Thursday, August 30, 2012

An Extraordinary Absence: Guest Teaching by Jeff Foster

WELCOME TO THE TWENTY-FIFTH EDITION OF OUR GUEST TEACHING SERIES.  I spent some time this past Saturday on SKYPE with Jeff Warren, a Canadian journalist, and author of The Head Trip.  He had contacted me about doing an interview on Nondual culture.  I wasn't sure what that was, but I was certainly interested in finding out, so I happily agreed to talk to him. 

THE FOLLOWING DAY, after an initial round of SKYPE mishaps, Jeff and I finally got a good Internet connection and began our conversation.  Whenever I start talking to someone about Nonduality all I can really do is fasten my seat belt and hang on.  It is going to openly take charge, as sure as the sun shines.  I have zero control over either the choice of  my words, or their duration.  Don't call me on this subject unless you have a pretty good block of time on your hands.  Other than when I'm talking about This, I can't wait to get off the telephone, which I find to be an instrument of torture.

NOW, LET ME BE CANDID.  A detailed discussion on Nondual culture in South Carolina should take about thirty seconds, provided both parties take long pauses between their sentences.  Such a conversation would run something like this:

"Hi, Fred.  Is there any Nondual culture in South Carolina?"

"No.  Thank you for checking.  Goodbye."  

IF, HOWEVER, the talk slips from that topic and I drop into teaching mode, things could run a wee bit longer.  Three hours after we began, Jeff and I clicked off of our computers as he shot me a big smile and a thumbs-up sign.  What happened was that about fifteen minutes into our talk we drifted from interview to inquiry.  The Cosmic Teaching Show went off spontaneously like an overloaded pipe bomb.  That show ranks as pretty high entertainment if nothing else, provided the victim survives the onslaught.  I enjoy it, too, although it exhausts me.

THE COSMIC TEACHING SHOW did, however, seem to do its job pretty well. We're going to try again after Labor Day to conduct an actual interview.  God only knows what will happen.

LET'S TALK about another Jeff now.

JEFF FOSTER is a personal favorite of mine for three reasons.  Reason number one is that he's English, and Betsy and I are both hopeless anglophiles.  Reason number two is because he's funny as hell, and almost always laughing--his laugh is totally alive and infectious.  I find myself grinning at YouTube, and sometimes laughing out loud.  The third reason I like Jeff so much is that he's incredibly clear.  Sometime back, when I first finished reading The Wonder of Being, I thought, "Well, okay, this guy has nailed it.  Do I really want to continue reading and writing on this subject, or shall I just go read comic books and eat ice cream from now on?"

IT WASN'T ALWAYS THIS WAY.  Jeff, like a lot of people in our community, was trained in science, having studied Astrophysics at Cambridge University.  In his mid-twenties he went through a dark night of the soul.  Such a long, stark passage is not required for entry into Nonduality, but it certainly is common.  Jeff read everything he could get his hands on, did yoga, meditation and a host of other practices, all to no avail.  Finally, as it always must, the Jeff story's seeking ended in exhaustion and failure.   

THE GOOD NEWS is that it sometimes this failure allows something new to arise.   It did for Jeff.  After years of suffering, he had a forceful introduction to his True Nature.  He saw a chair as it really was, story-free.  Since then, Jeff has been one of the most visible teachers around.  He keeps a busy schedule of meetings and retreats, and is a fine writer as well.  He is not a member of any particular tradition, and is not much of a believer in practices.  He does like what is often called True Meditation, as I do.  This is the odd practice of doing nothing.  At all.  It is the practice of simply being ourselves.  Jeff tells us again and again to notice what's already here; to see that we are already free.  He's a wonderful guide to the extraordinary ordinary.

JEFF AND I HAVE A MUTUAL FRIEND, Scott Kiloby, who put us together. Thanks to Scott for that introduction, and many thanks to Jeff for cooperating with this post.  The silent full partner here, however, is Non-Duality Press in the UK.  NDP is the publisher of several of Jeff's titles, including the one excerpted here.   Non-Duality Press's owners, Julian and Catherine Noyce, are the quiet generators behind many of the brightly lit teachers you know.  They have been tremendously helpful in bringing this article to Awakening Clarity, and a number of others.  My hat is off, as always.  I admire both of them very much.

JULIAN AND CATHERINE WRITE, "THE FIRST TIME we heard of Jeff Foster was in 2006, when he sent us the manuscript of his first book, Life Without A Centre. Our friend and author, Nathan Gill, saw immediately that here was a fresh, clear approach; uncluttered by the influence of any other teacher and completely authentic. We went on to publish Beyond Awakening and Revelation of Oneness.  Earlier titles were eventually re-worked into a single book called The Wonder of Being.

"WHAT WE PARTICULARLY LIKE about Jeff’s expression is that, despite his intelligence and his knowledge, there are no esoteric complications, no words with ‘special’ meanings. At the same time he doesn’t talk down to readers and his writing can be understood by anyone who has the experience of being human – which is probably most of us who are reading this!"

AND NOW, HERE ARE EDITED EXTRACTS from An Extraordinary Absence, published by Non-Duality Press.

Jeff Foster 

The Heart of Nonduality
So often nonduality can seem so heady, so conceptual, so intellectual. All those concepts of nothingness and absence and presence! Actually this is all about love. Love is the union of heart and mind.

Nonduality isn’t about being detached from the world, being the witness of everything and taking part in nothing. It’s not about sitting on your mountaintop and looking down at the world, pitying those poor mortals who aren’t as awakened as you are, those poor souls who still have egos! No, love cannot stand back from the world, because it is the world.

In liberation, heart and mind are not experienced as being separate. The heart of presence radiates love.

An Extraordinary Absence
These words in this book are pointing to something very simple:

Life as it unfolds.
To the simple and obvious present appearance of everything…
To the aliveness that is behind everything, that fuels everything, that transcends everything, that is everything.
And beyond even that:
To the absence of a separate, solid person.
To a vast openness which holds everything and is not separate from everything
To the extraordinary absence at the heart of life which finally reveals itself as a perfect presence.


If you find some of the concepts in this book challenging, that’s because they are. They are going to challenge every single idea you have about spirituality and life and the world and yourself. You may even find some of the words quite threatening to your sense of self, to your ideas about who you are, to your notions of truth.

What is seeking?
 Let’s get right to the root of it:

This never seems to be enough. What’s happening right now, the present moment, this, never seems to be enough… we spend our lives seeking, searching, wanting. Looking for something more. Something else. Something other than what’s happening. Something – in the future – that will satisfy us, complete us, save us…

We never seem to be able to just come to rest here, to fully relax into what’s happening. There is a constant pull into a future moment when things will be better. And with our attention so fixed on the future – and its reflection, the past – what’s presently happening gets reduced to a means to an end, just one moment in a series of many.

We hope that future moments will be better than this one. We just never seem to be content with this. This is what I call the search. This is what I call seeking. We are all seekers. We are all looking for something. Once we were home, and now we are not.

As separate individuals, we live haunted by the vague memory of an intimacy that we cannot name. It’s like when you were a very young child and your mother left you alone in the room. You didn’t know where she’d gone and you were suddenly overcome by a longing, a homesickness, that you could not explain, but which seemed to go right to the very core of who or what you were. This longing goes right to the heart of what it means to be a separate person.

Teachers and Students
 In fact, the teacher needs the student as much as the student needs the teacher. The student functions in the teacher’s world in the same way as the teacher functions in the student’s world. S/he meets a need. Because of course, a teacher cannot know himself or herself as a teacher unless s/he, in some way, uses the students to create and maintain that identification. And so s/he clings to them as tightly as they cling to him.

In a sense, if you want to talk about nonduality you’re doomed from the beginning. That’s part of the humility too: the seeing that you will never be able to express this. And that even the idea of a ‘perfect’ nondualistic communication – if that were even possible – is still totally and completely within the dream world.

And the teachers promise you so much! They promise a future event called enlightenment, or awakening, or some sort of shift or change in perception that you can or cannot obtain.

Contraction falls away
But in the falling away of the self-contraction and along with it, the contracted world space in which all teachers and teachings operate, the grace is revealed, and it has nothing to do with any sort of future event, or spiritual experience, or shift in perception, or transformation of consciousness, or anything else that was promised by the dream teachers. And it’s shockingly ordinary. It’s drinking a cup of tea. It’s eating fish and chips. Except now, nobody drinks the tea, and nobody eats the fish and chips. Drinking tea just happens. Eating fish and chips just happens. Tea drinks itself. Fish and chips eat themselves. That’s about as close as we can get in language.

The paradox of being a person – or not
What we’re talking about here is totally beyond all of that. It cannot be captured by any thought-created formula. In fact, “There is no person” and “There is a person” both miss the point. “There is choice” and “There is no choice” both miss the point. Within the dream world, these pairs of opposites arise together and fall away together. But they cannot take you to where you really want to go: your own absence.

Spiritual practice
I’m not telling you to give up your spiritual practices; giving up happens or it doesn’t. Spiritual practices happen or they don’t.

And remember: Giving up on spiritual practices just becomes another spiritual practice.
The anti-spiritual practice ideology is just another ideology.

Watch out!
Watch out, the mind will turn everything in this book into just another goal. There is no person? I want that! The end of seeking? I want that!

And if you’re not careful you’ll start actually believing me when I say things like “I’m not here.” It’s not a concept to be believed. It’s a string of words that are attempting to point to something that is totally beyond words. Once it turns into a belief, a concept, in a sense it’s no longer true.

The person who really believes that they are ‘not there’ – and uses that belief to separate themselves from you – is living with a picture, a very personal image of themselves not being there. Think about it.

Yesterday’s ‘awakening experience’ so easily becomes today’s ego-trip.

The innocence of feelings – any feelings
Anger – or fear, or any emotion, sensation or feeling – has its rightful place here. So often, spirituality becomes about getting rid of anger, getting rid of so-called ‘negative’ emotions and attempting to move towards something called the ‘positive’. But this is a false dichotomy. This splits the world in two. This is an act of violence, and only violence can come from violence. Once that primal split has occurred there’s no end to it. No wonder humans have killed so many humans over time. No, reality is whole, unified, unbroken. And what becomes shockingly apparent is that even anger is quite innocent, when seen in clarity. And then it doesn’t need to be directed out at the world. Then it doesn’t go and kill, maim or torture. Because what’s seen is that there is nothing to defend here. There’s just anger happening. It’s nobody’s anger.

When anger is just allowed to live its own little life, there is simply no problem. Anger just comes and goes. Fear, sadness, joy – they just come and go. They come and go and leave no trace. You cannot even say “I was angry” or “I was afraid”. The moment you say it, the anger has gone, the fear has gone, everything has gone and something new has come to replace it. Everything is wiped clean and there is a return to innocence.

Why I talk about this
You know, for a long time I wasn’t going to talk about this. I was going to keep quiet about it for the rest of my life. What had been seen here is that this is the miracle, that there is nothing higher or more sacred than what’s happening, nothing more ‘spiritual’ than this present appearance. What had been seen is that there is an intimacy here that will never be communicated.

So, how to put this intimacy, this presence into words? Into the words of the world? Into the words of duality? I knew that the moment I uttered the first word about this, it wouldn’t capture it at all. I knew that anything I said about this would not be true. The Tao that can be told is not the Eternal Tao. Words felt so dead in the face of this aliveness.

Besides, I had no interest in converting anyone, no interest in helping anyone to see this (after all, who would see it?), no interest in being someone special. How could I possibly be special? How could I ever separate myself from others and call myself ‘special’? But I knew that the moment I started talking about this, it might make Jeff seem special. And yet, what went right to the core of this seeing is that Jeff was not special at all! No more special than the chair or the carpet! It was all the divine expression!

Is Jeff a teacher?
The moment Jeff opened his mouth to talk about something called nonduality, it was inevitable that others would make him into something, or think that he had an agenda, or that he was doing it for the money, for the attention, for the fame. That he wanted to be a guru. It was inevitable that these projections would happen. I saw that from the very beginning, and that’s why I was never going to speak about this.

And then, at some point, there was an invitation to talk, and the mouth said “Yes”. Previously it had said “No”, and now it was saying “Yes”. No and yes – totally equal in the seeing of this. So a while later, Jeff found himself in front of a small group of people, and the words started to come out. Still no sense that ‘I’ was speaking, still no sense that there was anything to say. Still no agenda, still just words happening or not. Whether ‘other people’ were listening or not, the seeing was the same. And although the crowds are a little bigger now, nothing has really changed at all. It’s still a sharing with friends, and although at many of the meetings Jeff sits in front of an audience and talks, and questions are asked and he appears to reply, of course the secret is this: it’s only Oneness meeting itself, and no teaching is happening at all.

But hey, the world will tell its stories. Until the seeker dissolves, and along with it the contracted self-sense, there will appear to be a world of teachers and teachings and gurus and lineages, and those projections will continue to be made. The seeker always sees a world of seeking. When all those projections fall away, what is seen in shocking clarity is that there cannot be any gurus, teachers, or teachings, because there cannot be any people at all. Wholeness is already here, and it has nothing to do with a separate person. What’s seen is that we are already home, and the relief is absolute.

And so the world will think what it wants to about Jeff. He’s doing it for the money? He’s on an ego-trip? He’s a nonduality missionary? He secretly sees himself as a guru? I can’t make any of those stories mean anything anymore. I just go back to my very ordinary life …, have a cup of tea, and forget it all. I’ve always seen this as a sharing, between friends. And the sharing will go on until it doesn’t. It’s that simple. It comes from love and returns to love, as everything does.

A guru is someone who seriously believes that they can help you in your search for enlightenment or awakening. How ridiculous. The dream ‘enlightenment’ that the gurus promise is an experience in time, and there is no time. It’s a construct of the mind, and there isn’t one. It is an awakening for a person, and there is no person. Because the guru still sees you as a person who needs help (and still sees himself as a person who can give it) he keeps you locked in the illusion that you really are a person, and that there really is something called enlightenment. In his innocence, he keeps you trapped in the world of time and space.

When all of that falls away, what is seen is that there are no people to help, and no people who could ever awaken. In that, the guru-disciple or student-teacher relationship is obliterated. There were never any teachers, gurus, students or disciples: there was only ever unconditional love.

So, do what you do, and let the world say what they want about you. Let them crucify you if that makes them feel better about themselves. They are only crucifying their story of you anyway, in their dream world. They can destroy everything, literally every thing that exists, but they will never touch this aliveness, they will never taint this presence, they will never make even a little dent on Life.

I have no interest in what the world calls me. And for the sheer joy of it, I’ll share this message until I don’t. People will listen, or they will walk away, and it’s fine either way.

* * * * *

©2006-2009 Jeff Foster/Non-Duality Press
All rights reserved.  Used by permission.


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Housekeeping Notes

Let me welcome Venezuela, Armenia, Guadeloupe, and Liechtenstein as the 97th, 98th, 99th and 100th countries to join the Awakening Clarity family.  It's been a fruitful fortnight!  I'm especially pleased to tell you that Gangaji will be our guest teacher for the next post.  Posts are scheduled to come out every other Friday.

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