Bigger Than The Sky: A Book About the Love that You Are by Vicki Woodyard


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If you are looking for a non-duality treatise full of mental acrobatics don’t bother with this book.

Frankly, I never manage to get through a Vicki Woodyard offering without going through at least a half a box of Kleenex—she knows how to jerk those tears. But she also elbows in a few good jokes (after all, she used to write them for comedienne Joan Rivers). Yet her wit in this book is not the laugh out loud kind, but a clever humor that catches you in such a way that you stop reading and start pondering with a smile.

418hAqKg+FL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Her latest book, Bigger than The Sky accomplishes this full emotional range and yet adds a surprise element, something I at least, did not perceive in her earlier works, Life with A Hole in It, and A Guru in the Guest Room. Bigger than the Sky is a less a book about spirituality as it is a book that transmits Truth.

Between the lines, embedded in the music behind the lyrics, is the melody of grace. And if you really hear it, if you let that sweet song into your heart, you will surely finish this book lighter and more at ease than when you began. (Yes, that is the sales pitch).

Even as this book is a kind of transmission, it is also at face value two interwoven stories—Woodyard’s five-year-ordeal of caring for a dying husband and her parallel email correspondence with a man named Peter, who through his own failing health, awakened to the simple joy and ease of being.

In his own words, “In the absence of a presence of a me, there is a wide wildness bigger than the sky.”

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Peter has a grim prognosis for a progressive illness that leaves him tired, weak, unable to walk steadily, mentally challenged around tasks such as counting change (even though abstract math was his thing, pre-illness) and under attack from debilitating migraines.

Yet, this illness is a fierce grace. He writes, “Pain that goes on for years tends to drown out the silliness of belief in systems in favor of direct contact with life, God, or whatever one wishes to call Truth. Intermediaries are a waste of time when the body is crumbling. I have found that such difficulties tend to make all other sounds meaningless. Only the beating of one’s own true heart has meaning.”

Yet despite the pain his body endures, every one of his letters shares his utter wonder and joy at sitting in the sunlight by a stream with his cats, watching nature and feeling inseparable from it all.

Woodyard is writing from her current perch, almost a decade after the death of her husband and the end of her seven years of letters to Peter (she does not know when Peter died, only that his letters trailed off). As such, the narrative jumps time zones, taking us back to the past as she lived it, interspersed with snippets of insight gleaned years later.

Her life, she readily admits, has been a charnel ground – the death of her seven-year-old daughter to cancer and then a husband twenty years later, fuelled the raging fires of grief that would burn away illusion. “In one sense, sorrow is the true guru and when it burns away the dross of the self, only holy ash remains.”

Yet this spiritual aspirant who for many years threw herself into the quest for awakening reveals she was often lost in suffering during her husband’s slow dying. Peter was a life raft for her soul, holding her hand with gentle reminders of truth.

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Vicky is a likeable narrator—she is not prone to self-pity, employs ample wit and keeps the pace brisk with short, easily digested chapters. And we see and appreciate her character arc from a beleaguered widow to years later, a woman who has fallen deeply in love with life itself, as herself.

Her hard-won peace is evident in beautiful words such as these: “Life is hard. Death is hard. Love is the gift. If you are touched by the hand of sorrow and draw back, you are just being human. Once you move forward, and let it be yours, it lets go. It lets go.”

But as much as Woodyard shines, the show stealer is Peter. He takes center stage, and our author seems more than happy to play sidekick to the delightful clarity that comes through in his letters to her. She mentions at one point the “contact high” she feels from reading his words, even years later. I too feel the light streaming through Peter’s humble wisdom.

Here are just a few of my favorite lines from Peter, who so sweetly inserts the qualifier in almost every letter to his pen pal Vicki, that these are just his opinions.

“In one’s own heart (just my opinion of course) God is patiently waiting to jump out and say “Boo!” But for many the show seems so much more interesting. Especially when the show contains apparent love and suffering.”

“We think and we think and we think we know and we think we don’t know and we think some more, all in quite a wonderful effort to avoid joy. Which it seems to me, is what we truly are.”

“Well, I kinda feel that suffering is on whole simply a path of more suffering. I cannot see how suffering leads anywhere else.”

“It seems to me that truth (perhaps with a capital T) is so simple and easy that we run past it, sweating heavily.”

“That which can be gained can also be lost. Speaking personally—and this is just my opinion of course—only that which is permanent is of interest. God dies when I fall asleep, at night, so She is of no interest. Teachers die too, as do their teachings, so they are of no interest. Insights also fade, so they are of no interest. They story of one’s life, love, hate, religious fervor, knowledge, self…all fade, so they are blind avenues too. The fun question seems to me is what lasts—what is permanent?”

“To me, just my opinion again—ease is simple, obvious, permanent and always present. So simple just to relax with a little cat and breathe the sunlit days, as they appear to pass. Tomorrow if it comes, will take care of itself.”

“We hold back from love, don’t we? And since love is what we are (yes!)—not in a silly intellectual way, but in actual fact—love here meaning ease and laughter and a quiet lightness—falling in love every time one can is such an easy tumble into oneself.”

There are so many more morsels of Peter here in this enchanting book, I leave those for you to discover.

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What is so clear, at least to me, is Peter’s heart was where he lived. And it was his demonstration of this often overlooked truth–that we are love–that was the gift he gave his friend Vicki. As she confesses, “His simplicity untangled my knotted up heart.”

It is this same gift this book offers all those who will meet Peter through his words. After all, love doesn’t stop when the body dies. It’s here, right now. Where it’s always been.

As Woodyard so eloquently summarizes, “Love is not a four letter word. It is a sense of eternity filtered through time and space. It occupies the heavens and the tiniest corner of the human heart.”

Now, do Vicki and yourself a heartfelt favor and go get the book here. It’s even on kindle!

For the curious: My review of A Guru in the Guest Room.

Art: False Mirror, by Rene Magritte

 

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Do You Become an Emotional Zombie? And 3 More Burning Questions about Awakening


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In the hoopla of my last post, Why We are Not Ready for the Full Bodied Truth of Awakening which generated an unprecedented 30,000 views in one week, I also received dozens of personal emails with comments and surprisingly, questions. One email stood out for me because of what felt like such an earnest desire to understand versus punditry, hostility or praise.

So, here are my replies to the verbatim FOUR QUESTIONS asked of me by Alice, creator of the blog Reiki Awakening.

 1) Does this process of awakening disconnect one from his or her emotions? If so, how does that affect the day to day relating and functioning with others? For example, do you still feel love for your family? Can you connect with them, empathize? Express compassion?

What I like about this question is how it ties in with my recent post When You’re Okay and Everyone Else is Not. In that article I describe how equanimity prevailed during a family medical crisis (my husband had a stroke) and yet how friends expected me to be worried, upset, and emotionally fragile–and were concerned at my calmness.

Awakening–at least for me–dissolved overnight most emotional reactivity. And in the years since, when episodic emotional trigger points showed up, they flared and then subsided, often never to return. In other words, there has been a profound softening, not hardening, around emotional content. It’s a bit like the soft-focus lens filmmakers will sometimes use to create an effect around an actor. This new ‘soft focus”  filters the harsh edges of emotional ups and downs and brings them into a new kind of impressionistic calm-abiding. And even that analogy doesn’t capture it.

But that’s not to imply emotions cease to exist. Happiness, sadness, annoyance, irritation, anger can all make guest appearances in this house of equanimity. It’s just that they are that: guests. They are not householders. Instead these feeling states come and go, but they do not take up residence. They simply do not stick around for very long, but nor are they unwelcome.

Perhaps the most profound difference post awakening is this: I used to be identified and invested in my emotional states–they meant something about “me.” If i was miserable, there was something wrong about me. If I was happy, I was on track in life and my “me” was a success. The kicker post-awakening is the me is no longer the Big Kahuna it used to be. It’s just a facet of this creative vastness which expresses as Be-ing and its antics are amusing at best.

Which brings me to the punchline: There are states that emerge post-awakening which are not emotions but qualities of what we really are, beneath all feeling states and thoughts. Qualities of the transpersonal self, if you like or qualities of being. Peace, joy, bliss come to mind. And from these states of being, actions often emerge that look like compassion, service, kindness, playfulness and even sacrifice.

As for daily functioning, that’s mostly a matter of how well I manage my physicality. If the body does not get the sleep it needs, I might be irritable or more withdrawn, less likely to express myself in a joyful manner. But the inner landscape is emotionally neutral–that’s the new baseline. Prior to awakening, the baseline was a jagged line of anxiety and frustration. Prior to awakening, I could seem “happy” to others but inwardly, there was a suffering. Now I can appear “unhappy” (because I am grumpy or irritable) but inwardly there is peace.

2. How do you, once awakened, deal with things that would formerly make you angry, such as your children fighting or hurting each other?

That is the beauty of an awakening versus a mystical experience or glimpse of our true nature. Once we are awakened to the Self, these things that used to upset us, often no longer have an impact. I often tell the tale of two days post-awakening, my then boyfriend (now husband) telling me he wanted to leave the relationship. Now THAT would have upset me greatly prior to awakening–we had just moved into a new home together, I had sold a house, consolidated furniture, and my daughter was already seeing this man as a father figure. For him to just leave from frustration would have been cause for me to scream, wail and react. Instead, I took a deep breath and said something like, “I can see you are suffering right now and I honour whatever choice you make for yourself. I just ask you give this decision three days.”

Of course, if my children were hurting each other physically I would separate them. But this would be from a place of obvious action not reaction. I would not be telling myself a story about my mothering abilities good or bad, or running a narrative in my head about my rotten children.

So, action happens that simply makes sense. Reaction happens rarely.

3) Can a person who is awakened in this way practice energy healing?

I don’t see why not. The question would be a matter of motivation. If moved to perform healing and if that impulse was met with flow, ease and grace, then it would self evident. I’ve noticed post-awakening, that my creative writing has increased, along with the ease and synchronicity of finding places to publish it.

At the same time, if post-awakening there is a natural desire to go inward, or to be still (which there often is) then healing work might take a back seat as a priority. It’s not the work that matters, really (chop wood, carry water) but rather it’s the motive. If the impulse or intention arises spontaneously and effortlessly, outcomes usually unfold without the need to question.

4) How does being awakened in this way change the way you live the mundane aspects of your life? Feels like grocery shopping, errands, work and the like would seem different. Can you describe how.

In the beginning–the months-long honeymoon period–everything was infused with wonderment. The feeling was awe and delight at every thing because I AM THAT. It’s discovering you are all of it, after imagining lifelong you were a small bit of it.

It’s a stunning revelation/recognition and at first, I had a kind of dazed, giddy appreciation of every detail of reality. Over time, as that became the new norm, my perceptions moved toward a more refined noticing of the intricate, perfect weave of life. The synchronicities increased and my clairvoyance (a born talent) also increased.

In this way, the wonderment has moved toward the joy of experiencing myself as the director and the actors in the story of my life. And the mystery of how it all fits together, my intentions the actions that unfold, the players that play this game alongside me, all if it inspires me. Most of all, I feel grateful to in the dance of life as Lori. It’s a cool role to be me, and to know I am so much more than that “me” as well.

Awareness is Here, Playing at Q & A

~ Lori Ann

 

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Why We are Not Ready for the Full Bodied Truth of Awakening (and Crucify Those Who Tell It)


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The Myth: Awakening is a shift of perception, a mental-emotional acrobatic that leaves one refreshingly peaceful and delightfully uninvested in personal identity, but that has no impact whatsoever on the physical body.

The Truth: Awakening is a radical of shift of identity that leaves one refreshingly peaceful and delightfully uninvested in personal identity, but that has profound impact on the body (and ultimately requires collaboration of the body).

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A spirited controversy erupted this week over spiritual teacher Igor Kufayev’s commentary on his Facebook page (then reposted by Rick Archer at Buddha at the Gas Pump’s FB Page) about neo-advaita teacher Adyashanti’s most recent bout of a chronic illness that apparently emerged in the years after his awakening. In a nutshell, Igor Kufayev suggested that Adyashanti’s recent relapse of Bell’s Palsy was a part of a larger picture–that of the toll of post-awakening energies on the body.

Wrote Kufayev: “What it brings is a sober reminder of how little we know and even less understand about the actuality of the process (of awakening) which demands realignment of all bodily systems to function in a totally different set of circumstances often unleashed by major impact of awakening.”

Folks were quick to defend Adya’s illness, to declare that it had nothing to do with the process of self-realization, and to accuse Igor Kufayev of being an opportunist in his decision to comment publicly about the state of another teacher.

But as someone who has experienced a profound awakening three years ago, I can say there are physical repercussions, side-effects both challenging and very often baffling. I have battled with unholy levels of fatigue; insomnia; a vibrating body that sometimes feels like a locomotive; heart palpitations (with no known medical cause); a complete inability to sustain vigorous exercise without near collapse (and I was a lifelong exercise fiend); migraine headaches (I’d suffered one only lifelong, during pregnancy years ago) and perhaps most challenging in the context of my marriage, the loss of sexual desire and a spontaneous move toward celibacy. Oh, and did I mention the rare and little understood auto-immune disease?

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Part of the problem with coming out and declaring that an abiding awakening to true nature (which Adyashanti terms enlightenment) is a process that also involves the body, is that in contemporary non-duality circles, there is s strong preference to jump to the Absolute at the expense of the finite. But to dismiss the body as “unreal” is to leap frog over the very obvious fact that this enlightenment happens not when we are dead (that we know) but while we are alive. And being alive means –not incidentally– having a body.

In the words of Kufayev in response to criticisms of his post about Adyashanti’s health, “It’s not …. even about Adya’s illness, but about the sickness so prevalent in western spirituality which denies the body as the carrier of the soul.”

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Igor Kufayev is not a voice in the wilderness, exactly.

There are other teachers telling the truth, including Adyashanti himself who devotes a whole chapter in his book The End of Your World to the topic of the impact of Awakening on the body. And by no means does Adya deny the body, despite the prevalence of that kind of denial by many teachers of  contemporary non-duality.

In fact, Adya has said, “Ultimately, everything’s a dream, and yet you still have to deal with the body. It’s still there. You can call it “a dream,” but it’s still going to hurt if you bump your head.”

Yes. It will hurt when you bump your head, and when you bump into awakening, especially if the body is not particularly purified or ready.

This quote by teacher Anadi speaks directly to the impact of awakening on all levels. “We need to understand that enlightenment is not only a shift in perception and consciousness. It is an existential metamorphosis at all levels, which radically transforms the vibration of our energy system and the delicate balance of various elements in our brain and the subtle bodies. A sudden and complete enlightenment that skips all the intermediate steps would undoubtedly lead to a mental and emotional collapse, if not the physical death. Such a radical transformation as enlightenment requires adequate time for the body and mind to adapt to the dramatic change of energy and identity.”

sheila-wolk-metamorphosis_i-G-19-1914-CJK9D00ZThe keyword here (and one I have heard teacher Igor Kufayev use as well) is metamorphosis. For those who are fuzzy about the meaning of this word from the online Miriam Webster:

a :  change of physical form, structure, or substance especially by supernatural means.

b :  a striking alteration in appearance, character, or circumstances.

What strikes me most about metamorphosis, is that it’s not subtle. It’s not like, “Oh, I think I’m no longer a caterpillar.” Rather, it’s more like: “Holy crap, I’ve got wings.”

Yet in the morphing toward winghood, there is this small bit of concern called the body. And rather than the body being collateral damage in this process of awakening, I will suggest it is instrumental. 

By that I mean, the body is the vector for enlightenment. It is literally the delivery mechanism by which we experience the vastness of who we really are—at least while alive.

And if you look at cases like that of brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor, who experienced what she described as enlightenment via a catastrophic stroke that shut down much of her left brain, then you have to admit this: the brain is a key player in how we perceive reality–and who we are.

If you have not had the chance to read “My Stroke of Insight” then at the very least watch this woman’s riveting Ted Talk in which she declares:

Nirvana. I found Nirvana. And I remember thinking, there’s no way I would ever be able to squeeze the enormousness of myself back inside this tiny little body.

But then I realized, “But I’m still alive! I’m still alive, and I have found Nirvana. And if I have found Nirvana and I’m still alive, then everyone who is alive can find Nirvana.” And I pictured a world filled with beautiful, peaceful, compassionate, loving people who knew that they could come to this space at any time. And that they could purposely choose to step to the right of their left hemispheres and find this peace. And then I realized what a tremendous gift this experience could be, what a stroke of insight this could be to how we live our lives.

What Jill Bolte Taylor is declaring is nothing short of revolutionary. A brain scientist has a stroke that knocks out her left brain and forces the right brain to dominate. As a result she writes a book where she basically says that what stands in the way of being a loving compassionate being who realizes itself as Oneness is simply our left brain.

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Despite all the hoopla around defending Adyashanti’s right to his illness (sometimes I think we want our enlightened teachers to be mortally flawed just like us), it’s important to note that this illness happened to him (along with a little known stroke) AFTER his awakening.

And despite assertions by many that the body is irrelevant in awakening and post awakening, it might heed us all to listen to Adya’s own words on this topic in a letter to his Sangha Feb 2008:

 I want to share with you some recent developments since I contracted Bell’s Palsy in early November. There are various causes of Bell’s Palsy, but mine seems to have been caused by a particular virus that causes not only facial paralysis but also nerve pain and fatigue. While I am happy to report that much of the paralysis and pain has healed, the underlying virus is still very active and gets activated by the energy that flows through me when I teach.”

I’ve placed in bold that last line because it’s clear here that Adya is admitting that this illness is exacerbated by something he vaguely terms “energy that flows.” Of course a tantric master might call it kundalini or shakti, but in Adyashanti’s “Zen” roots, and in most non-duality circles, there is no such beast. Why? Because kundalini is energy and it moves in this “illusory” thing called a body, this carrier for our soul that is vulnerable to illness and breakdown.

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Why are we not ready to hear this? And why do we shut down, diminish, hide or crucify those who tell us the body is not incidental in awakening; that the body is the gateway itself?

Even a Taylor’s TED Talk is benignly billed as “Jill Bolte Taylor got a research opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: She had a massive stroke, and watched as her brain functions — motion, speech, self-awareness — shut down one by one.”

Yet her talk could easily and more accurately have been promoted as: “Brain scientist reveals the doorway to enlightenment is a matter of brain function.”

I suggest we are afraid to admit our bodies are key players in awakening because that suggests we might care for these vessels better. That we might tend the garden in which awareness of true nature might sprout. That we are stewards of the vehicle of our own enlightenment.

But to admit that is like admitting we might care for this planet as well, this homestead in our solar system that sustains life. It’s easier all round to dismiss the body and the planet as illusion, to imagine an ultimate reality that negates this proximate messy one called the earth and my body.

And let’s not even discuss the chance that an awakening that does not become ‘abiding” is perhaps an aborted one? What if, just as a fetus will not continue to grow in a hostile womb, the light of our own awareness can be choked off by the neglect of the very body it seeks to flourish in?

And what if too, there are casualties of awakening, where the fire of newly liberated awareness burns down the tinder-dry house of a body that is far from ready to withstand the heat of this metamorphic transformation? As teacher Kufayev often notes, many famous sages have died early, and of wasting diseases like cancer.

These are uncomfortable heresies in the absolutist world of modern non-duality. This is why we shoot the messengers rather than engage the message. The message is scary and formidable. But the messenger is an easy target.

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It’s been a physically strenuous last three years. I don’t write about it because it’s not exactly a popular platform: Step right up, get your peace, joy, vastness, and oh, enlightenment sicknesses.

But I also know this body is re-wiring. This vehicle is fine-tuning. And when it’s not keeping up with the enlightenment program, it’s often because I am treating my physical being like bystander, or idle witness when it’s the fiber optic through which God surges.

And so, I’m learning. I’m learning to rest more. To meditate regularly (instant tune up). To eat better. To tenderly care for this precious body, this superconductor for grace.

Awareness is here, resting in bed, sipping Yogi tea.

Featured Image: Here.  and “Metamorphosis” by Sheila Wolk.

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Riders on the Storm: Finding the Hidden Gift in Chaos


storm3Every now and then life twists and turns with all the grace of a roller coaster half off the rails. Things feel perilous, unpredictable and wobbly. And that’s just your life. Never mind the recent uptick in conflict simmering in geo-political hot spots like the Ukraine, the middle-east and riot-ridden Ferguson, Missouri.

Add to this, the astrological crunch of Mars (warrior) and its impending impact (conjunction) with Saturn (status quo) on Aug 25th and you get the recipe for a catalytic breakdown-to-breakthrough both out there, and in here.

I have been watching with interest how my inner landscape remains a muted version of the cacophony around me. Yet I have friends who are ready to jump ship—from their marriage, their careers, their homes—from anything that feels constraining, even if that jumping means swimming in waters that are completely unknown.

This urge for momentous personal change that seems to be storming through people’s psyches is more accurately an unleashed desire for transformation. What is being stoked by inner and outer chaos is the impetus to shed the old skin, leaving the dry husk of our finite identity behind for our boundless true self.  Simply, the craziness around us is a call to discover the sanity inside of us.

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When at age 39, I got the call the my mother had been hit by a car and killed, I was struck by two recognitions. One, that my life would change dramatically from this axis-tilting news. And two, that the change would be wrenchingly difficult but ultimately soul-saving.

We can stop asking, “Why is this happening to (poor) me.” Instead, we can dig deep into our soul with this new question: “Why is this happening for me?”

Within two years of her death, I was out of my 17-year-marriage and back on the path of the seeker–a journey begun in my early twenties, but abandoned in the stale confines of a marriage I allowed to shackle my desire for truth. My mother’s death was a shock-loss that was also a catalyst for my freedom. I was gifted with the ability to see this even as it happened, even as I grieved.

When we see that everything conspires to wake us up—that events blessed and cursed are equal contributors to the story of self-remembrance—then we can stop feeling victimized and paralyzed by life events. We can stop asking, “Why is this happening to (poor) me?” Instead, we can dig deep into our soul with this new question: “Why is this happening  for me?”

Because underlying that question is an assumption there is order and purpose behind all apparent chaos. Or in the lingo of A Course in Miracles, “The universe is a friendly place.”

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In the last week I have heard about two friends who had terminal cancer experiencing miraculous shifts of prognosis–specifically having tumours disappear and blood counts make astounding and medically impossible recoveries.

These kinds of miracles are a part of the chaotic shaking up we are collectively experiencing. When structures begin to tumble, not only do institutions and governments topple, but also edifices of belief.  It’s one big shake-down.

The fractures that happen in this soul-quaking allow for new possibilities, new paradigms and new selfhood. We are being asked to let go of the old structures right now. That includes surrendering the self we have imagined ourselves to be.

And by the way, we don’t need to kill our egos–we need to grow them up and let them expand into (and be transformed by) the Remembered Self.  You can call this Remembered Self by many names: soul, Atman, no-self, One-self, Truth, true nature. The naming is irrelevant—it’s the direct recognition that matters.

So, let this chaos around you be the wave you ride rather than the wave that drowns you. See that there is a gift in the tornado–it took Dorothy to the land of Oz and chaos can take you to the land of Your True Self if you choose to engage with trust instead of hide out with fear in the cellar of your limited self.

How to engage? Be still. Go inward. Listen. Respond.

Awareness is here, at the still and vast center of all storms.

Video bonus: You know you love this one….

Lori Ann

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Feature Image: Flickr/Kristaps Bergfelds

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The Mental Trap: There’s No One Here to be Enraged…or Blissful


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What is with the contemporary non-duality crowd who love to pretend they are not really here? They keep insisting “there’s no one to awaken”  and “there’s no me to get enlightened.” And because your thoughts and feelings come from this imaginary you (that can never wake up), there is no need to worry about having them run amok through our unreal lives as emotional reactivity and polarized thinking. 

When last week I posted on Facebook about the equanimity I experienced in the face of my husband’s stroke (When You’re Okay and Everyone Else is Not), a few hard-hitting “there is no me (or you)” types (who for some reason tend to be men) had enough of something intact (could it be a me?) to post endless comments correcting my wayward perceptions about awakening and peacefulness.

As one of them said, “So, the story in the blog was just that. A story. Seems as if someone had an awakening experience. That someone stayed calm in an emergency. But it’s no different than Goldielocks and the 3 bears. The characters in the story, have no idea that they are in the story.”

It’s somewhat tiring to go the rounds with those who claim there is no one here, yet go around acting as if they are not only here, but here to police those who don’t see that they (and you, and me) are constructs that are not here. I suppose the irony of this is lost on these ardent no-selfers.

I know this: Awakening is termed awakening by ancient and contemporary sages alike because the shift of perception is tectonic: there is a dramatic shake up of reference point that is a lot like jolting awake in bed from a dream (or nightmare), to find you are not that character in the dream, but the self that dreamed it into being. And it’s both a sweet relief and a delightful sense of “of course this is who I am and have always been.”

illusionSo yes, in a way as the non-duality crowd insist, the self that seeks enlightenment is unreal–but it would be better to say it is partial, or incomplete. It’s a fragment of our totality, rather than unreal.

I used to describe the “awakening shift” as suddenly identifying as the black background vs the white foreground in this classic vase/face illusion. It’s not that the vase (read limited self) is unreal–it is just a matter of perspective. From the black faces background the view is bigger, and the vase (“ME”) is seen as an artifact of consciousness. It’s not unreal. It’s just incomplete.

This black background is the reference point of a stillness and vastness that is unexplainable, really. You wake up to what contemporary spiritual teacher Adyashanti calls “the radiant emptiness of spirit” and “the silence that you are.” But ultimately, words fail to convey the magnitude of this shift: It has nothing to do with “being calm” or “feeling peaceful.” It is beyond those emotional states because it is a quality of being, not feeling.

Alan Watts says it provocatively: “Jesus Christ knew he was God. So wake up and find out eventually who you really are. In our culture, of course, they’ll say you’re crazy and you’re blasphemous, and they’ll either put you in jail or in a nut house (which is pretty much the same thing). However if you wake up in India and tell your friends and relations, ‘My goodness, I’ve just discovered that I’m God,’ they’ll laugh and say, ‘Oh, congratulations, at last you found out.”

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I see it like this: pre-awakening I am convinced I am the fictional self who lives in the story. It’s the equivalent of watching a movie and being so smitten with the film, that one enters the fabrication so totally as to forget oneself. Simply, you forget you are the watcher (and ultimately creator) of the film and become for a short time, immersed fully in a character.

But awakening  from this character is not just a mental override, the catchy ideas “no one is here” and “the self is fictional” that you tell yourself and everyone around you, all the while going on your merry way justifying your angry, sad and fearful states and actions as “just a part of the unreal projection.”

Awakening is like coming back to the you that watches the movie, the you that sits on that seat completely unthreatened despite the mayhem befalling the screen character.  Just as when you walk out of the movie theatre–shaking your head, even laughing at the “story” you just fell into while watching–when you leave the dream self for the awakened reality there is a new reference point. (Yes, you can argue this new reference point is not real either, but I’d suggest rather, that this new awakened viewpoint is real but not ultimate…there are further refinements in perception post awakening–for instance, the Maharishi called these Cosmic, God and Unity consciousness).

A sure fire quality of a true awakening shift? It’s rare this new reference point suffers. It would be like leaving the theatre and crying, raging or celebrating for days over something that happened to a character on the screen.

awakeningNot only do reactive emotional states and mental anguish dissolve, but what is eventually revealed beyond the silence and stillness of true nature is the bliss of being.

Even as I repeatedly describe this abiding delight and equanimity (or causeless joy) in my Awakened Dreamer blog posts, one FB commenter wanted me to know this:

What you are describing is the urban myth of waking up: That after some point of epiphany or event, all would be a rose garden and only love would flow; you would like/love everyone else (and surely they would return it). All unpleasant emotions would somehow be vacuumed up never to return again and only joy, peace, and perfect understanding would now be the daily experience.”

But it’s not a myth.

◊♦◊

Though it may seem unreal for those who have yet to taste the nectar of bliss consciousness (and it’s not a state that comes and goes but hums beneath all that is), it is the only thing that IS real.

At a retreat event recently, teacher Igor Kufayev described bliss as something that permeates to such an extent, that even while he experienced physical illness (pneumonia), bliss was still a “visceral” element. Says Kufayev: “Bliss illumines every experience, even pain itself.”

As the Maharishi, founder of the Transcendental Meditation movement, said:

“This is the glory of the nature of the Self. Having come back home, the traveler finds peace. The intensity of happiness is beyond the superlative. The bliss of this state eliminates the possibility of any sorrow, great or small. Into the bright light of the sun no darkness can penetrate; no sorrow can enter bliss consciousness, nor can bliss consciousness know any gain greater than itself. This state of self-sufficiency leaves one steadfast in oneself,  fulfilled in eternal contentment.”

So, when one of these non-duality types tell me that yes, they are still having regular angry or despairing or fearful states of being, but they just no longer believe in the self that is experiencing them, I can’t help but want to still ask this basic question: But are you at peace? Does bliss permeate?

Sure you can “witness” the crazy antics of emotional turmoil and even as it rages on, tell yourself it’s not real. But what if there is another possibility beyond the detachment of seeing your rampaging feelings as unreal. What if those noisy patterns of reaction and contraction cease all together?

Simply, if you are are still riding the waves of emotional highs and lows (or the mental shenanigans of worry, doubt and despair), consider that perhaps you have stopped your inquiry far too soon.

Now, on a funny note (those non-duality debaters are so damn serious, a sure sign of missing the enlightenment pub on the way to truth) here is my before and after picture. Before Awakening…After. Note the change in hair colour. Awakening has it’s perks.

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Awareness is here, playfully red-headed for now,

Lori Ann

 

Feature Photo: Flickr: lisawiderberg

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When You’re Okay and Everyone Else is Not


woman2My healthy, athletic 60-year-old husband had a stroke four days ago. He collapsed while visiting his elderly parents in a a small town at least an eight hour drive from Vancouver–as the story goes, he stood up from the sofa to head toward the dining room for dinner and felt dizzy.

Next thing he knew he was regaining consciousness on the floor, bleeding from a head wound that would later require stitches. He soon realized he could not move his right arm and leg. Needless to say, his parents called an ambulance.

I got word of what was happening almost immediately–his mom called his son, who Facebook messaged me. (One of the blessings of FB, I suppose). A flurry of calls ensued: I spoke with his distraught mother. I called his daughter. I emailed a few of his closest friends. And I reached out to all the healers we know for long-distance healings.

During all of this I found myself in a state of calm.

I don’t mean post shock numbness. I have been in shock before–at the sudden death of my father, mother, near death of my son twice, sudden death of a dear friend. All of these events had a surreal quality — the gut wrenching adrenalin rush on receiving the news. The racing heart. The shallow breathing. The detachment that follows the first wave of angst.

No, this is and was simply a peaceful state of acceptance. That doesn’t mean I was not concerned for my husband’s well-being. But it does mean I was not suffering from emotional turmoil or mental anguish. I was just experiencing the what-is-happening without reaction but with measured and effective response–(I managed to contact all of my husbands family and close friends, including his ex wife).

Yet now, four days later, I am seeing how this state of equanimity does not fit people’s views of how a wife should be acting when her husband has been felled by what turned out to be a blueberry-sized node of brain death. (Thankfully, he has recovered 80 percent of his sensation and movement and continues to recover daily).

When it happened, it never occurred to me to reach out to my friends for “emotional support.”  When my husband posted from his hospital bed yesterday on FB that he’d had a stroke, my friends (I mean real life friends) saw this and soon a flurry of calls and emails hit me. Why hadn’t I called for support? How was I? Wasn’t I upset? What do you mean you’re ok?

It’s hard to explain to people (without sounding like a robot or alien) that there comes a time when you no longer find yourself tossed and churned in the storms of emotional distress. That there comes a time when the “peace that passeth all understanding” is a lived reality, not a transient state..

I mean, I’m okay. (Though I did manage to fold a whole lot of laundry as a Zen practice while I awaited new medical updates from afar–you should see how clean the house is too).

It’s not the first time I’ve noticed just how awakening can pull the plug on the habit of emotional reactivity. Just a day after my awakening in 2011, my husband wanted to call the relationship quits. He was upset. He wanted out. I remember I was simply at peace. If that is what he wanted, then that is what he wanted.

It’s hard to explain to people (without sounding like a robot or alien) that there comes a time when you no longer find yourself tossed and churned in the storms of emotional distress. That there comes a time when the “peace that passeth all understanding” is a lived reality, not a transient state.

And I am not talking about the “love and light” spiritual persona version of peaceful — I know that one all too well. I used to be it. It’s the mask of super-chill-all-is-well, while underneath a cauldron of upset seethes.

And this state of peace goes the other way too. The events in life that might have created a supercharged happiness, are met instead with a kind of serene contentment. It’s like when a friend of mine years ago read the Four Agreements book and understood the agreement to “take nothing personally” to mean to not get all bent out of shape by criticism…but I said to him: “It also means don’t get all euphoric over the compliment, none of it is personal.”

In this way, this deepening awakening has a quality about it of neutrality. But it’s not flat like soda without the fizz…rather it’s a different kind of fizz. It’s a fizz that’s there all the time, bubbling away no matter what the outer circumstances and events look like. You could say, it’s an effervescent well-being that just-is.

This bubbly well-being has been a key feature of post-awakening, but it has deepened and become even more present in the six months I have been in the presence of Igor Kufayev, a man who I consider a friend, but who I’ve discovered is my teacher at a level that fills me with wonderment. (For more on that, see my post : Why I Have a Spiritual Teacher Post Awakening.).

So, to all my lovely friends who worry that I must need support (or there might be something wrong with me), I say this: I do have support. It’s in the deep knowing that there is hidden perfection in the seeming chaos. It’s in the experience of expansive abiding peace that is always here when the noise of the contracted and fearful mind subsides. And that peace is available at all times for the simple reason that peace is an essential quality of who I am…and who you are.

On that note: Keep Calm, and Be the Peace that You Are.

~ Lori Ann

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Why I Have a Spiritual Teacher Post Awakening


loribeachbali

I’ve been mostly silent for much of last year when it comes to these ‘dispatches from beyond the dream” I’ve been playing hard to get, giving Vast Stillness the slip by being so damn busy I’ve looked a lot like a human doing, running on the old achievement treadmill at a breakneck pace.

For, one, I have been chopping a lot of wood, carrying a whole lot of water in my every day life as an editor at the Good Men Project,  heading up a new section I created called Good for the Soul.

And in the early half of the 2013, a whole six months were spent in a failed launch of a magazine called Rebelle Sex, devoted to “reclaiming our inherent sexual innocence.” In that whirlwind, I was swept up in the healing of an ancestral line rife with the whole range of shadow material, from rampaging frigidity on my mother’s side to cover-ups of the homosexual, pedophilic elements a few generations up the patriarchal line.  In that family system script, I’d cast myself in the antiscript role of the one championing “freedom of sexy speech” just to balance it all out.

Even though the foot goes off the gas pedal of “me” the vehicle of our limited self identity still has momentum..

Looking back, I can see how the orchestra of my ancestral “karma” kept on playing even as the Titanic of the Personal Identity had already sunk. It reminds me of Adyashanti’s comment that post awakening, even though the foot goes off the gas pedal of “me” the vehicle of our limited self identity still has momentum.

And then, just when I began to wonder if I’d veered into a swamp of re-identification, just when the way was looking foggy at best, I bumped into a guide. It’s Hero’s Journey 101, that moment when a wizard/good witch/wise old man or woman shows up to re-orient our hero who is lost in the maze.

In this case, the guide looks like a teacher named Igor Kufayev, who I dreamed of in great detail in March of 2012, the day before I “discovered” that this dream figure was a real life person being interviewed by Rick Archer on his Buddha at the Gas Pump show. (The show was posted the day after my dream).

And isn’t it suffering that animates the seeker seeing relief? To me, a spiritual guide or teacher seemed redundant.

In the wake of this discovery, I email corresponded with Igor (whose spiritual name is Vamadeva, or “preserving aspect of Shiva in his peaceful, graceful and poetic form”) for almost a year, on and off. I considered him an ally on the awakening journey, but as my writing and editing began to take off, and I followed up less and less wth our connection, he gently suggested perhaps I was not really seeking guidance or was not ready to engage with a teacher.

He was right. I was so sure I had it all figured out. Because for me, at least, the magnitude of the awakening had decimated the seeker in me, and had (even as I was so darn busy doing) pretty well also ended the suffering self. And isn’t it suffering that animates the seeker seeing relief? To me, a spiritual guide or teacher seemed redundant.

And yet, this teacher kept appearing in my dreams (over the months without real life contact) with messages and more. Finally, through a Facebook message from Igor’s wife suggesting I attend a retreat, we met in California in December where he was leading a three day immersion. My decision to attend was sudden– and everything lined up effortlessly, including my usually hard to book airmiles plan.

It’s six months and two retreats later as I write this. I’ve been hosting Igor and his family in my home for the last month, having brought Igor to Vancouver to teach. Having your enlightened teacher live with you is a whole other order of experience. It’s like an intensive immersion the field of Grace while at the same time, so utterly and beautifully ordinary.

What I am seeing for me, is this: There is a momentum toward integration that happens post realization of true nature (which is a doorway, not a destination), and this movement can be stopped, slowed or accelerated depending on the circumstances. Ideally, post awakening, there probably should be a spiritual nursery for newly hatched beings, but Western contemporary non-duality makes no provisions for this tender time. (In fact, the non-duality crowd like to pretend there is no awakening, because there is no-one to awaken, but more on that another time).

Having a teacher who has travelled that path of integration, who is spiritually literate and this case, a vessel for grace, is a blessing. It’s like winning the spiritual lottery and this is one jackpot of crazy good fortune that fills me with overflowing gratitude.

I will be writing about more in the next few weeks from this chapter of my story, where I get to play the role of student, a role filled with discovery, devotion and gratitude.

Awareness is here, with a guide by her side….

Photo: Igor, his beloved wife Emma, and me.

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The Awakened Beauty


moondancerThis Space emptied
of him, her, this and that,
deleted of doing and wiped
clean of what ifs and should haves,
this place of thundering
silence is refuge.

Here I fall freely
into the mystery,
surrendered to the velocity
of Truth.

You see, the dream of me
has lost its enchantment
and sober among the drunken
dreamers, I wait.

For us to dance
to music only God’s
ears hear, to tango
to the tempo of angel’s
wings in full flight
and to twirl to the spent
ardour of Her heart.

Are you dazzled yet
by the majesty of this dance,
this chorus of love?

By this solo performance
so beautifully disguised,
a mirage of many
spinning in place, worlds
born from each turn?

It’s timeless time to
take your superstar bows.

The audience of  You
has leaped from the seat,
cheering.

—-

copyright Lori Ann Lothian
July 5, 2014
Dedicated to my superstar teacher, Igor Kufayev-Vamadeva

—-

Illustration/Moon Dancer Energy, art by Julia Watkins

 

 

 

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God 101: Don’t Forget to Start and Stop.


girlwater

When you are so quiet you feel like you are deep underwater, deeply removed from the noisy world above, it can’t stay that way. Like a swimmer, you surface.

October, 2011 an awakening to true nature smashed the walls of the self I imagined myself to be, and with tidal wave force turned my reality into a quiet landscape I barely recognized.

Reactive and angsty personality traits I called Lori Ann were smashed to bits. What remained was a serenity that was truly the calm of a post-apocaylptic storm. Nothing could upset “me” but nor could anything “excite me.”

I thought this silence would last forever.

But this silent stillness was not sustainable. As if God itself, could not forever hold its breath….sigh.

Eventually (about two months after a profound empty quiet) sounds began to emerge. They sounded to me like muses, whispering ideas and poems and songs and creations.

These notes sounded like life, singing to itself.

I am sure, God sings. That even as there is the in-breath, there is always the ahhhhh of the outbreath. I am telling you this because I had a dream.

In the dream, a guru came to me. Well, it looked like a man, but he had a halo. I recognized his “awake-ness” and asked, “How long have you been awake?”

He said, “Ten years. But I want you to know this.”

And then he proceeded to draw a picture for me. It looked like an hour-glass, but more angular. Like two upside down triangles meeting in a narrow waistband of a juncture.

He said. “This is how it works. You are vast wakefulness. Then you condense into a point of embodiement. And then you expand again…and so on.”

I woke in my bed, and knew he meant that each awakening to the vast stillness of being, would be followed by a contraction to the busy localized self…and then, woosh, back out again. And I suppose, in again. The breath of life, in and out. Infinite and finite. Vast and condensed.

Life.

So…I am in the midst of vasting out again after condensing in. I feel it daily, in the awe and stillness, the absolute delight in simply being. It took going through a cataclysmic phase of re-identification, to come back home to the still point. But I know this:

God is moving. Still point is simply home base in the game of life. God loves to start as much as She loves to stop.

Let me know. Have you found the joys of both the stop and the start. The empty and the full? The End and the Beginning?

Awareness is here, Learning as She Goes.

Lori Ann

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My Sex Obsession & My Lust for God


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When self-proclaimed teachers and students of enlightenment say to me,  “Why are you so obsessed with sexuality, you can’t be awake if that is the case,” I think: Really?

I think first off, why is a curious, playful, engaged stance toward sexuality an obsession? And why is it not inclusive of God and the light that we are?

nunsIt’s old school beyond old school (I am thinking Jesuits or radical Islam and female-body obscuring burkahs) to imagine that our intimate humanness,  our lovely genitalia and how they connect in love and lust, is somehow excluded from our Divinity. It’s all included.

Otherwise, separation is here. What we deem as not allowed, that which we judge as wrong, is a symptom of the mind. The truth of our nature, has no such discrimination. Our true nature allows. Our mind disallows.

Sometimes, I wish I had the pithy answer to those righteous and fearful ‘awake ones’ (or teachers of awakening) who want to know why sex is here for me, the Awakened Dreamer. And trust me: No one would bother to question why I do yoga (I do); why I work at a bank (which I don’t) or why I bother to volunteer as my daughter’s soccer team manager (which I do). Money, sports, health would be somehow exempt from scrutiny. Sex. Well. Watch out.

To those who say my professional interest in sexuality is somehow at odds with my lack of suffering (which I called awakening) I want to reply without quoting sexy Osho or some wise juicy sage of sexually liberated self realization.

I know that married and likely sexually active Ganga-gi, my teacher (pre-this-apparent-awakening) had no issues talking about sex and the truth of what we are. I know that many sages and poets through the ages have used sexual imagery to invoke the truth of our union with the beloved now.

bookYet still, I get emails and public Facebook messages that condemn or snidely (yes snide in the realms of enlightened folk commentary) remark that I should not be so into the sex theme, and even one public comment of late: “Observation over many months, you seem to be totally obsessed with sex and your own sexuality as an aging woman… get over yourself.”

But what if I am over myself?

What if in being over myself, I am now blessedly into whatever arises?

(Tip: when you are surrendered, you are co-opted to serve and you don’t always if ever get to choose how and where.)

It’s hard to explain to people that the very thing that is here, is here.

That sexuality is coming to me to write about, and create a magazine about, even as I am not in real life, really all that sexual. Just ask my husband. I am damn well menopausal…and nowhere is the thought that my sex will save me, awaken me, fulfill me or even ruin me. I am just playing in this realm of sexuality, like a curiosity driven alien who wants to know: WTF is with the sex thing?

Let’s investigate it with a smile of unknowing. And above all have fun. This is after all Lila. If you are serious, you just might have missed the Laughing Buddha part of waking up.

Thank you Sheryl for this post. Your comments have been a lovely catalyst.

Lori Ann

(Sort of sexy, kinda old, still here in awareness. Please check out my FB page Rebelle Sex and look for the launch of the magazine this June! )

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