We cannot enter the Transcendent,
but the Transcendent can enter into us.
On one of my week-long meditation retreats with the spiritual teacher Adyashanti, during question and answer time, a young man came up to the microphone and declared: “I give up! l just give-up! I have done everything I can think of to get enlightened and nothing has worked. I have read the right books. I have meditated. I have gone to therapy. I have tried everything I could think of and nothing has worked. I give up! I just simply give up!”
Adya (as he is called) immediately jumped up to his feet and declared: “Oh, thank you; thank you; thank you! You have made my day!”
I was taken back. I would have thought Adya would be more concerned. But in time I came to understand Adya’s response. He had often told us that we would have to give up everything before we could experience awakening. As long as we insist on maintaining control, we would never find what we seek. Only by giving up can we receive that which we are looking for.
This flies in the face of everything we have been taught. We have been taught to set goals, to make plans, measure our progress and evaluate the results. In other words, we rely on our head center to make our way in the world.
This is the way we do it in the outer world. But it does not work in the inner world.
The inner world is about being receptive. It is about taking in rather than pushing out. It is about being still, opening our receptors and allowing the Transcendent to come to us.
Buddhism tells us that emptiness is a pre-condition for experiencing the transcendent. We have to free ourselves of all thoughts and beliefs that are counter to our true nature. We have to be empty on the inside in order to receive the fullness that the Transcendent brings.
We cannot pour water into a glass that is already full. The Transcendent cannot come into a consciousness which is crammed with thoughts, emotions and beliefs.
Where is the Transcendent?
For a long time, I thought of the Transcendent as a place I would have to travel to in order to experience it. The experience I imagined seemed so entirely different than the life I knew that it convinced me it must be far, far away. I knew this distance was not a physical distance, like flying from here to the moon, but that it was more an existential distance, such as not being in a proper state of mind to receive the Transcendent.
The Buddhist concept of emptiness suggests that some kind of clearing out is needed. Indeed, in the epic tales of the Hero’s Journey, the hero has to leave home and embark on a long and tortuous journey before he or she can return fully enlightened. If the goal seems far, far away, it stood to reason that it would take a long time for us to reach it. As a result, few people I knew took seriously the idea that they might become enlightened.
This picture of a great yawning gulf between where we are and where we want to be became a disincentive for people who might otherwise take enlightenment seriously. For many people enlightenment—whatever it was— became a concept lost in a shroud of fog on some distant Himalayan mountain top.
In my own case, the inability to picture where I wanted to go made it difficult for me to stay focused. I am very visual. When I travel to some place I have never been, I can map it on Google Earth. Not so with the transcendent. There is no clear “what” to picture, there is no clear “where” to picture and no clear “how” to picture.
In time I came to realize that the only thing I could do is stop trying, stay focused and to open myself to this present moment.
I came to understand that emptiness is a pre-condition for making the spiritual journey. It was as if my personal baggage was weighing me down and preventing me from making that journey.
Over time I came to realize that this present moment is the only reality we have.
True reality resides in the silent stillness that lies within. In deep meditation, the moment comes when our thoughts finally dissipate. We sit in silence; deep, deep silence. We experience the sweetness, the compassion and the love of our own true identity.
The Transcendent can come to us in the outer world
1) You walk alone in the forest and suddenly a great stillness descends upon you. Your hearing becomes acute and you hear the living sounds of the forest as if for the first time. The forest seems alive. You feel its presence. And for a brief moment you are struck by the thought that you and the forest are one. You continue your walk, but there is now an inner calm and serenity that was not present before.
2) You sit silently on a beach looking out over the ocean. The noise of the gentle waves lapping at the sand soothes you. The sun is setting slowly over the far horizon. The sky is bright orange. Slowly it begins to darken into the color of a ripe persimmon. Horizontal bands of cloud float in the sky. Striations of color run the length of each cloud. Part of the cloud glimmers with the still bright white of the sun, then a band of red-orange that reflects the color on the ocean below, and a darkening gray that anticipates the approaching night.
You suddenly feel very small. The scale of the scene before you seems to expand as you realize just how vast everything is. But you do not feel any smaller. You suddenly feel no separation from what you see. It is both vast and intimate in the same moment. You are here on the beach and you are everywhere in that brief moment. Something within you stirs in recognition that this is your true nature that has been lost in the pace of your hectic life.
3) You sit before a fireplace on a cold winter night. The flames of the fire reach up and around the wood that is burning in the grate. The flames flicker and dance as if responding to some unheard music. An occasional cracking sound breaks the quiet in the room. A momentary glow of light bursts out from the wood as a spark seeks freedom from its confinement. There is a golden glow around the edge of fireplace and mantle and it fades out into the darkness that is all around you.
There is something mesmerizing about watching those flames. It feels both reassuring yet slightly scary to be sitting here in the dark. But the fire commands your attention. It seems to know that it is putting on a performance and it does not disappoint. Down deep is a recognition that this experience in front of a fire has been repeated millions of time since the dawn of man. For just a fleeting moment you get a sense of direct connection with every person who has ever sat before a fire and had the experience you are having right now.
The fire is a thread that weaves through the millennia and connects you with all mankind. Time disappears. Place and location disappear. This present moment disappears. Only the universal experience of sitting before the flame remains, and you feel connected with that experience as it exists in all people through all times. Time, space, the generations, the ages all collapse down into this one single moment of seeing the flame. And then you are back in your familiar room once again watching this particular fire. These brief experiences gave you a glimpse into what your life might be like. What had been only brief moments now starts to feel like the way all life is.
The Transcendent comes to us in the inner world.
There are times and there are places where the Transcendent is more likely to come. These are the times and places where we prepare ourselves for this possibility. These are the times and places where we open ourselves widely and invite the Transcendent to come into us.
I am speaking here of meditation.
The immediate goal of meditation is simple: still the body and still the mind. Stilling the body is the easy part. You find a comfortable chair or bench and sit with a posture that provides good back support. You may experience a bit of stiffness at first, especially when you sit for long periods of time. But usually the body adjusts fairly quickly and then you rest comfortably where you are sitting.
Stilling the mind is a whole other matter. We sit there quietly, simply waiting. (I am describing one approach to meditation. There are others.) Our eyes closed. Experienced meditators develop the ability to observe their thoughts; they watch their thoughts move in and move on, much like traffic moving along the road at rush hour. We have no control over this movement of thoughts. Thoughts happen even though our desire is to sit with an empty mind.
Which brings us to an interesting conundrum: who am I? Am I my thoughts, as we usually assume? Or am I that which wants my thoughts to cease. I cannot be both. But if I am not my thoughts, then who am I?
Silence and Stillness
When our private world quiets down, what remains is this present moment.
This present moment is all that there is. It is all that there ever was. But it got covered up by all the noise in our inner world. Meditation has helped quiet all that noise.
What remains is the silence and stillness of the moment. As we settle into the peacefulness of this silent stillness, we understand what is true in this moment. This silence and stillness of our inner world. It is always with us, but we cannot experience it when our mind and body are focused elsewhere. True meditation helps us experience this underlying reality of our life.
There is a sensation of slowly drifting downwards deep within ourselves. We come to rest in the midst of a vast space which seems to have no limits. It is silent here. It is serene and still. It feels spacious and vast. In this place there is a feeling that everything is fine. There is nothing to worry about, nothing to complain about, northing to stress about. Everything is fine.
And it feels like we have been here before. It feels like we have always been here. In fact, we have never left. There is a feeling that this place is always within us, deep inside. It is a great void, yet within this emptiness, there is a feeling a great fullness.
When we settle into the ease of silence and stillness, we discover that everything is at ease. Life is fine just as it is. We are fine just as we are. We realize the ultimate truth: I am the silence and the stillness.
This is our true identity. Our outer life is simply a drama that we create. True reality resides in the silent stillness that lies within. We meditate that we might be able to spend ever increasing amount of time experiencing the sweetness, the compassion and the love of our own true identity.
The familiarity of this place can be overwhelming. People sometimes break into tears. They have returned to a place they never knew existed and yet it is home. It exists deep within the body. And yet it is more than the body.
And then we realize where we are: we are at Source.
We might leave it, but it never leaves us. We simply have to remember that it is always within.
The silence. The stillness. The spaciousness. The serenity. The seamlessness. All there. All the time.
We are left with an inner knowing: we have experienced the Transcendent.
Our usual life is a drama we create in our personal world. Then we act upon it in the outer world.
Now we realize the ultimate truth: we are the silence. We are the stillness. This is who we truly are.
This inner knowing is solid and firm. It makes no difference that it is not logical or scientific. Our own direct experience confirms it. No one can negate our own direct experience.
There is no I-Thou. There is no outer world of duality.
There is only the one, infinite and eternal experience of life that is being lived through many different forms.