Oneness and Terror
Experiences at SAND (Science and Non-Duality Conference), San Jose, California, October 2015
In spite of having had a series of “awakenings” to my true nature as unbroken loving awareness, there remains a tendency toward anxiety—which often shows up as bodily sensations of nervousness, even when there is no mental “content” to which the anxiety attaches. And then, of course, there are the occasions where fear attaches to the thought that something is wrong (or will go wrong) and “I” need to fix it, bringing the small self front and center again. I’ve sat with anxiety for long stretches, become familiar and intimate with it, and found considerable acceptance for it. It is as it is, and will stay as long as it will. There has also, of course, been a wish that anxiety might “move on” and be done with this body-mind.
A few months ago, in a state of deep silence, Ramana Maharshi (a deeply enlightened Indian master) arrived in my inner space. I have always related strongly to the story of Ramana’s initial spiritual opening which occurred when he was a teenager grieving the death of a family friend. In “entering” the death of this friend, he went to the place just beyond death of the body where there is only the one eternal life. Nisargadatta, another great Indian teacher of the last century said, “In death, only the body dies. Life does not, consciousness does not, reality does not. And the life is never so alive as after death.” I have experienced this in the three deaths I have been privileged to witness. The intensity of the energy crackling in the room, along with the depth of peace pervading the room, after these deaths, was more alive than alive. It was/is timelessly alive.
Unlike most of us who are given tastes of the reality beyond death, Ramana never really came back, or he never returned to the “ordinary” human perspective that believes I am a separate entity defined by the boundaries of this body and limited in experience to the time between the birth and death of this body. Ramana lived the rest of his life on one mountain in India where an ashram grew around him. He taught seekers by radiating the deep silent peace in which he lived.
Ramana came to me to answer a question I barely knew I had. While I had experienced the death-less state beyond death, I had always felt (believed?) that birth (not death) was the real trauma of separation from the whole. Whenever I re-entered my own birth experience, I felt terror and hadn’t been able to experience connection with Source. The terror consumed me.
My birth was typical for its time—1939—in which birth was induced for the convenience of the male doctor, mother was drugged, then strapped down on a gurney in the hospital for the delivery. The infant was taken from mother to the hospital nursery, then bottle fed every four hours, no picking up in between. In many “work scenes” I have screamed the primal scream of dis-connection and disorientation and sobbed for my mother. In many therapy sessions I have grieved the loss of visceral connection with her at birth, and then let go of this story, accepting fully what was. Further, I’ve had many healing works in which the Divine Mother has come to me. I have even re-experienced birth into this body with the Divine Mother’s soothing presence holding me through the apparent trauma.
However, the deeper existential question remained: How does the One Life get born into separation, and is that separation real?
In a flash Ramana revealed the One Life which apparently separated into a distinct form—this human body—but was actually never separate from it. It was just as present in the “separate” infant as it was in the fetus before it separated from its mother’s body or, for that matter, before it even had any material form as a fetus. I entered Being which just IS, an is-ness that does not reside in form, though it can and does take the shape of forms. Though it is not possible to put into words, the completeness of Being was experienced as fully intact in the infant, in spite of its apparent trauma and terror. This form of the whole, in reality, lacked nothing. Waves of relief.
Separation was seen to be only a matter of perspective. From the perspective of Being, no form is ever separate from that which animates it, life itself. From the point of view of the person, of course, there appears to be a separate form here. But as the person remembers (wakes up) to its true nature as formless Being, we gradually lose identification with the separate form.
My experience at the SAND Conference:
The first morning I attended a workshop with Dorothy Hunt, a non-dual teacher and psychotherapist, who was asked to teach by Adyashanti and who teaches within his lineage. She had a picture of Ramana Maharshi on the table next to her and directly in front of where I was sitting. (The first of many synchronicities at the conference.) During the first part of Dorothy’s talk, listening to her wise words and meeting fully the gaze of Ramana, I easily and effortlessly re-entered the seamless reality of Being. Smooth, gracious, empty, alive wholeness.
Dorothy then asked us to work in dyads, with the focus on that which does not yet remember its true nature. I became aware of a slight headache in my left temple region, which is, on the physical level, a manifestation of an illness diagnosed last spring called temporal arteritis, an inflammation of the lining of the artery on the left side of my face which goes from ear to temple. This illness has been a wonderful wake-up call for me, requiring me to slow down, tune in, and drop out of all over-activity of the mind and body. Recovery, however, has been slow, and I am still acutely aware when stress or tension or straining or pushing is present in the body or mind because then the headache gets worse.
Dorothy suggested that there is usually a personal story connected with our dis-connected part and I know well the story of my over-active, over-achieving self, which came online as a school-aged child in order to please my parents. Dorothy kept leading as back further in time, and it became obvious that very early on I had developed the belief that I was not valued for just being (the only gift an infant has to give her parents), but only for doing and accomplishing (by which I could and did earn my parents’ approval). (I recognize, of course, that I am not alone with this mis-conception; it’s pretty widespread, at least in the Western world.)
As I went further back in biographical time, I was led, inevitably, once again, to the terrified infant. Terrified that mother was not there, that life was entirely unsafe, that I would not be fed, that I would die, that I would cease to exist. Waves of terror and pain shot through the body, possibly even more intense than ever before experienced. I was shaking and vulnerable, and crying a lot. But I also felt safe in the context of the session to let it all be just as it was, without resolution or completion about how this fits with the one-ness of Being that had been experienced just an hour earlier in the workshop. I simply sat with the two very different experiential realities and did not require them to make sense of each other.
The next day I attended a talk by Joan Tollifson, another favorite woman teacher of Zen/non-duality, who was a student of Toni Packer and her pathless path. At the end of Joan’s talk I attempted to ask a question about these two disparate realities I had experienced the day before, but time ran out and Joan had to leave. In another synchronicity, Dorothy Hunt had been present for Joan’s talk and immediately came over to sit beside me, and to help. I shared not only the gist of my experience in her workshop, but also what had happened for me in an hour-long meditation led by Rupert Spira that morning. Rupert led us from sensate experience to its Source in Awareness. I entered a very spacious benign reality where all was very well indeed. While in that space, I had a thought of the terrified infant, but she seemed no larger than a speck of dust on the gracious gown of Being; she resided somewhere a thousand miles away. Dorothy recommended bringing the terrified infant nearer, close in, all the way into the intimate heart-space of my body, thereby giving her a home. This I was able to do, though the experience felt to be on the psychological level of comforting the infant who still felt/believed she was an utterly separate being in mortal danger.
The next morning, in Rupert Spira’s second hour-long meditation, he led us from Source out to sensation to investigate what it really was, or was made of. As I touched into the feeling of terror and the sensation of pain, I could clearly see that the only reality these “objects of consciousness” had was the knowing of them. The knowing of them—the light of pure awareness—was real and palpable. The terror and pain dissolved in the light of awareness. Just dissolved. No more reality. An insubstantial “thing” dissolving into the powerful presence of the Light of Awareness itself. As Rupert says, Awareness is one name for that in which all “things” (objects of consciousness such as thoughts, feelings, sensations, perceptions) appear, out of which all “things” are made, and by which all “things” are known.
The final morning of SAND completed the process. Rupert led us this time into an embodiment meditation in which he (synchronicity again) led us to becoming infants before having the capacity of mind or speech. From this place we were to investigate the reality of our bodily sensations. I expected that the fear/ terror would return, but in fact it did not. What happened was that the sensations of breath and of heartbeat filled the space of awareness; there was nothing else present as an object of consciousness. No thought, no fear, just waves of breath and rhythms of heartbeat. And silence. And love. And then I had the thought that this was a kind of re-birth into the reality of being inside a body having sensations for the first time. This awareness of breath and heartbeat was the my/ theinfant’s first experience of being in a body. And it was full and complete and lacked nothing. There was no need to refer outside this body to a mother who wasn’t (t)here. The body itself was the mother, the house of all these sensations, exquisitely interesting to the Awareness newly incarnating. Nothing else needed, nothing lacking.
Finally Rupert led us into a meditation on investigating the “I am the body” illusion by focusing on some area where sensation felt “dense.” These areas in the body where sensation is strong and where there does not appear to be much space around the sensation seem to be very convincing that this sensation points to the reality of the body as what we are. I focused on the headache in my left temporal area which had returned. He had us breathe Emptiness into this area, and to breathe out the density of the sensation. This worked pretty well and the headache subsided a little.
More importantly, however, the pain of the headache was once again seen as simply the body-mind holding on to the belief in separation, and once seen, the body-mind could relax. Spacious Awareness returned. A gentle resting in Being. The headache vanished and has not returned a week later. A gracious completion for mind, body, terror, and pain – all coming home to the unbroken love that is our true nature.