An Interview with John Prendergast

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By Ben Berry

I first met John Prendergast at the 2014 Science and Nonduality Conference in San Jose, CA. It was a weekend full of heavily technical discussions, so John's presentation, "Secrets of the Heart," came as a welcome contrast. John spoke about knowledge beyond the level of mind, the knowledge of the heart. And as he spoke, my heart opened. I felt as though John was gently inviting me to know myself, not from a higher level, but from a deeper level, from a place that was somehow underneath a callous that I didn't know I had.

After the presentation, I saw John outside on the lawn on my way to the car. I went to thank him briefly for his presentation. He was in conversation with somebody else, so I snuck in from the side to issue a quiet "thank you" - but as I entered his field, I felt that there was no such side to speak of. John seemed to be at the center of an edge-less circle. And as he turned to acknowledge me fully, I realized that I was, too. I felt - not thought, but felt - that there was an infinity of space between us, and yet we were infinitely close. John smiled at me politely and thanked me for my compliment. I remember what he told Kathryn, who was with me at the time: "Openness welcomes openness."

One month later, I was sitting in John Prendergast's office in San Rafael. That feeling of being in the center of an edge-less circle was back, along with a bright hospitality and easy conversation. A prior client had just left him a brown paper bag full of fresh persimmons, which he offered me as soon as I walked in the door. They decorated the seat next to me as we talked.

Our conversation orbits around the concept of "waking down" - that is, how self-awakening interfaces with our bodies and our society. We also explore John's own experiences of awakening, and his time spent with Jean Klein and Adyashanti. These themes are extracted from Johns upcoming book, In Touch: How to Tune into the Inner Guidance of Your Body and Trust Yourself (Sounds True, 2015), which will be released in April.

John J. Prendergast, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist in private practice and a recently retired professor of psychology at CIIS. He is the senior editor of The Sacred Mirror: Nondual Wisdom and Psychotherapy and Listening from the Heart of Silence. He was asked to share the dharma by Dorothy Hunt in 2012. Find out more about John here.

You can pre-order John's upcoming book here.

 

John Prendergast: So where would you like to start?

Ben Berry: Pretty casually, I'd imagine. How are you, John? How have you been?

I'm doing great! Really good, enjoying life. You know, the book has been a really big creative project over the last couple of years, so it's good to be able to be done with the editing, the proofing, most of the endorsements and all that.

Is this your first book?

Third book. I have two prior books -

Oh, I saw that. They're more clinical textbooks?

Yeah, they're more oriented towards therapists, they're anthologies. I was the senior editor and contributed a few chapters in each, but this will be the first book of my own. Did you have a chance to look through it?

I did. It's great. Really great. Really useful - it struck me as a book that was not only very intellectually aware, but included the body-sensing aspect of things, which is such important material. It seems to me that a lot of the “body approach” originated with Jean Klein. At SAND [Science and Non-Duality Conference], I noticed that Francis Lucille, yourself, Rupert Spira - you all trace back to Jean Klein.

Interesting, you saw that connection. Yeah, and we're all friends.

Yeah, you're all friends! Before I found Jean Klein, I was reading Nisargadatta. I've been reading him for years.

Oh interesting! He's actually been a very strong influence for me as well.

Yeah, “I Am That” is practically my daily read.

This is, I would say, my favorite book.

Well, then I found [Jean Klein's] “The Ease of Being” - I'd found a pdf online for free. And I've been reading that a couple times through. Different, but similar approach, right?

Yeah, actually, the essence is the same. And interestingly, Jean was instrumental in getting Nisargadatta's work translated into French. So he was the main instrument for getting I Am That translated and distributed in France.

So how did you meet Jean?

I met him here in Sausalito. I was at a party with friends, one of whom said, "You know, there's this guy, Jean Klein, who's coming, I think you'd really like him". This is like 30 years ago. So I just had a feeling, you know... I said, "Yeah, I want to see this guy". So I walked into the room, and it was an L-shaped room so I couldn't see him when I came in - the group was around the corner. But something extraordinary happened when I walked into the room and that is - I stopped thinking.

Mm.

And being very much a thinking type, at the time, it was like - yeah, something's here.

(laughs) Yeah.

And I had been a meditator for 13 years and had spent time with several teachers already, but I had just never experienced this kind of 'field of presence' before. I came around the corner, and I sat, and he was speaking in this kind of thick European accent - a mixture of French and I didn't know what else, but it turns out German and Czech was in there - and he was talking like this: [puts on thick, ponderous imitation accent] "...the subject-object relationship, and…" (laughs) Yeah, I didn't know what he was saying.

(laughs) No idea.

Well, a little bit, actually, you know, because I'd read Nisargadatta at this point, I was really into [Nisargadatta] Maharaj. But I just knew - “this is my teacher”. I just felt it, I just knew it. And so I hung out with Jean until '95, when he had a series of strokes. He quit teaching in '95, died in early '98, and I stayed close to him through that whole time. So I knew Francis [Lucille], met him in '85 and we spent time together.

So you were studying together?

He was a senior student of Jean's. He had been with Jean at that point for over 10 years or so.

What did your meetings with Jean look like? Was it attending talks?

He would give what he called “dialogues”. They were public. He would sit and say [in thick accent] "...You may have a question now..." like that. And then, he would interact. And the dialogues were very interesting, because he would address the background questions - he would come in through the back door. It would be so surprising at times. He would address the question behind the questions.

I noticed that in “The Ease of Being”, sometimes. He doesn't answer the wording of the question, he answers something completely behind it.

Yes, it's very interesting. He had this unusual style of dialoguing with people, which I enjoyed - and it was disarming, as well. And then he gave retreats, and on retreats, he would offer his Kashmiri bodywork, which was a very slow, extremely slow-motion yoga. It was much more about sensing the subtle transitions and the sense of space. It's: Everything is happening in space, and is an expression of space, and so let's experience that directly, through the body. He wouldn't even call it yoga; he'd just call it his “body approach”. And he was keenly attuned - he was very, very sensitive. He could feel the energy field and the energy body.

There was a description in your book where you were doing a seated twist, and he comes up behind you - what happened there?

I just felt the slightest brush of his finger behind my heart center, and immediately, visually, I had this sense of a fracture being healed. There was a misalignment that became aligned. So it was happening on an energetic level and I could feel a physical straightening.

This relationship between teacher and student is a really interesting one from an intersubjective lens. Inner and outer seem to blend together.

Yes.

So I'm curious about your experience with Jean and another teacher of yours, Adyashanti. I'm really curious about that moment, when you walked into that L-shaped room, and there was some sort of knowing. Is there a metaphor, or a picture, for that initial meeting?

[some silence] I would call it a meeting of the heart. Of the deep heart. There's something in us that knows reality and recognizes it, regardless of appearance or words. You know…my first and only encounter with [Nisargadatta] Maharaj was in a dream. I mentioned that in my book. I didn't know of him, I hadn't heard of him. He came in this dream where he was in his flat in Bombay. It was this…feeling. It was this [claps hands suddenly] connection. It was this Truth radiating through this being. I later learned that he had died a month after I had dreamt of him.

Wow.

Isn't that interesting? How did that happen? So my feeling with Jean when I met him - it was just [claps hands] - Truth meeting Truth. Adya [Adyashanti], it was the same thing. I went to a talk in Oakland in 1999. After 5 minutes, I just knew that it was there. Totally different presentation; Adya and Jean are so different in their styles. But it didn't matter, it was the underlying presence of this deep heart wisdom, recognizing itself.

Teachers seem to provide outer support for facilitating inner awareness. And what a blessing to have access to that outer support.

It is. It can be helpful - it can be critically helpful.

Some traditions say it's absolutely necessary.

Well, Ramana [Maharshi] didn't have it. So absolutes are never true on the relative level. But I would agree, in most cases it's critically important. And certainly, it has been for me.

So there's outer factors that facilitate awareness, and then on the other hand, there's outer factors that - how could we say -

Obstruct?

Yes, obstruct inner awareness.

Oh, absolutely. The collective trance that we function in.

Right. So as inter-subjective beings, we pick up on each others wisdom and neurosis, right?

We do. We feel it all. And if we're confused, then, our confusion will be amplified by the confusion around us. And similarly, as we get clearer, that radiates out as well. So there is a mutual entrainment phenomena. But the weight of conditioning is quite profound - individually, as agents of it, and collectively.

Waking up can at times, at least in my experience, feel very radical.

It is. It's actually quite radical.

 This is even more important and poignant in areas that aren't saturated with spiritual currency and paraphernalia. It becomes extremely important - not just the waking up, but the waking down, like you talk about in your book. What are some external obstacles to waking down?

[some silence] Let me answer it starting with the opposite, which is what supports waking down.

Sure.

It's really about integrity, if I had to boil it down to one word - being in integrity with the Truth. And that is a very challenging process, because we're so survival oriented, socially and biologically. There's all of human evolution, and the brain, and all the culture that comes out of that - which is around deception, and being out of integrity, and not being authentic, in order to survive. Or it's to keep an image intact, which has beneath it a survival fear as well. So being in integrity requires a fierce devotion to authenticity. And it means the potential loss of relationships. Losing connection to people can feel terrifying, as I mention in my book.

You addressed that really skillfully. What's the pith of that?

It's that we misunderstand what genuine connection is. We accept a pale version of what real connection is. So we exchange information, or we tell our stories, and maybe we share our feelings - there are many levels of connection, in fact, but the deepest connection, which is the connection from our deep nature, remains veiled. And that's always here, that's the beauty of it. It's the great discovery, or the great awakening, a profound connection with wholeness, and by extension, everything...this is the great connection, I would say. And we accept the counterfeit in place of the real.

So this Truth, and this wholeness - I understand it's behind the level of the mind. Or maybe I should say, it's larger than the level of the mind. And concurrently, it's important that the mind has some confidence in the Truth, or else it will rebel.

That's right. This is a critically important point, actually - that the mind be oriented.

Which is where some subtle deception can take place.

Absolutely.

Pinning Truth down to 'something'.

Right, making it into a dogma, a thing.

Making it into a 'thing', yeah. It's very easy to do. 

Very easy. We get caught in a position, in a philosophy.

What has been your experience dealing with this form of deception?

Hmm… [some silence] I take refuge in not-knowing. That's going back to zero.

If you catch yourself inhabiting a locked-down mental formation, your self-care is to take refuge in not-knowing?

Yes, self-care, or just the knowing, the heart's knowing, is that 'this' [mental knowing] is not it.

Getting to this point where your reflex is to get back into not-knowing - was there a mental journey that got your mind to be able to surrender?

It's a good question. I think it was a gradual process of gaining clarity. As I mention in my book, I was skeptical of my own experience. Self doubt has been a strong tendency of mine. So, I became identified with that. One of the turning points I describe in the book is the actual ability to see doubt as doubt.

You said something which I thought was brilliant - "doubting your doubt". It's as if the disease is the cure.

Within judgement there is an essential quality of discernment. I wrote, “in a certain way I doubted my doubt.” The 'certain way' means there was a clear seeing - a questioning - is this really the Truth? Is this really the Truth - this lens I'm seeing through? Is this the truth? That lens became an object in awareness, whereas before I was seeing through it. So that ability to see the judging nature of the mind as a mental function, and not as a Truth, was actually a critical turning point for me.

It sounds like there was a constant inquiry.

There was a questioning - what is the Truth?

A questioning, yeah. And it sounds to me that by yoking your mind to that constant questioning, you were able to pierce, in a certain way, your doubt.

Yeah, that's well said. I think the mind actually loves the Truth.

That's a happy thought.

Even as it resists it, it also loves it. There was something in me that just wanted to know. When there was a path of inquiry, that became clear. Actually, I think I had read Ramana, but it wasn't until I read Nisargadatta that the capacity for self inquiry developed. Then Jean became my teacher of that path of self-inquiry. And Jean really emphasized the importance of a clear mind. He had a clear mind as well. So there's a quality, we could call it discernment, or of higher reason. You can see this functioning in his students, in Francis and Rupert [Spira] as well - there's this exceptional clarity of seeing the mind for what it is, which is a highly useful tool.

Something I appreciate about the approach you've taken, particularly in this book, is bringing the body back into the equation. Or giving voice to the body. It provides such a support for keeping the mind clear. Non-dual teachings can sometimes be so direct that they miss the nitty-gritty of environmental situations, and what it takes to access the physical supports that help our vehicle drive on a clean engine.

Very much so! The conditioned body needs to be addressed, those chronic tensions and contractions. Because acute mental clarity is just part of the process. You mentioned waking down, as I do in my book. The perspective of waking down is an important counterbalance to the emphasis on clarity and space. Otherwise, it's an incomplete portrait.

In your book, you mention these “overly masculine” traditions that are all about getting up and out.

Transcendence.

Which we hear a lot about in this culture, and I wonder if it has something to do with enlightenment being another object to have, as distinct from other objects.

I think it can easily become another object of attainment. Exactly.

And what you're saying is, it's not so much that.

It's not that at all. Our true nature is not an object. The mind will conceive of it as such. And that was another critical point of insight for me, actually, a turning point in the deepening of my own opening or awakening, I'm not attached to what it was...but I can recall, I was on retreat with Adya in 2003 and he was talking about the futility of the search. This is such a bedrock theme in these teachings. I mention that, because I'd heard it for 25 years at that point. But sometimes we hear something -

- and we don't listen to it.

- and then we do. Somehow it gets in. I was sitting after a talk on this subject with Adya on a retreat in the Santa Cruz mountains, and I saw that the seeking was still happening. The object of my search - true nature – I had conceived of as this light. And if I could just see with complete subtlety and clarity to the essence of that light, then I would have it. And I never fully saw the strategy that was going on, the subtle objectification. The first part was just being in integrity, being honest with myself. Seeking was still happening. I really needed to bust myself on that, and not pretend like I wasn't seeking. Seeking was still happening. It was very subtle. That was the first step. The second step was seeing that it's endless. That subtlety, that essence, you know - "If I get quiet enough, if I sit long enough" - you can relate. There was just sudden knowing that this is absolutely futile. It's endless. This search will go on forever. And then something broke [claps hands suddenly] in that seeing. And I suddenly realized that it's here. It's always here. This is what I would call the awakening of the heart. Before, there had been awakening of the mind. Yet this was something new – a deep knowing on the level of feeling of wholeness and fullness. It was the knowing that this was my nature, and everyone's nature, as well. It was interesting because I had a personal interview with Adya the next morning. He listened to my report, smiled, and then he said, "I have been waiting for this." So he could feel the emergence of this understanding. This is one of the core teachings of [Nisargadatta] Maharaj - the seeker is the sought.

Right, the seeker is the sought. Nisargadatta is very succinct.

So succinct. Such a beautiful formulation. But there it was - there was the seeing of that. 

Like you were saying, you can hear advice like that so many times, “the seeker is the sought”, but mind can only do so much with it. The mind hears, “The seeker is the sought…..alright, business as usual!”

Right! “What else?”

Right! “What next!”

(laughs) “What's a good film to see?”

(laughs)

These are aphorisms, right? And they work on us. Sometimes it'll take decades. These are seeds. So, that unplugged the last part of my mind that was still objectifying true nature, still believing that it was something to be defined.

Beautiful. So the question, the interesting twist in the plot line, is that in a sense something changed. Something was unplugged.

[some silence] Something was seen through.

And so there was an action that happened, and a result - there was a cause and an effect.

There was a release of a contraction.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I find it so easy for the mind to look to these releases as objects.

Yes. But the release is a byproduct of the actual knowing.

Brilliantly said. It's so tough to wrap my mind around it sometimes, because when I'm in more of an absolute, inclusive state of being, it's very clear that there's no goal or object. And then I get fascinated by something and restrict around it for minutes or days or months, and now there's cause and effect. There's a past where I was more open, and now I'm more restricted, and I want to get to a future where I'm more open again.

Exactly, the mind makes it into an object, and wants to recover that. It makes it into a state.

It makes it into a state, and it is difficult to play with that because it's such a valid form of thinking from a relative level. There is suffering, and there is the cessation of suffering, and I want the cessation of suffering. And then when I'm in a more expanded state, suffering arises in this state and ends in this state, and nothing changes.

Nothing changes.

What I appreciate about your work and the work of other more modern teachers such as Adyashanti, is that this absolute state -

This non-state -

 - sure, non-state - It remains as it is.

Ever present, unchanging.

And yet, we still have to deal with traffic. And going to work. And standing on one's feet all day, and feeling restricted because of that. Your work addresses these felt limitations very skillfully.

Yeah, limitations of phenomenal reality.

How does one deal with those limitations? How does one marry those two? The absolute and the relative?

Well they're in fact not two, and they don't need to be married. (laughs) This was my question - how do these fit together? It arose with my work as a psychotherapist. How did helping people to deal with their problems fit with the teaching that we are already whole and complete? My inquiry was - how do these fit? How do you integrate these? At some point, the question fell away. It's interesting. I wondered how could these be separate? How could anything be separate from this? It was part of the maturation process. I think it's coming back to the body. As we increasingly experience the body not as an object, we just come to pure sensation. And we can identify certain feelings, and sometimes that can be helpful if we're not in touch with them. But if we are in touch with them, at a certain point we can let go of those labels as well. So we're not labeling our experience, and we go into pure sensation. If you go deeply, deeply into pure sensation, it all opens up. It's just all space, radiant space. You are getting a feel for it as I talk about it. So the body is not what we think, at all. We are not what we think, this is not what we think, and the body is not what we think. As this discovery unfolds, it transposes directly to our experience of the world. We function within constant limitations and polarities, with a deep visceral knowing that this is all myself.

A deep, visceral knowing.

Yeah, it is the core of your knowing.

Right.

And therefore, the interesting thing is, then I don't need to change you. You're just lovely as you are.

(laughs) Thank you.

You are! (laughs)

It's a relief.

It's a relief! It's a delight to be here. You don't need to be any different than you are. And, in that field of loving acceptance, there is a freedom and invitation to blossom.

It takes the roof off the whole thing, then.

The roof, the walls, and the floor. We're out of the box now. Even the idea of intersubjectivity is too constrained.

Or at the least, the box becomes more of a playpen.

It's all a playpen. And we don't need a box. It's a playground.

This is such an important point for awakening within society. There's the absolute. There's individual awakening. Then we apply that intersubjectively, like we discussed. And the societal ramifications extend from this point. We begin to deal very directly with suffering on a large scale. I think it's in the process of not seeing other people's bodies as objects. 

That's right. It's huge.

It's a sea change.

Absolutely. We're out of the process of objectifying and commodifying everything and everyone.

And it's just such a big deal.

It's huge, it is a very radical position. 

And this is again my own experience, that non-dual teachings, while I find them beautifully brilliant, and I'm an ardent, helpless student of them – and yet, they seem sterile when it comes to actively addressing social change. Which again, from an absolute perspective, I say yeah, change yourself change the world, but…

Well, you know, that's part of it. But it's a very interesting point. And I think this is where we as Westerners are applying this teaching and understanding in a more dynamic way. We are really prizing form and immanence. So there's this subtle, or not so subtle, dismissal of phenomena as maya in the transcendental traditions, in India in general, and in some forms of Advaita. For me, that's why Kashmiri Shaivism is a really important antidote to purely Advaita teachings, because it really prizes the body, and it prizes the vibrational expression of Source as well. So these are ground-shifting views that have huge implications. It's not about getting out of here, and just being liberated and free - it's actually about expressing this awakening in a really fresh, powerful, creative way. And in that sense, it is very radical, or revolutionary, as you suggested. And what does that mean? Well, it's not a political party, necessarily. It's much more about how this understanding wants to move in each of us. And it can move in a very dynamic, powerful, and grounded way. Practically, as well.

It is very practical.

Where does the rubber meet the road?

We start to ask: How is this useful?

How does this function in relationship, above all?

Would you like to speak on that?

Sure. [some silence] I think that the field of relationship is the most difficult for the transposition of this understanding. Why is that? Well, the trees don't talk back...

(laughs) Not to me at least.

Maybe to some people (laughs). But you know, the ocean, the sky, they're not presenting an opposing agenda to us. But our partners and our friends and our colleagues do.

So it's not just me feeling that, then…you feel that too? (laughs)

Well, I'm married, you know, (laughs) and I have 24 years of domestic experience first-hand with somebody who's very different than me. She really sees and feels things differently than me at times. How am I with this? And how attached am I to a particular way of seeing, and how willing am I to look at my own way of being, and examine it deeply? Byron Katie has done brilliant work in this area of how we tend to project. It comes back to trying to control and manipulate others, because we're not at home in ourselves. So I think it's a great area of self-inquiry. It's maybe the best area. It is about coming into integrity, looking at our own reactivity, and taking responsibility for it. Again, this is an area underemphasized in these more contemplative and renunciate traditions, from which non-dual teachings have come. And, as Westerners, this is our exploration as well.

It seems to be extremely useful.

If we're saying one thing up on the stage at a conference, and then going home and having a very different experience with our domestic partner, what does that mean about the teaching? It means it hasn't transposed.

And then it becomes another nice idea - “Oh, I'm a non-dual teacher at this conference.”

Right, another identity we get stuck in. And that's just the field of interpersonal relationships. What about the collective? What about global warming and climate change? And the objectification of others?

So here's a direct question about that: Are non-dual teachings, as they are, useful for addressing society?

I think they're critically important.

So in that sense, in your words, what's your 'elevator pitch' for non-duality? What is the easiest way to explain non-duality?

Non-dual awareness refers to a primordial awareness that is free of subject and object, perceiver and perceived, knower and known. We could call that many things - that's a negative definition, what it's not. And in a way, I think that's the cleanest way. Sometimes, I'll refer to it as a natural openness, or an open awareness, unconditioned awareness, pure consciousness; they're all fine. But what the term “nonduality” is pointing to is what we really are, fundamentally. This is really the root of our suffering – to not realize this and to take ourselves as separate. And when we know our non-separateness more and more deeply, our lives transform from the inside out. Until that happens, we're still caught in conditioning. We're in the cycle of reaction. So coming to, say, social activism, much of it comes from a feeling of fear and aggression. So it's not actually activism - it's re-activism. It's a cycle of violence, where the underdog becomes the top dog. What happens? Well, okay, so now the Sunnis are over the Shiites or the Shiites are over the Sunnis, but the cycle of violence continues. How do we break that? It's by knowing what is shared, what is common. And not just as human beings but with all of creation, too, the animals and the plants and the planet itself. That's us, too.

Again - it's quite a radical departure from the way we usually view ourselves and the world. And this expansive sense of self has very broad societal consequences.

Right. We see it gradually growing from the expansion of human rights, the voting franchise, and kindness to animals. They have feelings, consciousness, and are sentient beings, too. It's a big change. Who said that, 50 years ago? Only a handful of people. So we can see it on a cultural level, as these principles gradually seep into the common culture. But that transposition takes time. I think real leadership comes from this deepening understanding. This is why people like MLK and Gandhi inspired us so deeply. Because it was a vision of some wisdom and love that we all share, and true transformation comes from that.

I feel that the field of social transposition is just begging for awareness and energy to be put towards it - at least, I feel that call.

Yes, absolutely.

(a stretch of silence)

The last topic that I've been curious about is if faith plays any part in opening to inner awareness. I had a long conversation with a friend where he asked me this, and I found the question intriguing. And it depends on what we mean by faith, right.

It does.

Is there some sort of trust that this non-dual awareness is true, and if we give it a shot, maybe we'll experience it to be true for ourselves? Is that faith? Or rather, do we live on a faith that non-dual primordial awareness is already operating through us, whether we consciously experience it or not? The question is still a little hazy, but I wonder if that is clear enough to you.

It's a good question. I can just speak from my own experience, which is that because of my tendency towards skepticism, I've never leaned on faith. I just wanted to know, directly, for myself. Our true nature is implicit in all of our experience, although often unrecognized, in the background. Every once in a while, there may be an eruption, when the windows of perception are temporarily clear. It can be for whatever reason. It can be induced by anything or nothing. We have a taste, or a glimpse, of something more real. Those tastes become a calling. For some people, suffering is an important part of their path. Like they really have to hit their head hard against the wall and hit bottom, and then something opens up. It's like all their grasping, all their manipulation, all their controlling, just shatters. And then they're open to something else. Maybe they have a health crisis, a relational crisis, that breaks them open. That wasn't the case for me. There was just something in me that wasn't satisfied with conventional descriptions of reality. I just had a sense that there was more. And that's what I kept following. It was obscure at first - you know, I had that sense as a boy, that sense of something huge, but I didn't even know how to think about it. I forgot about it. But something was pulling me, was calling me into a meditative practice. Into silence, actually.

So maybe less of a faith, and more of an inner interest.

Yeah, an inner inclination. Jean would say, and Adya would say: “The yearning comes from that which is yearned for.” Rather than projecting that out and looking for it in the right relationship and the right career, in so-called objects, there was a knowing early on that this was an inner search. A search needed to happen. Why is that? How did I know that? You know, there were some pointers… I read Yogananda's autobiography [“Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahansa Yogananda – ed.] when I was 18, and I thought, "Yeah, this is a lot more accurate". I read the gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. I thought, “There's something here.” Something resonant. So those were pointers, those books, those teachers, were describing a deeper reality that something in me was drawn to.

Even that resonant quality can be a little tricky, because underlying it is an inner being that we already know, and yet, we are looking for it out there. As a result, all of these divine projections of ultimate security and ultimate love and these heaven principles can get wrapped up into it. And so it becomes easy to objectify it.

Right, certain qualities that are byproducts of it, and are often part of the marketing.

I was at a spiritual conference a number of years ago, and I saw a big banner that said: “We're selling health, interested?” I never did get that. It just kind of turned me off.

At least it was honest!

(laughs) Right! At least it was honest. The whole theme of marketing reminds me of Jesus in the temple, throwing the tables out.

It's a subtle but very important point. Because very often, when we're in the spiritual search, we're less interested in the truth than we are in feeling good. And I didn't actually realize that at first. I think it was actually Adya that helped clarify that in my understanding. I think I just wanted to be happy or feel better, and so the promises of altered states and high states and divine experiences was intriguing to me. I became a TM [Transcendental Meditation] teacher, and I had an ideal in mind. I wanted to become this yogi, right? And then at some point in my mid-twenties I realized that this was really off track. This was another image. Be a yogi, have these experiences, be admired…it's like, this is just more self-image, isn't it? So it fell away. There is often a weening process, a clarifying process, of those objects falling away.

I wonder if those initial objects of desire can be really helpful for getting one working.

I think it's just inevitably how it works. The mind think there's something more, and then it says, “Oh yeah...states”.

“I'll take one!”

(laughs) “I'll take one! And make it longer, and deeper.” The ultimate orgasm or whatever.

(laughs) Sure, yeah.

And then at some point, the mind sees through that, or there is a seeing through that. There's a clarification that that's not it.

And then the mind relaxes around it.

And then the mind relaxes. And the relaxation of the mind is actually quite important. It sees its own natural functioning -

- and it accepts it.

It accepts it. It's like, “Oh, yeah, this. I don't have to do that. That's beyond me.” There's like - whew, relief. Even though there's resistance to it as well. I sometimes think about the “Lord of the Rings” in the third movie, “The Return of the King”, where the king has been gone a long time, and these regents that have stepped up and assumed the mantle. For me, that's like the mind. That's what the mind does.

I just got a very similar image in my mind. The image of the mind being stressed and alone, and then the master comes home.

That's it. That's it - the return of the master. And the mind realizes, “Okay, good. I can be an advisor.”

“I'm happy here.”

Exactly. “I can be a good servant.”

“I have work to do, I'm happy to do it.”

Absolutely, that's right, and it becomes much less stressful as well.

That is beautiful imagery.

It is, isn't it? It fits. And as I wrote in my book, the mind is a good servant, but a poor master.

I think Nisargadatta says something similar.

Probably so. The mind has its place. It's not about annihilating the mind, it's about freeing the mind.

Contextualizing the mind.

Exactly. It understands its own role, and can relax into it. It's a huge relief. And you can feel it. You can feel it in the brain, and in the whole body. And that's part of the letting go, that control.

It's almost like that 'decent of grace'. You talk in your book how inner knowing can trace this path from the forehead down into the body.

It's not always that way, sometimes it's like an explosion in the heart, but very often it comes as a clarity in the mind, and a sense of vastness and space, a mental awakening. Awakening from the mind, we could say, of consciousness - and then a descent. And it feels that way. It's certainly been that way for me, that's been my experience.

I think it's a useful path in this day and age where the mind is much more accessible than the heart, by and large.

Increasingly so. We're becoming more and more cerebral, more and more cognitive, with the emphasis on media and internet. We are visual. There's a lot of screens and visual input.

It's tough on my nervous system, actually. When I have too much time in front of a screen, I get physically nauseous. There's this subtly sensory illness that comes from it.

And here it's interesting - because you've founded Conscious Variety, and I have a web journal as well - this is the coin of the realm, isn't it? This is the showing and exploration of form - rather than books and journals. Nothing wrong with it, it's just a question of balance, of right use.

Skillful means.

Constant adaptation. So you learn when to stop and listen to that. And our bodies give us that feedback. The mind just wants to overstimulate, but we listen to our bodies and we know that it's time to take a break, that we've had enough. I very much experience that.

That's why it's important to have external support structures that allow one to take a break. I know when I'm out of balance, I know I need to take a break, and I look around and I feel helpless as to how to take a break. So it's so important to constantly tend to that, as part of a balanced life. You know, keep food in the fridge, get enough sleep. These practical things are immensely helpful, not just for good old physical health, but for the descent of grace as well. You write about these things in your book.

Yeah, those can be resources, and just knowing that it's fine to take a break, and we need to take a break. It's fine for five minutes to stop, close our eyes, take a few deep breaths, and let it all go. And we can do that frequently during the day. Instead of checking our cell phones and our email  - which I tend to do - it's like, do I need to do this? I've got a gap here, do I need to fill it? Can I actually relax into the gap? So it's that moment to moment inquiry and remembrance. This is an interesting point about practice. If we understand that who we are is always available, then at any moment, we can actually just listen. We can slow down, and listen.

 

 

To learn more about John's experiences, “waking down”, and the knowing of the heart, take a look at John's upcoming book In Touch: How to Tune into the Inner Guidance of Your Body and Trust Yourself

 

 

 

 


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