Saturday, November 17, 2012

Awakening to the Natural State: Guest Teaching by John Wheeler

WELCOME TO AWAKENING CLARITY.  If you're just joining us for the first time, you have some catching up to do.  This issue is post number 106, and this is the 30th edition of our Guest Teaching Series.  This is also the 5th edition of our First Chapter Preview.  John Wheeler joins holds down both the Guest Teacher and the Guest Writer positions this week.

F.A.Q.  On my other website,, I've answered six of the most frequently asked questions I've gotten in the mail since Awakening Clarity launched:
1) What is Nonduality? 
2) What is awakening?  
3) What can I do to help myself wake up?  
4) Do I have free will, or not?  
5) How do I stay awake?  
6) Is there really a planetary shift taking place?  

If any of those questions pique your interest, here's a link to a discussion on all of them:  I want to thank Scott Kiloby for his kind review of my book, which I've just hung up on the site The BR blog was updated today as well, and is updated every week.

You'll also find a special all-video post by me on the front page below John's article.  It's some of the addiction-recovery-awakening story behind Beyond Recovery.  You may find them to be fairly entertaining if nothing else.

JOHN WHEELER will tell you some of his own story himself.  He's a fascinating guy who would certainly understand two things I often talk about: involvement and commitment.  I don't want to suggest that it's mandatory--nothing is universally mandatory--but just for the sake of argument, how many people do you know who would fly to Australia in order to get this teaching first hand?  That's just what John did a number of years ago, when he first visited Sailor Bob Adamson.  That is coming down out of the bleachers and stepping onto the field.  That is a commitment to truth.  I'm now going to turn his introduction over to Julian Noyce, John's publisher at Non-Duality Press.  Julian writes:

When Fred generously asked me to contribute material for a guest teacher spot I immediately thought of John Wheeler. Usually, Fred asks the teacher to contribute something themselves but having got to know John a little through our interactions over the years I sense that, given a choice,  he would prefer to stay out of the limelight.

Unusually for a teacher who has quite a substantial following, John has always kept up a full time career. His sharing of the teaching arises from a generosity of spirit. I personally know he has spent many hours in email correspondence or talking on the ‘phone with genuine questioners and also face to face at the low-key meetings he holds in Santa Cruz.  His uncluttered and focused guidance has been credited with concluding the search for many people. My wife, Catherine, keeps up a presence on Facebook and tells me his name is often mentioned. He has the ability to keep the questioner focused and looking in the right direction. Alongside this, he is also a talented singer/songwriter and the editor of ‘Sailor’ Bob’s two books!

The piece below was chosen from John’s first book, Awakening to the Natural State. It describes his seeking ‘career’, his meeting with ‘Sailor’ Bob Adamson, and what transpired from that encounter with Bob. Again, it’s not intended as a promotional piece for Bob, it’s just how it was for John.


From: Awakening to the Natural State; Chap.1 - Meeting ‘Sailor’ Bob Adamson

I had been on the spiritual path from my teenage years. For about thirty years I had been involved in various paths and practices, including Christianity, Theosophy, the teachings of J. Krishnamurti (I went to his talks in Ojai in the 1980s), Buddhism, Hinduism, and yoga. There were other paths and teachers also, too numerous to mention here. In my mid-twenties, I was introduced to Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj (through books on their lives and teachings). Something about those great Indian teachers of non-dual spirituality seemed solid and unshakable. I found myself returning to their teachings over the years, even though I can’t say I fully (or even partially) understood or experienced what they were talking about.

Along the way, I did the circuit of many of the contemporary teachers involved in non-dual spirituality. There was undoubtedly a benefit, but I was not fully satisfied for some reason. Either it was my confusion or something was not fully clear in the teachings being presented. Most likely the former! For some reason my destiny was to meet ‘Sailor’ Bob Adamson, one of Nisargadatta Maharaj’s Western students.

What I found was that there was only so much I could get from books and meditating on my own. The growth was there, but it was often slow, and I was not getting much direct experience. I vaguely felt that I was progressing, but if I honestly looked at my experience, I did not fully understand what the teachers were pointing to. Most importantly, my day-to-day life was not free of suffering. I knew the seeking was not over; something was missing. Had I not met Bob Adamson, the seeking might have gone on for decades, or at least until I met someone with a real understanding. Who knows who that might have been or when, but, barring that, I am pretty sure the seeking – and suffering – would have continued for a long time.

At one point, I met some Ramana Maharshi followers who had been on the path of self-inquiry for twenty or thirty years (and still working at it, I might add!). I was nowhere near their level of devotion, so it was pretty much out the picture that that approach would work for me. As I look at this now, it is not so much Ramana’s teaching that is at fault, but the mind’s inevitable tendency to turn any teaching into a practice. Practices, as I eventually learned, usually are interminable. This is because they are often based on false premises.

Intuitively, I felt that it was important for me to meet someone who had realized their true nature, someone whom I could trust, someone whom I could talk with in order to share my doubts and concerns. However, I was unsure which teachers were authentic; none seemed to resonate fully. I used to read Nisargadatta Maharaj’s dialogues frequently. I could not understand his teaching fully, given all the Hindu verbiage and translation issues (he originally spoke in Marathi), but I felt intuitively that he was a free being. Many spiritual seekers, through reading his words, can sense the genuineness of his realization, even if they do not always experience everything he talks about. I used to wonder if there was anyone still living who had met Nisargadatta Maharaj and had really got the experience of self-knowledge. After all those years of searching, I eventually stumbled across Bob Adamson. Something resonated strongly. Even when I read the pages on his website, there was a strong feeling of ‘maybe this is it’.

Just prior to discovering Bob Adamson, I had a vivid dream of Nisargadatta Maharaj, in which he was encouraging me not to give up the search for spiritual understanding. Shortly afterwards, I learned about Bob Adamson. Not wanting to miss the chance of meeting an authentic teacher (having missed the chance to see Nisargadatta Maharaj while he was alive), I decided to visit Bob in person in Australia. You can imagine my motivation (or perhaps desperation!) in going to Australia on the chance that he might be able to clarify my doubts and questions.

What I have found is that the understanding of our true nature almost never comes from reading books or thinking about it. The best books are primarily the records of dialogues that took place between a seeker and a teacher at some point in the past. In reading such books, we are trying to understand an experience that took place in the past (through words and concepts on the page). A book is like a map pointing to something real that was experienced in a dialogue between living people. Usually, we do not have a clear understanding of what is being revealed (at least I didn’t) and we are trying to figure it out in the mind. This is a noble attempt, but as Bob Adamson pointed out within a few minutes of talking to him, ‘The answer can never be found in the mind’. The experience of spiritual understanding and freedom is not forthcoming, so we naturally assume that we are not ‘there’ (wherever ‘there’ is). We think there must be some technique or path involved to get there. But somehow we are not quite sure what it is! The result is that the mind keeps generating the same old bondage and suffering. This is a frustrating cycle, because we intuitively feel a glimmer of light or truth in the readings, but the actual experience eludes us. The majority of seekers that I have met have had a similar experience. Many are driven to try to find a living teacher, in order to get some guidance and assistance on the spiritual path. This was what happened for me.

I met many teachers, but it wasn’t until I met Bob Adamson that I was convinced that I was dealing with someone who had fully realized his true nature. Something radically shifted for me because I came face-to-face with the vitality, the confidence, the energy of that understanding. It was a remarkable experience and quite different from anything I had encountered in my years of seeking. The first day after I arrived, we had a chance to meet and talk. As we sat together, he looked me in the eyes and said point blank, ‘Do you have any doubts or questions? Is there anything you need to know?’ It was somewhat disarming because I realized he was free of doubts and was essentially offering me a chance to have the same experience for myself right then and there. The implication, it seemed to me, was ‘The seeking is over, the reading is over. You are here. Are you ready to go for this completely here and now?’ Fortunately, I jumped at the chance. I cast aside my theoretical knowledge and got down to getting off my chest my real doubts, questions and problems.

Surprisingly, things cleared up very quickly. Being face-to-face with that clarity – coupled with my own desire to be free – allowed things to shift quickly. The basic teaching is very simple, almost too simple. It is so simple the mind overlooks it. What I didn’t realize was that it has nothing to do with reading, meditating, doing something, working something out, stilling the mind, and so on. All of the techniques are looking in the wrong direction. Nisargadatta Maharaj used to say, ‘Understanding is all’. In essence, Bob was saying, ‘Right now in your direct experience see what your real nature is. What are you right now? What have you always been?’ The thinking mind is useless for this because seeing or looking is not a conceptual function at all. It is more like seeing an apple in your hand. You just look, not think.

Right now, as you read this, you exist and you are aware that you exist. You are undoubtedly present and aware. Before the next thought arises, you are absolutely certain of the fact of your own being, your own awareness, your own presence. This awareness is what you are; it is what you always have been. All thoughts, perceptions, sensations and feelings appear within or upon that. This awareness does not move, change or shift at any time. It is always free and completely untouched. However, it is not a thing or an object that you can see or grasp. The mind, being simply thoughts arising in awareness, cannot grasp it or know it or even think about it. Yet, as Bob says, you cannot deny the fact of your own being. It is palpably obvious, and yet, from the time we were born, no one has pointed this out. Once it is pointed out it can be grasped or understood very quickly because it is just a matter of noticing, ‘Oh, that is what I am!’ It is a bright, luminous, empty, presence of awareness; it is absolutely radiant, yet without form; it is seemingly intangible, but the most solid fact in your existence; it is effortlessly here right now, forever untouched. Without taking a step, you have arrived; you are home. No practice can reveal this because practices are in time and in the mind. Practices aim at a result, but you (as presence-awareness) are here already, only you don’t recognize it till it is pointed out. Once seen, you can’t lose it, and you don’t have to practice to exist, to be. This is, in essence, what Bob pointed out to me in the first conversation I had with him.

Once I saw this, I felt very clear and free immediately. Later, some thoughts came up, some old personality patterns, some old definitions of who I thought myself to be. I seemed to lose the clear understanding of my nature as presence-awareness. The next day, I talked to Bob about it. He said, ‘Let’s have a look. Do you exist? Are you aware? What is illumining the thought that you have lost it?’ Then I realized that thoughts of suffering were only passing concepts being illumined by the ever-present awareness. I hadn’t lost anything at all. The awareness that we are is never obscured! Suffering seems real because we don’t have a clear understanding of our true nature. Instead, we believe the passing thoughts, such as ‘I am no good,’ ‘I am not there yet,’ ‘I am stuck’ or whatever the thought may be. Eventually we understand that we are not those thoughts. Once our real self is pointed out, the suffering loses its grip.

Bob pointed out that there is no person here at all. The person that we think we are is an imaginary concept. There are thoughts and feelings and perceptions, but they are not a problem. They just rise and fall like dust motes in the light of the presence-awareness that we are.

The closest that the mind can come to representing who we are is the thought ‘I am’. But that thought is not who we really are. Whether that thought is there or not, we still exist. We know the thought ‘I am’. That thought is the start of the false sense of an individual, a separate ‘I’. Because we didn’t know any better, the mind attached other labels to this ‘I’ thought, such as ‘I am good,’ ‘I am bad,’ ‘I have this problem,’ and so on. But those thoughts don’t have anything to do with us, because the very ‘I’ thought itself, the sense of separation, is not actually who we are. Once you see the falseness of the ‘I’ thought, that what we are is not an individual person at all, the identifications and ideas of a lifetime all collapse because they are all based on a false premise.

There is no practice to overcome suffering. It is simply a matter of seeing that the false ‘I’ is an assumption, that the whole mechanism is a conceptual house of cards. Then a lifetime of suffering evaporates. As Bob says, without the cause (the ‘I’), can there be any effects (psychological suffering and bondage)?

As I sat on his couch at one of his talks listening to him say ‘There is no person,’ suddenly it hit me. I looked and saw that right now and here, there is not a separate person in the picture at all. In that moment, all my doubts and confusion evaporated. I realized that all problems and questions stem from the sense of an ‘I’ that was assumed to be there at the centre of my life. Upon actual looking, I discovered it was not there at all. Fifteen years of meditating could not accomplish what occurred in a few moments of direct looking. In that recognition arose a direct and immediate sense of clarity and peace. I intuitively felt that the searching was over. I recall raising my hand and asking Bob, ‘So when you see yourself as the ever-present awareness and that the “I” that we imagined ourselves to be is really non-existent, then there can be no more doubts, questions, or problems. Is that it?’ He confirmed that this was so. From that moment on, I have not felt any serious difficulty or suffering, nor felt the slightest desire or urge to seek, meditate, or pursue any particular spiritual path. The whole landscape shifted and I intuitively knew the seeking was over. The ‘I’ upon which everything was based was not there. However, the shining presence-awareness was still there without effort, the simple fact of our own being.

Finally, Bob pointed out that all things arise in awareness and never exist apart from awareness. It is all one substance, all one light; it is all that; it is non-duality. There is nowhere to go and nothing to obtain. Everything is resolved. We ‘live, move, and have our being’ in that one ocean of light and never, ever move away from that.

This was the understanding that came to me, courtesy of Bob Adamson. It is all words, but maybe a glimmer of something will come through.

How This Understanding Unfolded for Me

The way this understanding unfolded for me was through the following insights. Bob pointed out to me the truth of our nature as presence-awareness or cognizing emptiness. Somehow that clicked for me. It was not so much the words, which I had read countless times before. It was the energy or vitality coming through the words that was potent and impactful. I sensed he was not only saying the words, but also living from that realization. This enabled a resonance to occur. To meet Nisargadatta Maharaj in person and partake in a living dialogue with him would likely have been more potent than reading his book I AM THAT. There was a huge difference between reading the words on paper ‘You are awareness’ and having a direct disciple of Nisargadatta Maharaj tell me in no uncertain terms, ‘You are awareness!’

After having seen this, and feeling some sense of freedom, I still seemed to lose it when contradictory thoughts arose. Bob pointed out that this is, in fact, not possible. You cannot lose your true nature, because it is the substratum of any thinking and perceiving. I realized that we can never leave this. Even if the thought ‘I lost it’ arises, the awareness is there knowing that thought. So the thought  is patently false.

The ‘knock-out blow’ was seeing the absence of a person. There is no such entity in the machine. There are only thoughts, experiences and objects arising and subsiding in awareness. There is no one controlling them and no one affected by them. Once this is seen, everything happens just as before, but the imagined person is removed from the film. The film goes on but there is no person starring in it. There are thoughts, but no thinker; actions, but no actor; choices, but no choice-maker. Basically, there is no difference from before, except the sense of separation is gone, along with the psychological suffering, confusion and doubt that appears along with the belief in a separate ‘I’. There is no one at the controls. Life is happening; thoughts are arising; actions are occurring spontaneously. You, as a separate person, are not doing any of these things. You don’t choose your thoughts, feelings, sensations. As Bob says, ‘You are being lived’.

As a final tying up of loose ends, it was helpful to see the fact that all experiences are just movements in awareness. They are like waves arising and falling in the awareness that we are. It is all one substance. There is only one energy, one substance, one taste. Past, future, there, here, I, you, this, that, and so on, are all just conceptual distinctions. Even concepts are that awareness. So you can’t win.

So what is the result? As the writer Wei Wu Wei once wrote, ‘The only problem is that 99.9% of everything you think, say and do is for yourself – and there isn’t one!’ Coming into alignment with the true state of affairs means that the usual strife, struggle and suffering based on wrong understanding vanishes. Life goes on. It is like a dislocated limb popping back into place. You can hardly say what happened, but suddenly everything feels a lot better! Nisargadatta Maharaj said something to the effect, ‘You can only put it negatively: there is nothing wrong anymore’. There is a distinct recognition that the searching is over. You may read books or visit spiritual teachers but you have the experience that they are saying what you already know.

In actual practice, while this understanding is sinking in, the seeker is often plagued by vestigial doubts, questions, and concerns, in spite of however advanced the intellectual understanding may be. I have seen many (including myself) able to converse on all this with the most incredible precision and verbal acumen. The only test is in day-to-day direct experience at the gut, emotional level. Is there any sense of suffering, separation, anxiety or fear? Am I feeling doubt or metaphysical uncertainty? Is the knowledge of my true nature unshakable? If not, the understanding is not complete. The best course, it seems to me, is to find a living teacher and get your doubts resolved directly. Nisargadatta Maharaj used to say, ‘I am not interested in what you have let go of, but what you are still holding onto’. A good teacher can help us resolve any remaining doubts. Then the understanding simply remains clear and steady and beyond doubt.

© 2004/2005 John Wheeler/Non-Duality Press
All rights reserved.  Used by permission.


John's books at Non-Duality Press:

Podcast interview by C. Hayes:


Housekeeping Notes
Let me welcome Bahrain as the 109th country to join the Awakening Clarity family.

I again apologize for the lack of email or RSS subscriptions.  It's a technical thing that I don't think has any reasonable chance of being resolved in the near future.  Some people are setting auto-reminders from their online calendars.  New posts come out every two weeks.

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