Koans of Our Lives

Koans of Our Lives

"In Zen we have techniques called Koans—riddles or paradoxes to be meditated on, which are designed to help the practitioner experience things as they are prior to labeling, to experience our selves before we developed a name, a self-perception, and a story. Each label, each story, separates us from What Is, and creates duality where in truth, all is One.” —Bernie Glassman

Well said, Bernie. Well said.

Story, in the way that Bernie references it, can indeed be a separating device. Here’s what’s been piquing my interest:

When we don’t bring awareness to what the story is, when we say that all that matters is focusing on the truth of oneness, we miss an important aspect of the koan.

For just as it is true that we are all one, it is true that when we are identified with the conditioned mind, when our stories feel real to us, that that’s the realm where suffering exists. To deny this realm is like denying the reality of a nightmare to a child who has just woken in a pool of sweat.

Would we say to them, “What you are experiencing isn’t real. Get over it?” Of course we wouldn’t

The power of the koan doesn’t simply lie in abiding in the absolute. Resting in it. Knowing ourselves as it. The power lies there, along with clarity about what can (appear to) stand in the way. Simultaneously awake in the direct experience of our true nature, while simultaneously awake to illusion.

In the non-dual recognition of oneness, it is clear that nothing is left outside this reality. Reality and illusion, both comprised of the same reality.

In spiritual circles, there is too often an obsession with ‘the absolute’—as if the illusions created by our conditioned stories aren’t worth attending to since they are ‘just illusions’ in that realm. Meanwhile, a lack of attention to the processes of the conditioned mind wreak havoc on the relative plane. The plane that, for many of us, can feel most real.

I experienced this recently with someone that I know well. Talk of ‘a larger reality,’ with no recognition of the conditioned processes that  keep a fiercely defended ego structure in place. So while there was lip service to ‘what’s beyond’, there was no clarity about the ego structure that kicks and screams and fights for its life.

There isn’t freedom there. There can’t be.

Having clarity about conditioned processes, or our stories, is like understanding our own nightmare so intimately that there’s nothing left of it to haunt us. We know what the boogie man looks like. We know how he moves. When know when he comes out at night and, most importantly, we know that we cannot be harmed by him. We’ve done the experiment within ourselves.

We cannot be harmed by him because he isn’t outside the absolute. He isn’t born of some separate substance that can threaten our true nature. In this lived and direct experience lives fearlessness.

Without bringing awareness to conditioned processes, fear thrives. It’s scary not to know when this boogie man is coming—this figure that feels deeply real to us when we are identified with the mind of limitation. It’s scary (to the ego, to that which perceives itself as separate from life) not to know how he will move or what he is capable of.

It is only through a practice of clear seeing that the movement of this boogie man, of our conditioned processes, become so completely known and intimate that they lose all power. In this repetitive process of seeing, again and again, nightmares become translucent. It is then that the nature of the illusion is freed to shine through. It is then that we recognize the reality of the illusion as consciousness itself.

If we overlook this, we are creating a divide between the relative and the absolute that, in actuality, doesn’t exist.

A true koan invites us into the recognition of this truth—and we don’t need to look to ancient texts to find them. Koans are right here arising in our every day lives. It’s these koans, these stories that hook us, these processes of the conditioned mind, that hold a key to our awakening.

The circumstances of our own lives provide the lessons for our liberation. And through practice, our stories become transparent, worn out, leaving What Is to illuminate the Universe—as it naturally does.

I’m delighted that soon I’ll be exploring these themes more fully on the upcoming retreat with Suniti Dernovsek: Koans of Our Bodies, Koans of Our Lives. We still have a few spots left. You are invited to join us.

A New Year Enlivened by Love: Creating Conscious Intention

A New Year Enlivened by Love: Creating Conscious Intention

Is it possible to create New Year’s intentions from the recognition of our wholeness, rather than as an attempt to improve or fix ourselves?

When our attention is identified with the conditioned mind we forget who we authentically are. Our true nature, which we could also describe as Awareness, is like an open, empty, allowing space. As such, we resist nothing, hold nothing, seek nothing. Thus contentment, or happiness, is what’s most primary. It is our essential nature. 

It doesn’t always feel like that though, does it?

When we align our attention with the conditioned mind, we identify with the illusion of a self that is separate from life. From this distortion, we leave our direct experience of who we authentically are and seek happiness in objects. We do this, sometimes, even in the name of ‘moving towards our true nature.’

But how can you move closer to yourself? It is a faulty premise.

Especially at this time of year, we are conditioned to fall for the story that through the ‘right’ resolution and the ‘right’ discipline, we will finally become the ‘right’ person. The person we believe we ‘should’ be. The person we long to be.

We even use spiritual language in doing it:

“This year I will be more mindful.”

“This year I will mediate more.”

When running this story, we believe that this resolution will bring us closer to the idealized vision of ourselves. That vision is conditioned. It bypasses the truth of who we actually already are. It bypasses what we are. It bypasses what’s essential. Foundational.

When our attention is aligned with the conditioned mind, energy follows that. For example, if I’m constantly attending to the story that I’m over-weight, I might engage in self-harming behaviors. However, if my attention is focused on the remembrance of who I authentically am, behaviors follow – actions that are in alignment with the recognition of myself as Awareness.

It is from this place, from this recognition of what’s essential and primary, that we can create conscious intentions. These intentions have a very different flavor than traditional New Year’s resolutions. New Year’s resolutions are a self-improvement plan.

True practice can never be and will never be a self-improvement plan. The separate self that asserts it wants to improve is a creation. There is no self to improve.

And, that’s not the same thing as saying we have no part to play in creating change. What shifts is in how we experience that which is creating the change.

When we are trying to make changes on behalf of a self that is perceived to be separate from life, the natural result is dissatisfaction.

When we move on behalf of the recognition of our true nature, a conscious intention becomes a way to align all aspects of our lives with our deepest understanding and recognition of truth.

From a conditioned ‘New Year’s resolution’ perspective, goals are born of and based in fear. They are seeped in the premise that I am not enough as I am. That there is something wrong with me. That I need to fix myself and I resolve to do it.

A conscious intention is seeped in possibility. While it may even look similar on some level, on the surface, to a conditioned goal, it is born of different soil.

It is not what, it is how.

Conscious intention is a reflection of the infinite possibility exhibited in all of life. It is grounded in the recognition of our wholeness. It is enlivened by Love.

A Christian mystic might say, “It is created by God, in the recognition and remembrance of God, for God.”

In peace,

Caverly will guide a World Wide Insight call on Sunday, January 7th to explore this more fully. Join her or find the call recording here: http://worldwideinsight.org/ 


A Personal Reflection: Presenting at SAND

A Personal Reflection: Presenting at SAND

"What a joy it was to be part of the Science and Nonduality conference. This year I was honored to be a plenary, mainstage, presenter. Our talk, "A Key to Collective Awakening: Teaching Teens to Inquire" received a standing ovation and generated a great deal of new interest in the work that we do. I was also part of an engaging panel discussion about sacred activism facilitated by Vera de Chalambert with Deborah Johnson, Charles Eisenstein, and Rory McEntee. Wonderful to see space being given for how to embody our experience of oneness in the world, as well as to shed light on what often stands in the way. I was impressed by the amount of heart that infused this years conference and offer many thanks to all those who assisted in making this trip happen!" 

In Peace,
- Caverly 

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 Photos by: Vineet Teames

Photos by: Vineet Teames