The Sun is Always Shining: A New Model For Awakening
Those of us who sincerely seek for spiritual liberation and awakening are most likely hoping to have a spiritual experience or opening that is powerful enough, deep enough, or long-lasting enough that it becomes our permanent state of consciousness.
Unfortunately, this hope might just be the biggest obstacle standing in the way of true awakening.
You see, we’ve been taught to think about spiritual awakening the wrong way. We have been given a model that is faulty and that all but guarantees we won’t find the fulfilment we’re looking for.
We have been taught that the holy grail of the spiritual path is having an awakening experience that becomes permanent. We could call this The Experience that Sticks model of awakening.
We’ve had spiritual experiences, maybe even powerful and profound ones that have lasted for a few moments, a few hours or longer, but they always seem to disappear in the end leaving us busy searching for more.
So at some point along the way we decide that we need to spend time on retreat to be able to practice long enough and intensely enough to have an experience so explosive that it shifts our consciousness into a permanently awakened state.
We go on retreat. Maybe for a weekend, or a week, or a month or longer. We have spiritual experiences, maybe many of them, perhaps very powerful ones, and yet they all eventually recede from awareness.
So we go back on retreat, each time resolved to give it everything we have - determined to open so wide that we will never close down again.
How do I know? Because I did exactly this, time and time again for over twenty years.
Then one day something did happen - but it wasn't anything like what I was hoping for.
I sat down to the first practice of the very first day of yet another twenty-day retreat. As I walked up to my cushion I thought about how I was going to be more still, more focused, more intent, and more receptive than ever before. I was ready for this to be the big one.
I sat down and the bell rang to start the first meditation and something happened that I absolutely didn’t expect.
As soon as I heard the bell sound to start of the meditation, I realized that I just didn’t have it in me. I couldn’t do this retreat harder than ever before because I just didn’t have the energy for another round.
Initially, I thought something was terribly wrong. I started to imagine that I may have lost my passion for spiritual freedom and enlightenment.
But as I sat there for a minute, I realized that wasn’t it at all.
The reason I didn’t have the energy to pursue any more awakening experiences is that I didn't’ need any more.
Why? Because I was already convinced. I knew that the glory that I had experienced so many times before had always been, and would always be, the deepest part of me - even when I was not experiencing it directly.
Suddenly I realized that I didn’t need any more spiritual experiences because I already knew the truth of who I was and I didn’t need any more experiences to remind me.
I can’t tell you how free that felt. Imagine a moment of recognizing that everything is already perfect, always has been and always will be - because at the deepest level of our being we are always whole, complete, and profoundly fulfilled.
I stayed on retreat and it was the best meditation retreat of my life because I didn’t want or need to get anything from it. I was absolutely free to just sit hour after hour and be perfectly content with everything exactly as it was.
I spent hours simply absorbed in the experience of sitting still and watching the parade of thoughts and feelings pass by the mind’s eye. Occasionally my spirit would mysteriously lift into an unprompted experience of elation and revelation. Then it would gently return to just sitting.
It was all perfect. I was sitting in a continuous state of unbroken trust and contentment.
As a teacher of awakening and meditation, all I want is to make this magnificent possibility available to others.
I suppose you might get there by chasing more spiritual experiences, but that could take another ten or twenty years.
Instead, I teach that the secret to awakening is realizing that what we discover in our spiritually heightened moments is simply the truth of how things are.
The goal of awakening is not to have an experience that sticks. It is to recognize the true freedom that is the natural state of our own consciousness before it gets distorted by fear, desire, or the inevitable wounds of life.
Our spiritual experiences do not reveal a future possibility. They show us the way things already are.
We could call this The Sun is Always Shining model of awakening because although the Sun is only visible to us on a clear day, we always know the Sun is still there when there are clouds in the sky. In the same way, it is possible to come to a place where we know that the spaciousness of an open heart and mind is always there even when our attention is distracted by fear, doubt or self-concern.
If you hold this new model as the context for your spiritual practice and simultaneously find the courage to give up any investment in having an experience that sticks - you will find yourself living in an ongoing recognition of the miraculous truth of who you already are.
If you have any thoughts to share after reading this piece, visit my blog post here and leave a comment.
P.S. If you want to see what spiritual practice looks like in The Sun Is Always Shining model of awakening take a look at the online course brochure for the yearlong Opening to the Infinite program with Craig Hamilton and me.
What is Spiritual Awakening?
Spiritual awakening is often misunderstood. Truth cannot be encompassed by words, but here are some quotes that shed some light on what self-realization, spiritual awakening, or enlightenment is:
Enlightenment is, in the end, nothing more than the natural state of being. ~Adyashanti
Enlightenment is a simple realization that everything is as it should be. That is the definition of enlightenment: everything is as it should be, everything is utterly perfect as it is. That feeling...and you are suddenly at home. Nothing is being missed. You are part, an organic part of this tremendous, beautiful whole. You are relaxed in it, surrendered in it. You don´t exist separately – all separation has disappeared. ~ Osho
Spiritual awakening is awakening from the dream of thought. ~Eckhart Tolle
Spiritual awakening is about waking up from your ego. It is not about awakening the ego. ~Sampo Kaasila
Enlightenment is ego’s ultimate disappointment. ~Chögyam Trungpa
Whether you call it the egoless state, or whether you call it enlightenment, you cannot make it into a goal. ‘Goal’ implies future, and the very entry point into the egoless state or enlightenment is the present moment. ~Eckhart Tolle
Enlightenment is not a desire, is not a goal, is not an ambition. It is a dropping of all goals, a dropping of all desires, a dropping of all ambitions. It is just being natural. That’s what is meant by flowing. ~Osho
Enlightenment is the direct result of freedom from the illusion of a separate self. A profound understanding of this ultimate simplicity provides all that is required for an awakening to enlightenment. ~Gary Crowley
Enlightenment is a direct experience with reality. ~Pema Chodron
Enlightenment is absolute cooperation with the inevitable. ~Anthony de Mello
You may have expected that enlightenment would come Zap! instantaneous and permanent. This is unlikely. After the first “ah-ha” experience, it can be thought of as the thinning of a layer of clouds. ~Ram Dass
Enlightenment is the falling away of the sense of personal doership. ~Wayne Liquorman
There is none dwelling in the house but God. When a man is awakened he melts and perishes. ~Rumi
An enlightened person–by perceiving God in all–looks at a learned person, an outcast, even a cow, an elephant, or a dog with an equal eye. ~Bhagavad Gita
Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. ~Zen Proverb
To be enlightened is to be unconditionally intimate with this moment. ~Scott Morrison
Why Does Everybody Think Enlightenment is a Joke?
Sarito, it is! But only a child can ask such a beautiful question -- Sarito is only twelve years of age. Enlightenment is a joke because it is not something that you have to achieve, yet you have to make all possible efforts to achieve it. It is already the case: you are born enlightened.
The word "enlightenment" is beautiful. We come from the source, the ultimate source of light. We are small rays of that sun, and howsoever far away we may have gone, our nature remains the same. Nobody can go against his real nature: you can forget about it, but you cannot lose it. Hence attaining it is not the right expression; it is not attained, it is only remembered. That's why Buddha called his method SAMMASATI.
Sammasati means right remembrance of that which is already there. Nanak, Kabir, Raidas, they have all called it SURATI. Surati means remembering the forgotten, but not the lost. Whether you remember or not, it is there -- it is there exactly the same. You can keep your eyes closed to it -- it is there. You can open your eyes -- it is there. You can keep it behind your back -- it is there. You can take a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree turn and see it -- it is there. It is the same.
George Gurdjieff used to call his method self-remembering. Nothing has to be achieved, nothing at all, but only to be discovered. And the discovery is needed because we go on gathering dust on our mirrors. The mirror is there covered by the dust. Remove the dust, and the mirror starts reflecting the stars, the beyond. Krishnamurti calls it awareness, alertness, attentiveness. These are different expressions for the same phenomenon. They are to remind you that you are not to go anywhere, not to be somebody else. You just have to find out who you are, and the finding is not difficult because it is your nature -- just a little reshuffling inside, a little cleaning.
It is said that when Bodhidharma attained enlightenment, he laughed for seven days continuously. His friends, his disciples, thought he had gone mad. They asked him, "Have you gone mad?"
He said, "I WAS mad, now I have become sane. I have gone sane!"
"Then why are you laughing?" they asked.
He said, "I am laughing because I have been searching for thousands of lives for something which was already within me! The seeker was the sought, and I was looking everywhere else -- I was looking everywhere except inside."
The famous Sufi woman, Rabiya al-Adabiya, one evening when the sun was setting, was found searching for something just in front of her door on the road. A few people gathered and they said, "Rabiya, what have you lost? We can help you."
She was an old woman and loved by the people, loved because she was beautifully crazy. Rabiya said, "I have lost my needle. I was sewing and I lost my needle. I am searching for it, and there is not much time because the sun is setting. If you want to help me, help quickly, because once the sun has set and darkness has descended, it will be impossible to find the needle."
So they all started a hectic search for the needle. One of them suddenly thought, "The needle is such a small thing and the road is so big, and the sun is going down every moment, the light is disappearing -- unless we know the exact spot where it has fallen it will be impossible to find it." So he asked Rabiya, "Will you please tell us where the needle has fallen exactly? Then it will be possible to find it. Otherwise soon there will be darkness, and the road is very big and the needle is very small."
Rabiya started laughing. She said, "Please don't ask that, because I feel embarrassed by the question!"
They all stopped searching. They said, "What is the matter? Why should you feel embarrassed?"
She said, "I feel embarrassed because I lost the needle INSIDE the house, but because there is no light there, how can I find it? Outside on the road there is just a little light from the setting sun."
They all said, "Now you have gone completely crazy! We had always suspected that you were not sane, but this is an absolute proof!"
Rabiya said, "You think me insane, yet you have been doing the same for lives together -- and YOU are sane? Where have you lost yourself, and where are you trying to find it? Where have you lost your bliss, and where are you trying to find it? It is lost in your inner world, and you are searching on the outside!"
Everywhere people are running with great speed. Time is short, the sun is setting; any moment the darkness can descend. Run as fast as you can! Man has been inventing faster and faster ways to reach, but if you ask him, "Where do you want to reach?" he feels embarrassed; he is not really clear where he wants to reach. One thing he is clear about is that he wants to reach there quickly, because life is short and much has to be found. The soul, God, bliss, truth, freedom...so many things have to be found, and his hands are absolutely empty.
Sarito, in that sense enlightenment is certainly a joke. If you understand it, there is no need to seek and search; you can just close your eyes and find it. But this question coming from a small child is beautiful. The grown-up person will not be able to ask such a sane question. The grown-up person will ask, "What is enlightenment? How has it to be found? What are the right methods, ways and means? How should one live? What virtues should be cultivated? What prayers should be said?" And all those questions look very relevant.
Sarito, your question does not look very relevant, but it IS relevant, more relevant than any grown-up person can ever ask. Grown-up people ask questions which look good in the asking, but they are not really interested in asking an authentic question -- they are AFRAID of asking the authentic question.
In an old Scottish mansion the resident ghost is floating through the living room. Everybody seems to be scared to death except a little boy who is watching the spectacle with a curious look on his face.
"Hey, Mister Ghost," he says, "have you lost your handkerchief?"
"No," replied the ghost, "that's not a handkerchief, that's my son!"
But only a small boy could have asked, "Hey, Mister Ghost...." All the grown-ups were very much scared; they must have been trembling, avoiding, pretending that they had not seen anything.
One little boy asked the other, "Did that play you saw last night have a happy ending?"
The other one said, "I'll say. Everybody was happy when it was over."
The Christian priest was telling the little boy, "Herb, I want you to remember that we are here to help others."
Herb said, "Sure, but what are the others here for?"
"I never slept with a man until I married your father!" she declared emphatically to her unconventional teenage daughter. "Will you be able to say the same thing to your daughter?"
"Yes, Mother," replied the girl, "but not with such a straight face!"
Mummy and Daddy are talking about the Millers who live next door. "Well, the stork is going to pay them a visit for the fourth time soon," says Daddy.
Their little son laments, "They get one baby after another. And you -- what are you doing? Hanging around doing nothing!"
Children are very perceptive! You cannot deceive them.
They were discussing the attraction older men have for young girls.
"My grandfather was like that. Young girls were crazy about him."
"Was he crazy about them too?"
"He certainly was. He used to cut a notch on his cane after every conquest. And that's what killed him."
"Well, one day he made the mistake of leaning on his cane!"
Sarito, you must have heard this comment amongst the small sannyasins in the ashram: "Why does everybody think enlightenment is a joke?" This must be coming from the small boys and girls; they must be thinking, "Enlightenment must be a joke. What is the need for enlightenment?" You need a teddy bear -- you can understand that. You need a tricycle -- that you can understand. You need a toy gun -- that you can understand.
Just a few days ago a new visitor was seen carrying a big gun. The guards became a little bit concerned; he was continuously carrying it and even trying to hide it, but it was too big to hide. Then one woman sannyasin saw him also carrying the gun in the marketplace. The visitor was asked, "Why do you carry this gun?"
He said, "I feel so embarrassed, but what to do? I have brought my little son with me and he loves the gun! Without the gun he goes nowhere, and the gun is so big he cannot carry it himself, so I have to carry it; otherwise he won't go anywhere, and I cannot leave him alone! His mother has not come; I was not aware that I would have to do this thing. Everywhere people are asking me, `Why are you carrying this gun?' And this is only a toy gun! I feel embarrassed, I try to hide it, but the more I try to hide it the more people become curious -- `Why?'"
Children have their own interests and they must be wondering, "Why? What is this enlightenment? And why are so many people interested in it? It must be some kind of joke!"
In fact, it is a cosmic joke. It is God seeking himself. It is a game of hide-and-seek: God hides himself and then tries to find himself! Being alone, what else to do?
When I used to travel in India -- for twenty years continuously -- many times it happened that I would be in a train compartment with only one passenger. And because I was not interested in talking to the passenger, he would start playing patience -- a game of cards you can play alone, you need not have any partner. They would feel a little embarrassed, but I would not pay any attention to them so they would start playing cards.
One day one man said, "You must think that I am crazy playing cards alone."
I said, "I don't think you are crazy. This is my business too!"
He said, "What do you mean? You also play patience?"
I said, "No, but enlightenment is like patience!"
Enlightenment is a dialogue with yourself, it is a monologue. You have to ask the question and you have to give the answer. When you see the futility, you become silent. That's how Buddha became silent! Then one sits under the tree "doing nothing, and the spring comes and the grass grows by itself." And what to do? -- when the grass grows you have to cut it and AGAIN sit silently, and AGAIN the grass grows so you cut it again. Again and again...!
Just the other day I was talking about Gunakar. This is the third time he has become enlightened, and he will become enlightened many more times. Now he is feeling very sad -- after each enlightenment he feels very sad. He is doing something impossible; nobody has done it before. After enlightenment people never feel sad again, but after each enlightenment he feels very sad. In fact, one enlightenment has always proved enough, more than enough! Three times he become enlightened; then he becomes unenlightened again -- and then the great sadness.
But he cannot control himself. The urge to become enlightened is so irrestible that within three or four months he will again forget and will become enlightened. To be enlightened may be a joke, but to become unenlightened is not a joke, it is a really serious affair!
So when he came for blessing the other night he could not even look at me. I tried in every way, but he went on looking down, up, here, there, but he wouldn't look at me. I forced his third eye very much, but what can you do? -- Germans don't have any third eye! You can go on pushing and pushing, and nothing happens!