciousness and a sense of peace.) The Work and different (other) forms of shadow work are good ways to explore the form side.
Differentiating the relative and the absolute
Another way to put it is that knots come from taking the relative (stories) as absolute (absolutely true), and the resolution is to differentiate the relative and absolute, seeing the stories as only relative truths, and finding ourselves as the absolute – as awake emptiness, and form as no other than awake emptiness itself.
The experience of the absolute changing over time
In real life, it doesn’t always look exactly like this of course. The exploration of the form side of the knots may not change so much over time, although it may become more clear and differentiated over time. But the experience of ourselves as the awake emptiness and form may change over time. Initially, just as a sense of release, spaciousness, ease and peace. As we go along, more as a clear noticing of the awake void that all forms dances within, to and as – a field inherently absent of any separate self anywhere.
It seems that whatever I take myself to be, is how I experience Existence as a whole as well.
If I take myself as a thing, everything else also appears as things. Specifically, if I take myself as this solid object called my human self, then all other form also appears as solid, real, substantial.
Similarly, if I find myself as awake void full of the world, then this world appears as nothing other than this awake void. Forms appear as less solid, less substantial, as emptiness itself, or maybe even (for me now) as a thin insubstantial surface of form on the vast awake emptiness.
Some forms of emptiness…
The emptiness from impermanence. The world of form is flux, always dying as what it is and reborn as something else. As soon as it is reflected in ideas, images and thoughts, it has moved on to something else. There is nothing fixed here. All forms are empty of anything that is fixed, permanent, anything that can be labeled and stay true to the label (not that it could even if it was fixed).
The emptiness from interconnectedness. Existence is a fluid seamless whole, with no inherent boundaries anywhere. Anything we differentiate out is inherently absent of separate existence. It is just a temporary local manifestation of the whole.
The emptiness from absence of I. There is no separate I inherent anywhere, no I and Other. There is only the appearance of it, coming from a belief in the idea of a separate I, placed on a segment of the world of form. For us, this sense of I is typically placed on this human self. Since this field of seeing and seen, of awake emptiness and form, is functionally connected with this human self, and this human self is a perceptual center for this field, it becomes the most natural candidate for being an anchor for this sense of a separate I.
The emptiness of awakeness. Awareness is empty, and the content of awareness is no other than awareness itself. So awake emptiness and form is inherently empty.
Before this is an alive experience, it cannot so easily be conveyed. But when this awake emptiness notices, and awakens to, itself, it is obvious.
Awareness has no form, is not finite in space and time, is timeless and spaceless, is that which all forms arises within, to and as, is not touched by the always changing forms, is no different from its own content.
It is empty of substance, empty of change, yet is also any substance arising and any flow of change. It is similar to a hologram in that there is form, but these forms are empty of substance. There is just crystal clarity there, empty awake crystal clarity temporarily arising as always changing form.
It is its own subject and object, it is the seeing and the seen, the field of awake emptiness and form.
And just about impossible to talk about in any way that makes sense if this is not already alive in awareness, if awareness has not awakened to itself as awareness, empty awakeness and form.
There are also the existential forms of emptiness, those arising from and within a context of a sense of I. These are the emptiness of longing, of a sense of something missing, of lack. And this emptiness is no other than a reflection of the emptiness of Existence, the emptiness of awakeness.
The existential emptiness can only be resolved, completely, when the emptiness of awakeness awakens to itself, becomes familiar with itself, allowing any sense of a separate I to dissolve, and seeing that it is also the fullness of all form.
By finding ourselves as nothing other than awake emptiness, any sense of I and Other falls away, we are filled up by the world of form, and find ourselves as nothing other than the fullness of the world of form. The world of form is no other than awake emptiness, inherently absent of any I and Other, and that is what we already and always are.
Even as we misidentify with a segment of Existence, there is also the (subconscious) knowing that we are awake emptiness and form, inherently absent of I and Other. And this discrepancy is what gives rise to the longing, the feeling of lack, of something missing. Something is missing, and that is to wake up to ourselves as always and already this field of awake emptiness and form, where there is no I and Other anywhere.
This field that is temporarily and functionally connected with this individual human self and soul, which has this human self as a vehicle in the world of form, as a perceptual center, and this too inherently absent of an I. It is just the local manifestation of the field as a whole.
I can’t remember if I have mentioned it here, but I have noticed for some time the relationship between energetic holes, physical problems, psychological tendencies, and now also the three soul centers.
For me, the main one is in the hara.
Since the initial awakening in my teens, I have been aware of an energetic hole in my navel area, specifically located at and near my spine. At the same area, I had a noticeable physical deformity as well, an odd stacking of the vertebrae diagnosed as scoliosis.
At the time, I did a lot of Tai Chi and Chi Gong, both because I wanted more grounding and embodiment, and also to fill up this region.
A couple of years ago, I found Breema which also specifically works with the Hara region, and I have experienced a great deal of fullness, warmth and nurturing in the belly from Breema. Slowly over these couple of years, the energetic hole has filled up, and the spine has reorganized so there is only a slight stacking oddity now (helped along with massage in that area).
With the more recent belly awakening, the endarkenment, there is a sense of a deep luminous velvety blackness and also a new level of nurturing, and a new feeling of everything as Spirit.
This feeling of everything as Spirit, and the reorganizing of the emotional level within the context of all as Spirit, was exactly what was missing in the initial awakening. The head and heart centers were awakened, but not (yet) the belly one. So although I saw, and even loved, all as Spirit, I didn’t feel all as Spirit. The emotions lived their own life, and there was a good deal of turmoil there, partly as a consequence of the intensity of the awakening and its implications.
So there was an energetic hole in the hara region, a physical deformity in the spine at the level just below the navel, and a lack of grounding and emotional turmoil.
This energetic hole then gradually filled in, the physical deformity reduced greatly, and then there was a sudden shift into endarkenment, an early belly awakening into feeling all as Spirit, allowing the emotions to reorganize to all as Spirit, and a new sense of deep nurturing and being held by the velvety luminous blackness.
It is also interesting to note that Hameed Ali (A. H. Almaas) writes about these things in ways very close to my own experiences (although from far more experience and with more precision.)
I realize that many of these terms, such as fertile darkness, luminous blackness, alive luminosity, crystal clear quality, and so on, can be seen as poetic inventions. In a way, they are, but they are also what seems closest to immediate experience.
There is an immediate experience of the fertile smooth rich darkness, the alive luminosity, the luminous blackness, the crystal clear quality, and more. These are the terms that are most close to how each of these appear, when arising in awareness.
They are metaphors, but the closest to experience that we, or at least I, can get. The words themselves come from the thinking mind, but the thinking mind is only of assistance in putting it into words, as close to experience as possible. It has a secondary and minor role. Experience is primary, putting it into words secondary.
Emptiness filtered through head and belly centers
For instance, emptiness, then filtered through the head center, or even thought about in abstract terms, could be called fertile. But it is a stretch. Its empty quality is in the foreground, and the empty quality of all forms are in the foreground. The experience is that forms are emptiness, that they are inseparable. To say that form comes out of emptiness, and emptiness in that way is fertile, is possible, but a stretch from the immediate experience. It is an intellectualization.
But emptiness, when filtered through the belly center, does have a sense of fertility about it. It is black smooth full rich and fertile, and a fertile ground of form. In our immediate experience, it appears as fertile, as brimming with potentiality.
So to call emptiness fertile is more of an intellectualization if filtered through the head center, and an immediate experience when filtered through the belly center.
This came up again when I read a quote by Jnaneshvar:
Unity becomes strengthened by the expansion of diversity.
The more emptiness is realized, the more we can wholeheartedly engage in form, and the more we wholeheartedly engage in form, the more we need and are invited to realize emptiness.
Emptiness is the awake emptiness that is here now, reading these words. Timeless. Unchangeable. Unstained. Always already. Distinct from form, yet also arising as form.
And form is the world of form, and in our case, specifically this human self and its wider world.
Identified as this human self, and resistance
When this field of seeing and seen, of awake emptiness and form, takes itself as a segment of itself, there is immediately resistance.
It identifies as this human self, there is a sense of I and Other, there is a sense of an exclusive and comprehensive identity, and there is something to push away and something to hold onto.
There are experiences, people, places and situations to hold onto, and there are experiences, people, places and situations to push away. In short, there is resistance – to what is, to what may be.
There is drama, confusion, and resistance.
And with resistance, there is a holding back, or a pushing forward.
I hold back from engaging, from experiencing. I try to distract myself, change the situation, modify my experience. I am ambivalent. Half-hearted.
Or I push forward, I push into situation, into experiences, into the world. Which is just another way of resisting.
Field awakening to itself, realizing emptiness and allowing engagement in form
If this field of emptiness, awakeness and form awakens to itself as this field, absent of I anywhere, it all changes.
Now, there is a realization of being awake emptiness, inherently free from the world of form, unharmed by it. Always here, timeless.
There is also the realization of being form, not just this human self but all form, this whole seamless field of form. Anything arising is this field itself. It is just another expression of this same field.
And there is the realization that awake emptiness arises as this field of form. Form arises within, to and as this awake emptiness. They are not two, although they can be discerned as two.
So in that sense, there is full engagement in the world of form since the field realizies it is not separate from form. It is awake emptiness and form. It is beyond full engagement. It is it.
At the same time, and more interesting here, is what happens for this human self. It is realized as having no inherent I. It is just an aspect of this field of awake emptiness and form, which has no I in it anywhere (or we could say it as a whole is an I).
This means that there is no longer anything to resist. With the absence of I and Other, there is also absence of resistance. It falls away.
And this allows for a more wholehearted engagement in the world of form for this human self. It can more wholeheartedly engage with its experiences, and it can more wholeheartedly engage with the wider world.
With no resistance, a more full and wholehearted engagement, all around.
Mutuality of emptiness and form
So the more fully emptiness is realized, the more wholehearted our engagement in the world of form can be. And a more wholehearted engagement requires and invites a more full realization of emptiness.
Engagement without realizing emptiness is painful. The only solution is realizing emptiness, and when emptiness is first tasted, a more full engagement – and the tastes of pain that comes from not fully realizing form as also emptiness, invites and encourages us to more fully realize emptiness, and form as emptiness.
The two go hand in hand. They are two sides of the same coin. They mutually invite and encourage each other.
When there is a realization of selflessness, there is also the realization of the inseparability of Ground and phenomena. Any and all forms are Ground themselves. Ground temporarily taking a particular form.
One of these phenomena is of course our human self, so our human self – along with anything else – arises within and as Ground, awareness, emptiness, Buddha Mind, Spirit, Brahman.
The Ground, awareness, emptiness, Buddha Mind, Spirit, Brahman is naturally in the foreground. Anything arising is inherently and primarily this. The particulars of the form itself, and especially its names and associations, are secondary although easily available.
Nothing needs to change in content. Ground allows anything to arise as and within our human self. Yet, an awakening to selflessness also allows our human self to reorganize and realign to this new context.
There is a sense of infinite distance to this human self, of absence of any identification, of any sense of I there. It arises as everything else arises. Sensations and thoughts comes and goes as everything else comes and goes. It lives its own life, as everything lives its own life. It does, but there is no doer there. It chooses, but there is no chooser there. This human self, its experiences, its actions, just happens, as everything else just happens.
At the same time, there is a sense of intimacy – even more intimate than any intimacy since there is an absence of I and of Other. This human self arises as Ground. There is an absence of separation. An absence of I. An absence of Other. An absence of distance. It is more intimate than the most intimate. It is on the other side of intimacy, since there is an absence of all of this.
I did a Process Work session with myself on a combined feeling of (a) gripping on my shoulders and (b) a sense of emptiness in the stomach/solar plexus region. The gripping has a sense of pushing to it as well, having me lean forward and slouch a little. And the emptiness has a sense of void and suction to it.
Going into it further, I see that the gripping/pushing is pushing me into the emptiness, the void, in the stomach region. I become the gripper/pusher, and want him (my usual identity) to vanish into the emptiness there. And as the void, I see that I pull him into me – allowing him to vanish completely in emptiness.
Going into this vanishing in/as the void, there is first a sense of trepidation, and then tremendous relief. There is a full surrender here, a full letting go, a full vanishing of any resistance – including the resistance of wanting to be someone or something. Everything is let go of. Nothing is left.
And this emptiness then turns into fullness, the fullness of this human self and the rest of the world as it is, although now with an absence of resistance – including the resistance of having any particular identity. Surrender to what is through absence of resistance and identity.
There is a sense of tremendous freedom here. A freedom of allowing everything to be just as they are. A freedom of not having an identity as someone or something. A freedom from resistance.
I am enjoying reading The Void by A. H. Almaas, where he outlines a process of: sense of lack > experience of hole in body image > awareness of space > awareness of the emptiness of space > awareness of the fullness of space.
Space is often initially experienced as “other” and the experience of it is resisted, then after resistance falls away or is reduced, space is more immediate and still “other”, then – the process of dissolving conventional identity starts, space may be experienced as “I”, and eventually there may be just the emptiness and fullness of space with no I anywhere.
This is of course a variation of what mystics from many traditions say: our conventional sense of emptiness, lack of meaning, or lack in general, is a yearning for awakening – for finding ourselves as not lacking anything.
Somewhere, there is the knowing of what we are. Yet, our conventional identity prevents us from seeing this. Everything we are which does not fit into this identity is placed “out there” by a story added onto it. And in the awakening, we see that we already have – or rather are – everything we are looking for.
All of this – the nature of who (or rather what) we are – is already alive in our immediate experience. We already know ourselves as it. But then we place a number of stories on top of it, creating an identity of an isolated “I”, an identity of this not that, and it is temporarily obscured. So no wonder there is the conventional sense of lack and emptiness. We are missing a conscious knowing of who we already are, in our fullness. We consciously know ourselves only as a little fragment of what we are, although the rest is right there under our noses. As the Sufis say, we are like a fish looking for the water – which is already there surrounding it.
Simply said, we are everything arising right now – in this very moment, absent of I anywhere. This is the divine mind, Buddha Mind, Spirit, emptiness dancing, right here already. Right under our noses, yet appearing so far away when there is the holding onto an identity of “I” as a fragment of this.
I also find it interesting how Almaas is using an approach in unfolding the initial, conventional sense of lack and emptiness into an awareness of ourselves as space. It is very similar to the unfolding process in Process Work, although PW has not (yet) gone quite as far into the nondual. They are still at the edge of it, exploring the edge in different ways, peeking occasionally over at the other side, curious about it. (They seem to be at the edge as a group, individuals may well go further).
Hearing other’s reports of how they experience themselves help me see what is going on for me. They reflect what has been for me, what is alive now, or what may be.
For me over the last several months, there has been a phase of a sense of neutrality and space. Mostly, there is just space – within which everything happens. There is little or no boundary between this human self and the rest of what is happening, it is just one field of space and phenomena – none of which appears solidly as I, or Other for that matter.
For this physical body where there are just a few disjointed sensations appearing here and there in space, some emotions now and then, and some thoughts now and then. There is a vague sense of center around the head and upper chest area, but it goes away when I look at it – it is just revealed as phenomena arising in space just like everything else. If I don’t look, there may be an equally vague sense of “I” here at this “center”, and if I look, both vanish – literally – in space.
Whenever I do Breema, either giving or receiving, there is a similar sense of space and a few sensations. The whole from which I can find a body and psyche is very clear, as a whole – as space within which sensations, feelings, emotions and thoughts arise (although it seems that only the sensations seems localized in space, the feelings, emotions and especially thoughts just seem to happen – nowhere in particular in space, not really connected with this human body or not).
The word fragmentation came up in a conversation this morning, and I realize that I cannot find that so easily in my own experience now. There is just space and then everything happening within and as this space. I can see that I can heal, mature, develop and so on as a human being, but it is also beyond fragmentation or no fragmentation.
Over these months and within this space, there has been a sense of dryness and flatness, of neutrality, a sense of fatigue, and punctuated by periods of watching stressful thoughts and images arising, and other periods of seeing some of the old exitement coming up.
It seems that any quality can be filtered through a sense of self or a realization of selflessness.
Emptiness is one of those.
Here is how it shows up for me now, when I look into it…
Filtered through sense of I
Filtered through a sense of self, I can see how it can show up in two distinct ways.
One is a sense of emptiness as empty of meaning, a sense of my own insignificance, my own lack. Here, I am aware of the weaknesses and limitations of my human self, and filter this through a strong sense of I and Other. I am weak and insiginficant here, the world is so much larger and more powerful out there, and the sense of disconnection betwee the two brings up dismay, hopelessness, meaninglessness and so on. This is what some of the western existentialists explore.
The other is also a recognition of my own insignificance in the big picture, that I – as a human being, is infinitely small in an infinitely much larger world. I alone am nothing. Everything I am and my whole existence is dependent on this larger whole. I am empty of any power on my own, and am alive and active only through the grace of the larger whole. This sense of emptiness on my human level is filtered through a sense of connection with the larger whole, so it opens up for gratitude, humility, compassion, sense of belonging, meaning and so on. This is what the Universe Story opens up for.
Filtered through realization of selflessness
Filtered through a realization (or even taste) of selflessness, the same emptiness takes on a very different quality. Or maybe more accurately qualities, as it depends on the clarity and depth of the realization of selflessness.
Here are a couple of ways of talking about it…
- My human self, and anything I ever took as an “I”, is revealed as empty of any inherent “I”. It is not a doer. There is only the doing, but no doer. Or rather, the whole is doing through this local human self – and it appears as if it is all just happening on its own. My human self is a temporary vortex in the stream of the world of phenomena.
- The groundless ground awakens to itself and the play of forms it temporarily takes on. This is emptiness dancing.
It seems that the word “emptiness” can be understood in a couple of different ways…
One is the nature of mind – the clear, spacious awareness empty of any particular characteristics. The words void and deep silence are sometimes used to describe it. Ultimately, it is distinct from the world of phenomena, so any words – inherently about the world of phenomena – point in the wrong direction. This is the Absolute.
The other is the world of the phenomena. All phenomena are aspects of a seamless fluid whole. It is a holarcy, a set of nested systems – one within another. Whatever we can discern as a whole in itself, is a temporary vortex in the stream. In the world of phenomena, nothing is permanent and nothing exists by itself. There is flux and no absolute boundaries. This small self is empty of any fixed or separate existence. This is the Relative.
In our own experience, it can unfold like this…
Awareness awakens to its own nature – this clear spacious awareness empty of characteristics. It can learn to recognize it and become familiar with it. It sees that it is distinct from any experiences of the inner and outer world that appears within itself. And it learns to come to this experience in more and more situations in our everyday life. It begins to function in a more and more transdual way – embracing its own nature and the world of phenomena, and all polarities within the world of phenomena.
Having found its own “ground” – empty of characteristics and distinct from polarities such as existence/nonexistence – it can allow itself to recognize the world of phenomena as a fluid seamless whole. It is resting in its own “ground” so there is no longer any need to hold onto anything in the world of phenomena. It can allow it to be seamless and flux.
This small self becomes a vehicle, an empty shell through which awareness can function in the world of phenomena. It is recognized as a temporary vortex in the stream.