Presence and Embodiment


Presence is a full body experience of awareness. We feel it fully when we bring awareness below the neck and open the senses to this moment, this place where we stand in all of its dimensions. Awareness is present through all the senses, available to sound, touch, taste, smell and vision before you even think about it. It is the ground of all experience and when you feel it without an interpretation or thought you may feel deeply awake and connected, or even blissful and expansive, as if all the cells in the body are lighting up.

 If you have had an awakening of consciousness or energy your senses may be heightened, because awareness is more dominant, more available. Some people who awaken also feel highly sensitized to the consciousness and energy of other people, as if there are no boundaries, and for a time they need to rest more in nature, avoid intense environments and learn ways to consciously return to their body’s autonomy without losing the ability to be awake and present.

            Before awakening our attention is repeatedly diverted by thought or emotion. Our reactivity to what is happening clouds our capacity to fully be aware and respond spontaneously to what is. When the separate self feels threatened, either physically or verbally, it jumps to the forefront and begins planning a defense. When this happens presence is overcome by reactivity. Awareness is so distracted by thoughts that the senses are deadened and we may not even see what is around us.

Presence is awareness, an aware-ing not only of the mind but of the cells and the senses before the interpretations of thought. Beingness. It happens before labels, before acceptance or resistance, before the “me” takes a position. Most of the time we experience it as a flash before the thoughts enter to form an interpretation, decision or response. The brain is wired to hold concepts and memories and make judgments and choices based on past experience. This is a useful human function that supports physical survival in the world. But it also keeps us trapped in the container of our past that is flavored by misinformation, misinterpretation, the pain of rejection, loss and disappointment, and the self-image that was taken on very early in our life. All of these things form a belief in an “I” that needs to be alert all the time in order to be protected. This arises automatically and unconsciously.

Awakening cracks open this conditioning, brings all of our innate reactions and patterns to the surface to be seen clearly. This is one of the challenges of spiritual awakening — it is not comfortable to recognize those aspects of oneself that are not congruent with Truth, love and compassion and are inauthentic to how the deepest essence would live our lives. It can even feel frightening and lonely when old familiar interests and patterns fall away spontaneously, as they tend to do after a true awakening to the natural Self.

Often people who experience the freedom that arises with an awakening of energy/consciousness feel wonderful for a few hours, days and even weeks. During this time they are living as presence, openness, and a connection with the natural life force in the body. The heart may open. They feel separated from the false and misinformed little self, and instead feel part of the vast unbounded universal Self, that is always present, accepting, open and loving.

But the body and mind of the apparently separate “me” needs to become clear of conditioning so that the individual can become free to embody the wisdom and love of this universal Self. So at some point the residual conditioning that has not completely released is triggered and arises so it can be seen and awakened into the whole of life. This is part of the transformation that occurs in spiritual awakening.

We can’t just reject old habits, beliefs, memories and suffering. As the ancients pointed out “What we resist, persists,” so fighting against or ignoring what appears does not resolve the need for freedom. It becomes necessary to accept that our humanness distracted us from knowing Truth. Realizing this teaches us compassion for others entangled in their own conditioning. The old ego structure is not bad or evil, it just is not true or real in the way we assumed it was. From one perspective our foibles and failures can be met with compassionate humor, because the one who was manipulated by them was nothing substantial that needed defending. (This seeing is one reason some who awaken are said to burst out in uncontrollable laughter!) It is understood it was all a misunderstanding about who “I” am, the activity of an illusionary self.

Here are a few ways these arising shadows of self can be encouraged to move on:

In some cases they are seen through as untrue, based on assumptions made with limited understanding, and it is seen they are not related to the real Truth of who one is. Seeing clearly can release an illusion, just as we know when a fictional movie ends we were seeing illusions on a blank screen, spun out of the imagination of a writer. It helps to question if a thought is true, and sense who you might be without that thought. The spiritual teacher Byron Katie has developed a set of questions for clearing these untrue beliefs from our minds, that she calls The Work.

In some situations the person must meet the part or character inside that feels wounded and let it express itself and be met with love and compassion, so it can heal and free itself. It cautiously appears so that it too can wake up. Some therapists work from this assumption, which can help clients move past their pain.

I have observed at retreats that there are times old patterns are felt simply as energy and heat and they burn through as one is sitting in meditation. In some cases images of apparent other lives appear as well, in order to address some incompletion. A few people may see the story, but often it is only energy releasing.

I have also found that when a wave of emotion like anger or grief arises if I sit and meet it more and more fully and deeply, not as thought but as a knowing in the heart and the body, at some point it will break open and spaciousness, even love, lies underneath. Awareness returns to itself.

Presence may arise spontaneously in those moments when we have released a difficult pattern or trauma from the body. It feels like a profound relaxation into the Now — into this moment, no longer blocked by the confused lens of the past. It often is accompanied by joy, or peace, or a physical sense of love emanating from the heart. It is here and was always here in every moment — the energy of the life force and the consciousness in the body are always present until they leave the body when they pass into another dimension of being. Always trust they are there beneath the confusion, complications, and challenges of ordinary life. Spiritual realization is accompanied by a healing process not just of the personal, but of the collective unconsciousness. I believe this is what Buddha meant when he said “When I awakened, the world awakened.” If one does not enter this healing stage the awakening is truncated, and this is when you see apparently awakened people who take advantage of or cause harm to their students and communities, or who appear distant and too detached from the world, unwilling to be present with other human experiences.

The embodiment of presence, including an open heart into life, and respect for all beings, is the hallmark of an embodied, awakened spirit. Despite the rumors of a sudden and complete enlightenment, most humans get there only a step at a time, as the residue of their history falls away.

(I will be holding a silent non-dual meditation retreat Sept 2-5, 2016 in southern Oregon, and also host webinars on Living with Kundalini.  To be on an email list for my  quarterly Shanti River newsletter please contact me through

Fear and Transformation

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When the energies of spiritual awakening arise very often so do the energies of fear. It is in these moments when the body feels invaded and out of conscious control that the experiences of transformation becomes real, and the illusion that we can jump out of all of our personal conditioning into a permanent state of transcendence is shattered.  Our body, mind, emotions and spirit are in a process of radical change.

 Our bodies are fields of energy, living, changing and vibrating with the life force.Awareness moves through these energy flows connecting us with many experiences.

Yogic science describes 72,000 lines of energy in this grid, connected by chakras: these flows of energy are responsible for all our movements and responses including breath, coughing, sneezing, blinking, digestion, elimination, the heart pumping and every other condition of movement we experience as living beings.  When Kundalini energy activates it unlocks our vital energy at the source and intensifies the experiences we have, as it moves through the body and into the brain, connecting us ultimately with universal energies.  What I have seen over the years of listening to many who have awakened kundalini energy is that this is essentially a clearing process, shaking loose old patterns, memories, blockages or knots in our energy field so that the body can become open and present without contraction or reactivity. In the process new potentials are also activated.

When people write about negative experiences with kundalini on the web they are describing their own challenges with letting go, either at the physical or emotional level. The “letting go” is trying to facilitate the release of identifications with our body, mind and feelings. Deep unconscious material may arise, or archetypal visions related to the collective unconscious. There is a place of deep stillness and presence available when we are not identified with the history and beliefs stored within us, personally and collectively – rather like the deep sleep we have when we are not for the moment aware of our personal self.  Awakening is awakening to this consciousness/awareness that is alive in us prior to association with all these attachments.  The letting go that comes with awakening is not under our control, but is a deep transformative process that is taking us into this unknown or unremembered realization, and it can be very frightening for the little “me”, the holder of a separate sense of unique perspective and history we each collect as human beings. It can feel like annihilation, but no more dangerous than the annihilation of an infant in the service of becoming an adult. We discover that which never changes in the midst of the continual flows of life.

 There are many experiences in this journey to the deeper Self, the Oneness of consciousness shared by all.  Some of them are exquisite and expansive and overflowing with love.  Some of them feel invasive, out-of-control, disruptive of our lives and self image.  Many of them are unfamiliar and some feel overwhelming.  To the extent you can see the fear as energy, a reaction of the little me who prefers control and predictability, and explore being curious and open to what is happening, willing to just let go and let be with whatever is, you will be leaning into a more awakened life and discover wonder and grace in this evolutionary process.

As awakening becomes more stable it does not mean the end of all feelings.  But as we learn acceptance of whatever arises the energies can help the feelings release more smoothly and quickly, because there is no longer a need to hold on to the stories they represent.  Awareness notices the feelings with compassion, and holds them in a more broad perspective, seeing the nature of consciousness manifest as humanity. They are just energies moving through, perhaps as a personal release, perhaps for the universal good of the species. Awakening shifts perspectives, energies and human capacities for wisdom and love.


Ways to Lighten Up

If you are having challenges with a spiritual awakening process or just life in general here are 10 things you can do every day that will help you lighten up.

1.Take a few minutes to make a running list of things you are grateful for in your life.

2. Spend some time outdoors relating to a tree, a rock or a river.

3. Remember to use your senses to be fully present now — instead of entangled in watching and reacting to your thoughts, most of which are not true and just neurons firing. Can you predict what thought will arise next? Then why believe they are based in truth? They mostly spring from long past experiences and habit, or from something someone once told you as if it were true. Look out the window and be with what is real right now.

4. Stretch and breathe into the heart or the belly. Breathe in clarity, Breath out love.

5. Stand up and Swing your arms and body from side to side scooping energy in and flowing it out.

6. Even when setting a boundary you can send out love. Boundaries are not about blocking people, but about doing what is right for you in the moment. You may need to avoid crowded places, and toxic interactions.

7. Avoid intoxicants and mind-altering substances. Eat well.

8. Your true nature came into existence as form to enjoy the experience of this amazing world and the adventure of a journey through it. Facing what we do not like and cannot change is part of the journey. Resistance doesn’t support change — clarity, acceptance and creative action does.

9. Do some small service or something good for a person or the planet each day.

10. Take a backward step into stillness and presence and send affection to the little you  that is still sometimes caught in illusion and struggle. When you learn to do this for yourself you will find it easier to do for others.

For more guidance on spiritual emergence you might read”The Kundalini Guide” and “The Awakening Guide” on Amazon or Kindle. To receive a newsletter monthly from Shanti River Center on internet webinars and other events related to non-duality and spiritual awakening send an email to

Non-Dual Perception — the Corrective Lens


When I look out the window of my bedroom at night at the lights of my town below, if I am not wearing my glasses it appears that all of them are shaped like Christmas trees — the green and red traffic lights, the yellow of house lights, the white in the street lamps — all are triangular, pointing up like lighted Douglas fir trees. Then I put on my glasses and they reduce to their natural size and shape and I realize that however beautiful the view, my perception is distorted.

The shift in how awareness perceives the world after consciousness awakens itself is very similar. Many teachers compare it to awakening out of a dream. It is a shifted perception of how the world functions. In those moments when our deepest sense of presence arises — and we feel ourselves being alive as open and awake consciousness — we are unencumbered by thought and judgment. Suddenly the world problems appear to be due to misperception of our true nature and blindness regarding our interwoven connectedness to one another.

The shared illusion that we are nothing but physical forms driven by thoughts, opinions and emotions, keeps us confused about the nature of reality and our natural role within it. This illusion locks each of us into conditioned thought and behavior until it is shattered by the explosive recognition called awakening or Self-realization.

Human thought has a tendency to doubt, blame, rage, attack, hide and fear. These emotions are universal and we often project them on others as well as turn them against ourselves.  From an awakened perspective it is as painful to watch a person hate and reduce herself or himself as it is to watch her or him hate and reduce another. It is painful because it is seen clearly how these patterns and beliefs are deluded, false and destructive to life.

Every spirit or presence enters the world as a spark of potential, a package of talents, an openness to love and be loved. If this is lost it is because of a distorted perception caused by rejection, grief, trauma, verbal or physical abuse, or violence. When love is not encouraged and nourished it recedes deep into the heart which then armors itself against feeling, often at a very early age. The distortion can be severe — a belief arises either that “I am bad” or “Others are bad,” or “All humans are bad and my genuine expression in life is unsafe”. We can see streaks of hatred, rage, and prejudice in people who compensate through power and manipulation. We can see the same qualities turned inward in those who feel powerless, believing their lives do not matter. Both are blind to the incredible power and beauty of expressing their human potential.

Non-duality is a teaching — a spiritual perspective originating from the ancient eastern perspective of Advaita Vedanta, which sees all existence as the production of appearances coming out of One vast stillness or potential. God is seen as All– the One consciousness in multitudes of forms. Some non-dual teachers have pointed students toward the realization of being Nothing — No Thing, Emptiness. Others emphasize Oneness or the Vast endless universal Self or Non-Self. These are efforts to describe a realization that is beyond language, which cannot be contained in words.

When consciousness shifts an initial perception is often that Nothing exists — it is appearance only. All is an illusionary dance in the vastness, and therefore not to be concerned about. This is nihilistic from the point of view of mind, and in some folks there is a return to self-identity and this brings up depression, despair and a deep passivity. Because the egoic drive deserted them they collapse. This is an interpretation of mind and a great loss. It has been called the Dark Night of the Soul, the chasm, the pit one can stumble into on the path to liberation. Sometimes one is stuck here for a long, long time. It is like an endless long winter when all seems dead.

Paradoxicaly, awakening may reveal that out of the ethers and boundless nothingness everything arises and there is One infinite consciousness exploding in a myriad of forms and dances, and every piece has its potential to express and bring new forms into the world. There can be a new perception through which the smallest flower expresses glory and love. There can be a time when it seems there is a natural flowing of all that is needed in each moment. There can be spontaneous and irrational compassion and joy, even in the most trying of circumstances. When the awakened can lean into the possibilities that arise from the heart and the deeper intuition of the gut, then a new birthing can happen. The natural impulse toward life as an expression of love or wisdom or creativity can emerge without the barriers of conditioning and contraction.

No matter if you believe you are nothing or you are everything there is a need in the human form to live, to move, and to express. One needs to be willing to do their unique dance and live their unique mark on the world because all of us are part of the expression of the One, and in this sense each facet of this universal jewel is relevant. We are the aspects of god that move forward the consciousness of the planet. Whether you as a separate being are real or simply a dream you are still a participant in the flow of humanity. Even if you have seen you have no control, you still have a role that no one else can play — the god/source/light in you gets to grace this moment through your form so you may as well lean in and live it out all the way. You find it by abandoning conditioned beliefs, and  following your authentic Truth.

To wake up is to see through the burden of conditioning, shed negativity and self-limitation, and be willing to go with the flow of circumstances with which you are presented. Living is not nothing. It is what spirit gets to have through you. Whatever happens to you is happening to god. Whatever your response it is god’s response.

When you pull the psychic energy out of the ego where will it go? It was wrapped up in illusion. Shift to the lens that will correct your perception. Let your energy be infused with Truth and love and become a positive force within our species. Why else would awakening be possible at all?

Spiritual Practice As Preparation

sky w stairsThe fact is it is rare when a spiritual practice wakes someone up. Practices are not designed to wake up; they are the preparation. Just as the sun and the rain prepare a fruit tree to produce the fruit, they are not what cause the fruit to fall from the tree. It falls when the moment is right.

I held a retreat called Opening to Grace this weekend in a beautiful rustic mountain camp called Camp Latgawa. I realized in hearing the many traditions and practices the retreatants had experienced that while spiritual practices do not consistently wake up most of us , they do a wonderful job of preparation. They lay the groundwork so that both consciousness and energy can flow freely and joyfully into an expression of the awakened state.

If you have done years of TM or Bhakti (devotional) practice , or sat in meditation or prayer for long hours, or worked with kundalini or other yoga practices, or followed Zen, Mindfulness or Qigong, but you feel as if you are still not self-realized or awakened to the Truth that cuts away longing and seeking, look at those years with gratitude.

Awakening in the Non-Dual perspective comes suddenly, like a lightning storm that shifts the inner landscape, when consciousness “gets” that it (consciousness) is the fullness of our sense of self, and the essence of all existence. Consciousness wakes up. The ego self may burst or just go into hiatus for a while and the body may be roiled with bliss, tears or even laughter.

But in almost every case there is a period of regression, with periodic returns into the old mental and emotional patterns, or difficulty with the changes in the energy that carries the life force throughout the body. The ego structure collapses and if the person believed this awakening was going to give them a new tool or capacity to be more special or important or just an improved version of themselves they are astonished at how all the old reliable identities have fallen away.

Awakening and living in the vastness of Truth requires a reorientation of the body and the psyche. The energies of the subtle field must become free of contractions and blockages and flow throughout the nervous system into all areas of the body. The mind must learn to move free of all beliefs, bias, judgment, self-criticism, attachments and rejections. Basically the possibility is one of living in the moment, without the influences of the past and the worries of the future. At the same time this newfound detachment from old ways of thinking does not ultimately mean there is no action or compassion. But these move spontaneously from a different source.

Generally speaking, after an awakening, a deeper level of clearing and opening moves through the body.   Consciousness feels more alive and present in the moment, and the qualities arise of moving usefully and more sensitively in the world.

This is a transformation of body, mind and spirit. It thrives on love and devotion — a non-dual kind of devotion that is to the All, to the inclusive beauty and grace of the form and formless. So when non-dual consciousness is clear the human expression can be fully embraced. This does not make the awakened being dualistic. It makes him or her whole, and capable of bringing wisdom and love into the world. He or she knows it is not the little me doing this — it feels like a spigot is opened and whatever is meant to be flows forth. There is no division.

The years spiritual seekers spend in preparation, by opening their bodies, or quieting their thoughts, or clearing their psychological hurdles, or discovering other dimensions of experience, offer the following gifts:

They help the body/mind relax about letting go,

They wash away the barriers to feeling free,

They open the channels through which conscious and energy will carry love,

They make a person more receptivity to grace and the boundlessness of Source.

They reorganize and harmonize the energy flows in the body

Often they provide a community that supports the spiritual quest

Be grateful for the time you have given to your spiritual search and the trust you have had. Waking up without any preparation is much more challenging to body and mind and often the realization cannot stabilize because the physical/emotional/mental system is just not capable of being present with the vast potential of consciousness. Whatever time you have spent in preparation, be grateful, as it will serve you well.

But paradoxically, when all attachment to the process falls away, consciousness is most inclined to awaken itself and strike in an unexpected moment, like lightening on a clear day!

Awakening: Unexpected Consequences


What is unexpected about spiritual awakening is that it is the beginning, not the end, of a spiritual process. Few are prepared for the shifts in perspective, energy and orientation it offers. At the moment of awakening there is often a sweeping sense of freedom as all the identity falls away, yet a sense of radiant presence remains. But such a change in the view of who and what we are can leave a mind disoriented. Some say it is like becoming a baby Buddha — one must learn to navigate the world in a new way.

Concerns that often arise as a sense of identity returns are the feeling of having known great peace, clarity or joy which now seems to have faded away, the sense of flowing through synchronicities in one’s life has been lost, feeling a lack of drive and direction, and loss of interest in engagement with old habits and friends. There can also be many unfamiliar movements of energy, vibration and heat in the body. It is the re-awakening of the little “me” that notices these changes and worries about them or feels a sense of loss or sadness, anxiety or even panic. The spiritual “me” that has driven one toward an awakening has lost its thrust and so it may also seem like there is nothing to do. The awakened consciousness had none of these concerns — it doesn’t buy into drifting thoughts or stories about the past or future. But the human tendency to create meaning and want familiarity and understanding is very powerfully programmed into the patterns of mind and it can easily resurrect itself even after a deep and profound realization of Truth.

Awakening has been called in Hinduism the experience of Self, and in Buddhism the experience of No-Self. Paradoxically the two refer to the same realization — that of being the essence of all life or what some call Source. It is a moment of consciousness recognizing its roots, which are free of the overlay of conditioning, emotional and intellectual patterns, even DNA. There is a sense of being Nothing, yet in some strange way also everything. This moment may occur following years of meditation or energy practices, but can also happen spontaneously. It is extremely rare for a moment of realization to become a permanent condition but, like an aroma that never leaves a place, the sense of knowing never goes away. If the mind is attached to escaping human identifications it can be very painful to lose the fullness of awakening. And if the mind is attached to old patterns of being, the shift of perspective can be very difficult, because it challenges everything one has believed true.

We can enter a passage into a stable awakening only by witnessing ourselves with love and compassion, staying present with what is, being willing to lean into life as it presents itself, and trusting the radiant emptiness we may feel internally. Instead, many people try to return again and again into transcendence, which has a limited shelf life. It may reoccur but it is not the completion of knowing who we are.

When the mind looks at the return of human foibles and emotions it may get depressed or anxious, especially if it had expectations of an awakening that would make it a wonderful and admired part of society, or it longed for a complete escape from human tendencies. A few minds will appropriate the spiritual process and jump into inflation, which curtails any capacity to end separation and find a stable realization.   A few minds become fearful and believe they should return to the identity they used to be, and struggle to hold patterns that will not serve their full awakening. Authenticity to the Truth you have seen is extremely important in this process.

I was once told of a Roshi’s wife who said being awake was like being a breeze.  I love this analogy because it reflects the freedom of moving through life without a fixed position, with fluidity, and with full acceptance of everything one touches. It is like love, caressing all existence without stopping to analyze it. It is not a separation, nor is it an identification.

As humans there are many things the mind resists and many events that can cause emotional pain and suffering, disappointment, fear and anger. These responses are part of our programming. They may arise after an awakening, and even for a time more intensely than before. They arise for us to see through them, to see our deepest stuck places, to wake them up along with the rest of us. We have to be willing to walk through them if we are seeking an awakened life, and not just an awakening moment.

At the core of this “I” sense that we carry is a basic belief about who we are, and it will reconstruct itself periodically until we are capable of letting go. We cannot make this happen because the “I” that works at things is not in charge. We can only be willing for any clinging belief or pattern to fall away. We can wave it away gently, with appreciation for how it served us in the past. We need to be compassionate with our humanness for hanging on — another paradox. We are a process that we are not in charge of. When we relax into this we may begin to experience our life as a breeze.

If you long for more support in your own awakening process you may benefit from the guidance in my new book “The Awakening Guide”, available on Amazon.


Awakening Into The Ocean of Consciousness


Sometimes I walk along the cliffs in Santa Cruz and watch   the surfers rising and skimming across the waves. I have never surfed myself  but it seems to me that the skills required above all are attention to the moment and balance. The challenge for surfers and their performances are good metaphors for spiritual awakening.

 Very early Vedantic descriptions of the experience of awakening have included the image of the ocean, saying our consciousness is like the wave that arises from the sea and the ocean is the fullness of our true universal nature. Our individual awareness arises like a wave but never loses its essence as part of the vast consciousness of the whole. Each wave eventually recedes back into the universal whole of the ocean.s required above all are attention to the moment and balance. The challenges for surfers and their performances are good metaphors for spiritual awakening.

Writers have often used the ocean as a metaphor for consciousness, and dreams with ocean imagery often represent to therapists the state of the unconscious, sometimes quiescent and sometimes overwhelming. Once I dreamed of a miniature ship on the sea, that was tipping so that all the passengers were falling off. I reached down and pulled each out of the sea, righted the ship and put them back on it. This represented to me the work of therapy or spiritual guidance. Along with falling into the ocean, it seems that anyone may find something old like a memory, or new like a potential, arising from this great rich all-inclusive presence throbbing with life and possibility.

In Taoist teachings life is akin to a river, flowing into the sea. Significant teachings reflect the need to go with the flow and not try to swim upstream. Through following the natural flow of life harmony may be found. Qigong and Tai Chi help people discover the natural flows in the body and become more in tune with their own vibration. These ancient practices emerged from an inner knowing about the path to human balance and tranquility.

Whatever arises for you in a spiritual process, whether the shaking of energy, flushes of heat, rivulets of pleasure or startling jerks, or even emotional waves of events you prefer to keep repressed, to the extent you can “go with the flow” or “ride the waves” (in modern times) you will find that life and change will go more smoothly. The subtle energy is impulsively helping the body release stress and old conditioning that needs to be seen and released so it can no longer impact consciousness.

It is your thoughts that cause the most confusion – telling you something is wrong, or you made a mistake, or this should not be happening and will never end. The thinking mind is up against a condition it has never predicted or prepared for. As consciousness brings forth unconscious patterns, in a spontaneous (that is, not intended by you) effort to clear out your old way of imagining who you are and how you ought to be, the thinking mind feels out of control. In some cases a person feels panic because of this loss of control – those who have always forced themselves into a neat and tidy life, organized, self-determined and cautious, may have the greatest challenges. Awakening is messy.

Spiritual awakening opens the mind to great new perspectives, shattering old conceptions about what the world is about and who we have to be to survive. It invites us into a clearing of stuck ideas and emotional cul-de-sacs that may be limiting us in the world. It may arouse energies that are unfamiliar, or cause discomfort in areas of the body that need healing or restructuring. If no one ever told you this could happen you may be stunned, scared or depressed. That is the mind reacting to this unforeseen event of your own transformation.

I have written several essays on my websites ( and ) and in my books to help people understand how to navigate this process, but just as if you were learning to sail or surf on choppy seas, it will take time for you to learn to be present in great sunlight and find the sense of freedom in the wind. I heard once of a Roshi’s wife who said that being enlightened was liked being a “breeze”. Perhaps surfing is also like a breeze, once one has mastered the techniques.

Awakening invites you to relax and be present with what is, to forego judgment and fear, to find the love and compassion and joy of being that exists prior to all the chaos and complexity of thought. Ultimately you feel moments of oneness with the sea, the air, the human experience and the radiant consciousness that holds it all. It is worth the journey, if only you can relax into the waves.

The Challenge of Being in the Moment

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It would be challenging to consider an awakened state anything more than living in the moment, a condition everyone is prone to on occasion, and very few enjoy on a consistent basis, even when they have seen the Truth of the conscious awareness that we are.  But most of the time we cannot see the light for the clouds.

The initial moment of realizing oneself as simple presence, just beingness moving through a sense of time and space that has arisen within infinity, it feels astonishingly liberating, as if everything you are attached to or identified with dissolves and there is simply no thing to be concerned about or no one to care. You are clear light and aliveness. This realization can stimulate bliss, joy, love, or just a quiet openness and peace in the body. It can last a few moments or a few months. Why doesn’t it, in most cases, last forever? It is the underlying state, the foundation of all beings. It can’t go away, because it is what you are, awareness being life. But it is easily fogged over by the natural human activities of thought and emotion.

Awakening seems to come and go for most who have a moment of realization, because attachments come and go, experiences come and go, and the mind continually churns out information it considers critical, related to past and future, rather than staying focused on the here and now. It has had a serious job in the world of locating and identifying you, solving problems, studying possibilities, and weighing options.

When you are present in the moment you are not relying on the divisive working mind, but simply accepting and responding to what is. If while resting in presence an emotion comes through such as fear, grief, or anger, you allow it to flow through as an energy of the feeling-body without attaching a belief to it such as “I shouldn’t feel this” “I’ll die if this happens“ “I need to get even” “I have to figure this out.” If it is just felt the same way an ocean wave is felt when you stand at the edge of the water, it will pass, perhaps not immediately, but eventually.

Emotional and self-reflective thoughts are all legitimate, normal thoughts, common human reactions. Just like rain in the sky, there are times when this is needed. Most of us need calendars and a few discerning skills. The problem is that when we are entangled in this aspect of the mind, awakened presence can be overwhelmed. This can lead to continued agitation, planning, mental fantasies and projections that are all about the past and the future. Just as dark clouds block the sun, they block the ability to remember the light and vastness that we are, and to move effectively in the moment.

Our worries, desires, conditioned patterns and the many dramas of an ordinary life distract us from the moment, from the beauty in existence, from the immediacy of love and response. Possibly the severe detachment taught in some spiritual traditions was an effort to help people avoid the pitfall of losing the present moment by becoming trapped by a desire or resistance or other distracting emotion. But as a method it can make a person become cold, withdrawn and disengaged in life, preventing the embodiment of the very truth that has been discovered.

We cannot “hold” awakeness by forcing ourselves into disengagement with life. Instead, we need to allow the little illusory “me” to wake up too, letting our humanness be felt without self-judgment, and learning to see with clarity what is needed now, in the moment, aside from our personal history and bias. We have to learn to move more from the intuition of the heart rather than the orders in the head. The working mind needs to become an occasional tool, rather than a master.

The intuitive heart is not a romanticized heart, but is an aspect of the heart that holds Truth and authenticity. It is a kind of knowing different from the learning we have acquired. It doesn’t block our skills or life knowledge, it just applies them free of the trappings of personal prejudice and self-serving. It is an awareness using whatever means is available to move in alignment with each unique moment.

Optimally all of us would find ourselves doing this spontaneously and consistently. But I have not seen that as the case in myself or others. We are each on a learning curve in our own unique style and we will have moments of presence and moments of entanglement.

The less we judge our losses (or even count them) the more smoothly we return to the moment, and the closer we come to living a liberated life.

Why the Buddha Laughs


The chubby laughing Buddha is an icon frequently seen in gift shops and not so often represented in the Buddhist teachings, which to many people appear to focus extensively on topics like suffering, emptiness, and stillness.  He may seem a hollow depiction to some, who prefer the solitary images of the Buddha in the Ox-herding pictures, or his image as a teacher, or even the sleeping Buddha, waiting to be awakened into the world.

But I have always loved the laughing Buddha, with a full belly and arms extended in celebration. To me he represents the end of the road, the freedom and fullness of being only what one is, fully present to the great mystery and the great joy of being alive.

Buddha, like Christ, is a symbolic name – both represent the pure essence within, the sense of knowing the completeness of a connection with what is infinite. In Buddhism this infinite source is nameless and without boundary; in Christianity it has come to be called God or the Father and personified in various forms. In Hinduism this infinite Oneness is known as Brahma, but there is no image – only a recognition of something whole, unlimited and the Source of all.

Buddha was known to begin his life as Gautama, a prince, who as a young man became aware of suffering in the world, and spent years seeking a way to end it. This is not so different from the rest of us – wouldn’t we all like to end suffering, and to live in a world that is free of this burden? Yet none of us know how to end it — not in the wider world, not even in ourselves. And because we all carry it we tend to inflict it upon others, and so there is a never-ending cycle in the human experience.

Gautama was born in India, and raised as a believer in Brahma, and in time became a teacher in the lineages of his day. He tried many approaches to transcendence out of suffering, hoping to discover Truth, just as many modern seekers do. Finally he sat under the Bodhi Tree and determined he would not get up until he realized the Truth. And then he awakened! And then he was labeled as Buddha – the awakened one.

The laughing Buddha represents the joyful being within us, released when we see the Truth of what we are, when we penetrate the emptiness, and see through the patterns of suffering that have held our minds for decades. He represents freedom, available to each of us, and the joy of letting go of attachment to personal identity. Many people have reported laughing hysterically for hours after seeing the Truth of pure Being. They laugh because the energy itself is joy. They laugh because the Truth was right in front of them all along. They laugh in relief as the dregs of being a spiritual seeker fall away. They laugh at their little self and how confused he or she has been.

Let the laughing Buddha be your inspiration and your hope. Find Truth within yourself and be willing to laugh at how you have been entangled in a dance that you thought was all there was, and enjoy the freedom of falling out of who you thought you were. And be willing to laugh as well when you return back into life, recognizing your role in the game unfolding before you.

Presence and The Release of Stress

Have you ever taken a step away from your mind long enough to notice the relationship between stress and the thoughts you carry in your head? Can you imagine the release if you only could stop all thoughts for a few minutes?

Of course we do this every night for a few hours. We realize that if we were to stop sleeping these same thoughts that maneuver us through the day would force us into mental bankruptcy and we would lose our minds. So we try to get our sleep.

Most westerners live in an internal world fueled by an inner urgency to get things done, to do it right, to perform well for others, and to frequently self-reflect on their own inadequacies. They sometimes become exhausted and ill under the weight of their own demands and self-judgment. Between living up to the pressures of both work and home expectations they collapse at night in front of a TV or computer that throws forth more stress in the form of world news, violent visions and commercials that emphasize things they are supposed to want and need, and then fall into bed wondering why they cannot easily go to sleep. In the back of many minds are the thoughts if they could only do life better, make more money, say the right thing or feel more energized then life would be easier and stress would go away.

The mind with its great gift of assessment and division greatly interferes with the true potential of the human spirit to be at peace. How do we break the grasp it has on our freedom to simply be ourselves and enjoy life as it is? How can we step away from self-imposed stress? Here are a few possibilities.

Recognize that thoughts are simply neurons firing, and the messages are generally based on negative past conditions. Brain researchers have found that our brain holds the impact of dangerous or bad encounters much longer than positive ones. (Possibly forever!) This is a human reflex based on the need to protect ourselves from danger, but translated psychologically it becomes a tendency to worry about everything from how we handled a phone call to whether we will get to work on time. To become more free we can develop a thought-witness, a part of us who does not take so seriously every thought crossing the mind (millions in a day). Very few thoughts are true — and most of these are the practical ones such as “The car needs gas in the next 10 miles” or “The baby is crying now.” Mind tends to take simple thoughts and move into a worry about all the possible scenarios before determining a specific action, when often just responding to what is in front of you is all that is needed. The mind’s tendency is to wander and associate every bad thing you have ever heard with every circumstance. It is often irrelevant. Make your thoughts irrelevant unless there is an obvious immediate response. Leave room in your head for inspiration.

Recognize worry and catastrophic thinking for what it is — an energy drain like taking the wrong trail on a long hike and ending at a dead end.

If the tendency to worry is a cause of stress for you then schedule your worrying time. Pick a time of day to worry about a specific problem, and every time the thought arises tell it you will think about it then. When the time comes you have the choice to use it in a constructive way or let it pass until the next day.

If you are overloaded with responsibility let go of it. You can be very busy without feeling so responsible and it is much easier. This is called living in the moment. Finding enjoyment while doing the dishes. Having the kids tell you a joke as they get ready for bed. Clearing out the to-do list on the desk. Being fully present with a client or friend. Postpone worrying about the kids at work and worrying about work when with the kids. One reason we become exhausted is that we are often not where we are, but doing two things at once, one with our bodies, and the other with our minds. Soothing music may be helpful while driving; listening to world news may not be.

If there is one thing that awakening spiritually has to teach us all it is to be present now, where the spirit and consciousness actually sit. It is to be the presence that is so much bigger than thought, so much more willing to be in the moment, and so at peace when in the midst of life. This is the way to find happiness in the small moments of life, which give us energy to face the greater needs. Simple presence is the way to find clarity of mind and invite inspiration and intuition into our lives. As long as our head is crowded with worry and stress where is the space for something fresh and new to arise? We need moments of pleasure and emptiness to allow creativity and vitality to arise.

Taking moments for yourself — just sitting and feeling into your body, your connectedness to your chair, the floor, the colors and textures of your room, the sensate feeling of being you, the beauty of something natural outside your window — the sound of a bird or the shape of a flower, the smile of a baby — these are ways we refresh the spirit and slowly awaken ourselves into life. Put something you love to look at in every room of your home, and in your office space — something that soothes the spirit. Eat something that feels nurturing and calming rather than loading up on sugar and caffeine. Remove yourself from toxic people and energies in your environment.

While it may help to release stress if you restructure your life, cut out the most toxic circumstances, accept the challenges you cannot change, and change the things you can, it is most important to expand inner space. Stress is in the head and then gravitates into the body with headaches, stomach problems, back aches — all the common maladies of the day. The body tells us what it needs — freedom from worry and negative thinking, relaxation, beauty, quietness, and presence or simply being with what is. What (other than television or computer games) can you give your full attention to for 20 minutes without distracting yourself with thoughts? Music? Dance? Cooking? Gardening? walking in nature? Try it and see how it feels. It is like training a new muscle, learning to allow the presence you are to be present where you are without interference from the past and future, only here now.

For a further exploration of spiritual awakening see my book “The Awakening Guide” , available at and Kin