I’m sitting in an airy room in Costa Rica, bird song wafting through the open windows along with a warm breeze. The sound of a spiritual teacher answering questions from his seat up front is just a part of the mandala of beauty that is this moment.
The day wears on. I am without questions. The answers offered are not news to me, but rather my lived daily reality for the better part of eight years. The questions seem from here rudimentary, but I recognize they are questions I too might have asked at one point in my awakening journey. I feel glad for those asking the questions, that they are following the divine scent of truth.
But honestly, I am bored too.
Contentment and boredom can co-exist, and I laugh inside at this realization. This boredom does not need fixing, at least not today. But it is noted for the gift it gives me: I am done, I realize. This is my last satsang.
The next day, I have packed up from this seven day retreat. I made it to day two and had I not come down with a crazy-bad head cold from jet-lag and dorm room sleeps, I might have just stayed on for the camaraderie of it all. I really like this teacher and his wife, and one of my dorm-mates is such great fun I am sure we are soul mates.
But it’s time to leave behind not just this venue, but this path. As an awakened friend of mine Elena Nezhinsky said to me today, unrest post-awakening can be subtle, a gossamer thread of looking for that which is already here. In my mind, I was there to “stabilize” a December 2018 re-awakening shift.
In reality, I was simply hiding from the truth: Seeking had skidded to a permanent and irreversible halt, along with suffering.
Some habits are just hard to give up.
The Suffering Self Grows Up
I titled this piece knowing it would irk some folks. Suffering is a big deal in the awakening communities these days — there are two poles. Those who say they don’t suffer because there is no self to suffer, and those who wish to elevate suffering to a new spiritual attainment because real awakening is a human experience, after all.
Neither is true, really.
It’s not about transcendent no-selfing at the expense of our humanity — that’s truly a bypass. But it would be false to say that there is not a grace that befalls a person in an awakening that leads to peace and equanimity. These states of consciousness or being are measurable in both heart and brain electrical activity which will show new baselines from a “pre-awakened” state. And these electrical shifts in the brain and heart are associated with “the peace that passes all understanding.”
Jesus promised as much. “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”
Rest from what? Suffering of course.
There is a reason that so many people who have the experience of an abiding awakening shift or a stabilized one (call it what you will) report a massive instant decrease in emotional reactivity and mental anguish. It is the VERY SHIFT that alerts a person that something out of the ordinary and life-changing happened. They might describe the absence of suffering as bliss, or peace, or joy, or delight.
But they will not describe this shift as one in which suffering is a staple. If they do, they are simply not fully awake.
So why then do some teachers point toward suffering as a valid component of an awakened life? It’s possible that their awakening has drifted into the terrain of karmic knots that still are unwinding, or that latent trauma in the body is still releasing. (Both were the case for me between 2016 and 2018 despite the massive awakening of 2011).
Or that maybe these teachers don’t mean suffering but simply feeling. Feelings remain post awakening, of course! But anguish (usually a cocktail of regret, shame, blame and anger) does not.
In this context, it’s one thing to point to our humanity and the emotions of being human. Yes of course there is that. But it also must be said that Jesus, like Buddha, is pointing toward a state of ease, lightness and rest. Contemporary teachers say as much— Krishnamurti “did not mind what happens” and Byron Katie is all about “not arguing with reality.” These are not strategies to implement but natural outcomes from a real awakening.
The way I see it, for those who have yet to snap out of dream of the suffering self, it’s a disservice to imply suffering is spiritual and awakening includes misery.
It’s more like this: the cliche is true. Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. But it’s not optional when you are still identified as the small or finite self. In this case, suffering persists and is fuelled by the aversion and grasping game that the small self is addicted to. Happiness is the carrot dangled as the next thing that will end suffering: the job, the money, the relationship and the spiritual attainment. Suffering rides in on the back of inevitable disappointment and loss, when what is sought, is unreal.
Bottomline: It’s not the gain and loss that cause the suffering. It’s the self that believes gain and loss are possible.
The Grace Factor
That treadmill of avoiding pain and seeking pleasure is a rut that is only escapable when awakening happens. Period. And that is up to grace alone.
No amount of self talk, mindfulness practice, satsang steadfastness or meditation will cause this shift. These things may create a fertile soil for an awakening to blossom — but they are not causal agents.
Finally. The grace of that peace which is our natural state does not neuter caring, compassion, empathy, grief or sorrow. What it does however truncate is the looping narratives of blame, shame, abandonment and guilt. They just stop. And with that comes a new kind of peace. The peace to accept life as it is. With all of its ups and downs, joys and sorrows.
And yes, boredom.
The Consolation Prize
So why did I journey all the way to a Costa Rica meditation retreat only to find myself leaving almost as soon as I got there? Could I not blame myself for a misguided trip, berate myself for money and time wasted, or somehow regret my mistake?
Well, no, because the mechanisms for this kind of thinking/feeling are gone. This kind of rumination out of the moment is what suffering is built on. If you think about it, all suffering hinges on thoughts and feelings about the past or the future. Even an apparent present moment unease is most likely just slightly out-of-phase with the now.
And there was a consolation prize or two. One, I got that I was simply done the seeking gig. That is a prize worth the airfare.
And second, in the first few minutes of my arrival, I got a welcome hug from this teacher which was a transmission of some sort. Not a shaktipat nor an overt blessing. Just a kind of entrainment, I suppose, where the last knot in me unwound in a holy instant.
I can’t say that I was truly done before that moment. I don’t know what is true only what seems to be true. There was the hug. And grace was riding on the back of it.
So at the end of suffering, what’s next? I will let you know.
PS: The teacher I was with is Magdi Badaway and here is a clip from Costa Rica ( I missed this one in person, because I arrived a day late), but I like it. It reflects my lived experience. Perhaps it will speak to you as well. I’ve cued it to the part on suffering.
PPS: I am chopping wood and carrying water as an astrologer these days. If you are curious about the planets and awakening and you, you can check out my new Lunatic Astrology here.