Thursday, March 15, 2012

Meeting the Mystery: Guest Teaching by Nirmala

WELCOME to the ninth installment of Awakening Clarity's Guest Teaching Series.  One week at a time, one Guest Teacher at a time, we're building an Internet resource of Who's Who in contemporary Nonduality.  Every week we introduce you to a new author-teacher.  We give you a little background on them, a healthy sample of their work, and a bunch of helpful links to aid you in further pursuing that teacher’s work.  The series has proven to be extremely popular.  Today's guest will be a fine addition.

NIRMALA first came to my attention, Amazon tells me, in 2008.  I stumbled onto a YouTube video of this really normal looking, softly spoken guy with a button-down shirt and a clear, resonant voice that plainly came from a place of knowing.  There had been two large awakenings here by the time I discovered him, but I was developing whiplash from the ‘I got it, I lost it’ syndrome so common to so many.  Nirmala had just the warm smile and deep eyes that I wanted for myself.  I was drawn to him as a tossed ship might be to a deepwater port.

I BOUGHT AND READ Nothing Personal.  I could tell from the title that he knew what I knew.  I could tell from the writing that he knew it better than I did.  Most importantly, he knew it all the time.  I needed some help.  Prior to awakening there can be comfort, and sweetness found in seeking.  Post-awakening re-seeking is more like having your head on fire while you oscillate between depression and bliss.  Nothing Personal didn’t give a ‘me’ anything at all, but it did encourage ‘I’ to see things as they really are.  Who can claim to do more than that?

LET'S TALK ABOUT NOW.  You can find out a lot about people by how they behave in everyday life.  Let me tell you that both Nirmala and his lovely wife, Gina Lake--who will be our Guest Teacher next week—have been paragons of patience, organization and helpfulness as we all prepared for their appearances here.  I completely blew an initial mention of Nirmala’s new book and his free download offer (which you’ll also find at the end of this post) in the Announcements section of AC a week or so ago.  He and I had a long and funny email exchange one morning and early afternoon.  He sent kind, gentle and helpful emails to help steer me right.  At last it was done!  He then followed all of that up with an kind note to make sure I felt okay about having screwed it up.  "No minds are better than two," he told me.  Nirmala even shot me a suggestion on how to improve a technical aspect of the AC website, which I employed immediately.  This, my friends, is what’s known as compassion in action. This is really walking the walk.

THIS WEEK Nirmala brings us a excerpt from his newly released book, Meeting the Mystery: Exploring the Aware Presence at the Heart of All Life.  In his introduction he tells us:

"LIFE IS A PROFOUND MYSTERY. What is the source of the aliveness and awareness, which are fundamental to all life? What is the nature of desire, and how do our desires relate to suffering? How do we know what is true? What is the nature of belief, and how do our beliefs affect our ability to experience the deeper reality that is always here? And in the midst of these mysteries, how do we live our daily lives in the most satisfying and integrated way?

"ALTHOUGH THERE ARE NO final answers to these questions, we can endlessly explore them and discover new dimensions and possibilities in our lives and in our spiritual evolution. Every insight and new perspective adds to our realization of the truth about life, about spirituality, and ultimately about who we are. The deepest spiritual truths are not just intellectual abstractions; they are a living, breathing Presence at the heart of all life. I invite you to use this selection from my book as a springboard to ever deeper inquiry into this Presence, which is who you really are."

AFTER A LIFETIME of spiritual seeking, Nirmala met his teacher, Neelam, a devotee of H.W.L. Poonja (Papaji). She convinced Nirmala that seeking wasn’t necessary, and after experiencing a profound spiritual awakening in India, he began offering satsang and Nondual Spiritual Mentoring with Neelam’s blessing. This tradition of spiritual wisdom has been most profoundly disseminated by Ramana Maharshi, a revered Indian saint, who was Papaji’s teacher. Nirmala’s perspective was also profoundly expanded by his friend and teacher, Adyashanti.

NIRMALA OFFERS a unique vision and a gentle, compassionate approach, which adds to this rich tradition of inquiry into the truth of Being. He is also the author of Living from the Heart, Nothing Personal, That Is That, and Gifts With No Giver. He has been offering satsang, or spiritual teaching, throughout the United States and around the world since 1998. He lives in Sedona, Arizona with his wife, Gina Lake.  I can hardly wait to have him back.

AND NOW . . .

Meeting the Mystery
Exploring the Aware Presence at the Heart of All Life




all may have a mind of their own
but thoughts are gifts of grace
touching mind for an instant
like melting snowflakes

every place can be home
but rest is a divine blessing
when effort falls away
like the setting sun

the heart may burn with emptiness
but love comes in waves
smoothing away doubts
like a tide erasing footprints in the sand*


SATSANG IS AN INVITATION to rest, not just an invitation to realize, find, or understand yourself. That happens—that’s part of it. But the real core and heart of satsang is an invitation to rest, to simply rest as yourself. The value of any spiritual understanding or realization is the degree to which it allows you to just rest as yourself, to just be yourself and let Grace unfold your life.

YOU DON'T HAVE TO wait until you’ve had a profound spiritual realization to accept this invitation. In your spiritual journey, you can pull over any time. You don’t have to wait for the rest area. Just pull over. Get out of the car, walk around, lay down under a tree, just be for a while. Satsang is like a rest area, an ever-present invitation to just simply notice what it’s like now, in this moment. Take a moment of rest from the journey to understanding or the journey to a better life or the journey to spiritual realization.

SATSANG IS AN INVITATION to rest now, to rest even if there still is a longing for realization or an impulse to get somewhere. Sometimes the desire is to get somewhere, and sometimes it’s to get away from somewhere or to not have the experience you’re having. If either of these desires is present, that’s fine. You can rest even if these desires or impulses are present. Just because you pull over doesn’t mean you won’t still have the impulse, the urge, to keep going. So the invitation is to rest with that impulse and take the time to experience it, to actually have the experience you are having, which may include a lot of desire, a lot of hope, or a lot of fear and resistance. What’s that like? What happens if you just rest here with all of your hope and your resistance?

IT'S NOT THAT there’s anything wrong with inquiring into where to go, how to get something, or how to get rid of something. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of inquiry. It’s just that satsang is an invitation to a much simpler inquiry, an inquiry into what is already here. You can even inquire into what is already at rest in your being. Even resting isn’t something you do. It turns out you don’t really have to pull over to rest. What is at rest right now? What is simply being right now? Being is being, whether you’re wanting to be somewhere else or not, whether you’re efforting or not, whether you’re resisting or not.

"WHAT DO I WANT?" is a valid question. But more fundamental questions are: “What is already here? What is your existence like right now?” The invitation in satsang is to ask: “What am I right now?” and “What is it like to be here?” including any impulse to be somewhere else, because that may be part of what’s here. You don’t have to pick and choose what parts of your present experience to include. You don’t have to do any weeding of your experience or clearing out of the underbrush. You can leave it all there and notice that there’s also something here that is at rest.

PROBABLY THE LAST place you would think to look for something at rest is in the impulses, movement, activities, and doing of your life. It may seem like you have to get rid of all your desires and activities before you can rest. But that idea just results in a more subtle list of things to do. Rather, the invitation is to ask who is it that has a to-do list? No matter how many things are crossed off or being added to that list, what are you in all of that? What is this self?
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the journey of life or even with spiritual seeking. But somehow along the way, the seeking often acquires so much momentum that we abandon the sense of ourselves. We stop noticing, recognizing, or honoring the fact that we already exist. We become so involved with where we’re going and what we need to do that we lose track of what we are.

SO THE INVITATION is to rest in what you are right now. It’s an amazing thing that you exist right now. Whether you are happy or sad, whether you are healthy or sick, whether you are enlightened or not enlightened, you still exist right now. What’s that like? What is this that simply exists? You always are. There isn’t anything you have to get rid of first to rest in this moment. There isn’t anything you have to accomplish first. Every moment is equally worthy of this simple inquiry into what are you.
EVERY PLACE IS a really good place to start resting. There isn’t a better place than right here to start resting. Just start where you are, even if you are hurt or overwhelmed or confused or desperate or ecstatic or excited or afraid. All those feelings are fine and very natural. It’s normal to feel them, and they are always also an opportunity to rest. What a strange thing it is to consider that even being excited or scared is an opportunity to rest. Every other flavor of experience is equally an opportunity for resting. All experiences are Grace appearing in her endless disguises.


CONSIDER THE MIRACLE of a flower. What is it that causes a plant to flower? Does sunshine? Does lots of water? Or is it good soil? Maybe all of these together? Or is there really something more subtle in the nature of the flower itself that causes it to flower? Is it something in the DNA of the plant? Does that mean the whole process of evolution over eons of time is involved? What other factors might cause the flowering? Does gravity play a part? The season and the temperature? The quality of the light? What about animals that eat the fruit and spread the plant? Or the birds or bees that pollinate the flower? Do they cause the subsequent flowering of the newly established plants? Are there even subtler influences? What about Presence and love? The intention and attention of a gardener? And is the existence of the world of form itself necessary for a plant to flower? What about consciousness? Is there a force that directs the creation and unfolding of all form that is behind the appearance of a rose or a daisy?

WHAT IF what causes a flower is a combination of all of the things mentioned? And what if all of these things have to be in the right proportion? Is that proportion different for every species of plant? Some plants need lots of water or light to flower. Others will die with too much water or light. A unique formula is involved in the appearance of the simplest apple blossom and the most complex orchid.
WHEN YOU CONSIDER all these influences and others that weren't mentioned or can’t even be known or imagined, then it is truly a miracle when a flower appears. It's impossible to say what causes it to happen with any certainty or completeness. Yet, it’s an act of incredible grace whenever all these diverse, subtle, and gross influences come together in just the right way for an iris or a daffodil to open its unique petals to the sky. If you trace all the factors back to all their causes, you find that everything that exists is somehow intimately connected to the cactus flower or dandelion in your front yard. We need a mysterious and powerful word like “Grace” to name this amazing interplay of forces and intelligence. To reduce it to a formula doesn’t come close to capturing or describing the vast richness of variables and forces at play. There's no formula complex enough to capture the mystery of a magnolia blossom.

AWAKENING IS a kind of flowering of consciousness. When consciousness expands and opens into a new expression, we call that an awakening. And while there are as many kinds of awakenings as there are flowers, they are all equally mysterious. What is it that causes a child to awaken to the nature of words and language? How does one suddenly know he or she is falling in love? And how does one explain the birth of unconditional or divine love?

WHAT ARE THE CAUSES of the most profound spiritual awakenings, where consciousness suddenly recognizes its true nature? Why does that type of flowering appear in one consciousness today and another one tomorrow? If the formula for a simple petunia is a vastly complex interplay of earthly, human, and even cosmic forces, then imagine how complex the formula is for the unfolding of a human consciousness into full awakeness. The good news is that we can't and don't need to know the totality of the formula for growing petunias, and we can't and don't need to know the formula for spiritual realization. Yet, we can be curious about all the factors involved and even play with them to see what effects, if any, they may have in our own experience of consciousness unfolding.

SOMETIMES THE  mysteriousness and unpredictability of the process of awakening leads us to conclude it is all up to Grace or God. And, of course, that is true. But does that mean there’s no place in this unfolding for our own actions? Is there a place for spiritual practice? What about meditation, self-inquiry, or studying spiritual texts? What about devotional practices or the transmission of Presence from a great teacher or master? We can easily become disillusioned with these activities because the results can be so unpredictable and varied, and it may seem simpler to avoid the question of their role altogether. Ask any gardener if it works every time to water, weed, and fertilize a plant? Or does a plant sometimes fail to flower no matter how well it is cared for? However, does that mean you never water or fertilize your plants?

AT OTHER TIMES we can be overly convinced that our practice or inquiry will produce the desired results, maybe because it worked for us once or for someone we know. The only problem with spiritual practices is that they occasionally work! Then we think we have the formula and that every time we meditate or ask, “Who am I?” we'll have the same experience of expansion or Oneness. That's like thinking you'll have a bumper crop of marigolds every time you plant them.
There is a middle way between denying the value of spiritual practice and expecting that inquiry, meditation, or devotional practice will, by itself, result in awakening. We can experiment and play with these practices, just as a gardener experiments with different fertilizers or watering patterns. In the end, it is all up to Grace. But what if Grace works through us as well as on us? What if spiritual practice is as much a part of the mystery of existence as anything else?

MAYBE WE CAN hold the question of what role inquiry, devotion, effort, surrender, transmission, meditation, gratitude, intention, silencing the mind, studying spiritual books, involvement with a teacher or master, ripeness of the student, karma, grace, and luck play in our awakening with an openness and curiosity instead of needing to define their roles once and for all. The flowering of your consciousness is as unique as every flower, and you are here to discover how it's going to happen uniquely through you.

WHAT IS YOUR consciousness like right now? How open is the flower of your awareness? Is it still budding, or has it blossomed? Just as every flower fades and another comes along, what about now? And now? What happens this time when you meditate? What happens now when you inquire, “Who am I?” How does it feel right now to open your heart with gratitude even if nothing much is happening? What impact does reading this or anything else have on you? Every stage of a plant’s existence is valuable and even necessary for its flowering. Your experience is always adding to the richness of the unfolding of your consciousness in this moment. May you enjoy the garden of your true nature.


Q: CAN YOU TELL ME what Grace is? I’m struggling to understand it.

A: VERY SIMPLY, Grace is your essence, your true nature. Grace is what you really are, and Grace is all there is. Specifically and practically speaking, Grace is the intelligent, optimizing movement of life. This optimizing force is what unfolds every moment in the direction of greater truth and love and greater functioning and fullness of life. Grace is the nourishing Presence that holds us and supports us in the unfolding of our life. You have experienced Grace directly many times, when things just fell into place or you were touched by a deeper understanding and awareness.

WHILE GRACE IS obvious in moments when the seemingly miraculous occurs or when a profound opening into the depths of Being happens, Grace also knows when a difficulty or obstacle has the potential to lead to a greater depth of awareness and a fuller expression of our limitless potential. This means that Grace can show up as a flat tire on the way to work or a broken heart or any of the minor and major difficulties we face in everyday life.

IN UNDERSTANDING and appreciating Grace, the challenge and the opportunity is to see that Grace is always here and always bringing us the exact experience that is most useful and helpful. Sometimes only in hindsight can we see the Grace in our struggles and suffering, but Grace is always here. Recognizing the Grace in our challenges often allows a challenge to be resolved more naturally and effortlessly, or at least allows us to be at peace with it. The healing of our suffering comes when we see the bigger truth that even suffering is a part of the unfolding of Grace. When you see that there is Grace even in your own problems, then it no longer matters if some difficulty occurs as the situation is no longer as much of an experience of suffering, but just what is happening.

UNDERSTANDING GRACE doesn’t require an intellectual grasp of what it is or even insight into how it works. Understanding Grace only requires that you be open and curious about your experience just as it is right now. Are you willing to see Grace as she is appearing right now this very moment? Can you recognize her even if she is artfully disguised as pain or discomfort? Can you open your Heart to the gift she is offering you today?

THE UNDERSTANDING doesn’t come as some final insight or as an answer to all your questions. The understanding comes as a felt sense of trust that life is safe and good and worthwhile. The understanding comes as the unfolding of life moment to moment. This is the miracle of Grace, touching you in every moment and always as close as your own breath. Because you will never be done discovering all the infinite ways that life and Grace can unfold and express itself, the complete understanding of Grace will take forever. What an adventure and blessing it is to be shown the many dimensions and possibilities of your true nature as intelligent, loving, infinite Grace.

Q: I CAN SEE that experiences are neither good nor bad unless I judge them. So basically, I see experiences as neutral and not even benevolent. Things just happen, not toward any greater good. I can hold the concept that all experiences are benevolent and beneficial, but from what I see around me, I’m not sure this is true. How is starvation benevolent or beneficial? When I see horrific cruelty to animals, I can’t see any Grace or benevolence. If Grace acts through experiences, it sure chooses some pretty horrific ways to get its point across, and this has hardly led to the mass flowering of enlightenment. If starvation and cruelty were beneficial tools, surely millions would be awakened and awakening by now. To me, life looks more like a mixed bag of tricks and treats without any purpose or meaning.

A: EVERYTHING YOU SHARE is true, and there is still the question of how true. Is it the whole truth? Is it the biggest truth? Is it possible that while all of the hurt, pain, and suffering in this world are real, there is still a bigger truth to this existence? This doesn’t mean denying or ignoring suffering or not acting in ways that would relieve or reduce the horror and tragedy that are part of life. But while acknowledging and attempting to alleviate the suffering, you can look for and question the possibility of a greater intelligence and Presence that is also operating in this world and beyond it. A bigger truth than the pain and suffering is the truth that consciousness isn’t harmed by anything. Bodies can be harmed and even die, but can consciousness be damaged? I’m inviting you to hold this as an open question, something to be discovered as life unfolds here on earth and also beyond your time here on earth.

HERE AND NOW, you can directly discover for yourself the bigger truths. The truth is what opens your Heart and quiets your mind, while a smaller truth contracts your Heart and makes your mind very busy. So check this out for yourself: Does believing that life is a mixed bag with no purpose open your Heart? And what effect does it have on your Heart to hold the possibility that consciousness can’t be harmed, and that it has a deeper purpose in life? Which idea gives your Heart more room to breathe and just be? I invite you to explore this capacity of your own Heart to discriminate how true every idea, hope, dream, fear, worry, and intuition is. Truth comes in many different sizes from extremely small to infinitely big, so discrimination is needed to determine how true things are.

IN MY VIEW, we are both right, and the truths I share and the truths you shared are not contradictory, but complementary. Even if we can’t see how these truths fit together, we can at least recognize that there is room for both of them. A bigger truth is not better, just bigger. A smaller truth is not worse, just smaller. You can respond to and include all sizes of truth in your awareness: You can feed the starving, feel intense grief and sadness over unnecessary cruelty and destruction, and also discover the limitless peace and love that are also here in every moment. You can also discover for yourself the depth of your soul that has never been and never will be harmed. And you can see that same depth in the eyes of a starving child if you look deeply enough.


EXPERIENCES OF your true nature are a movement of your divine nature, or Grace. They aren’t something you do. All of the profound experiences of love, peace, and joy that you are blessed with in this life come to you through the intelligence and power of divine Grace.

SINCE THERE'S NOTHING you can do to make there be more Grace or more peace, joy, and love in your life, what’s left is an opportunity to simply notice more often the Grace that is already here. This noticing is not really a doing or a making something happen. It is also not a non-doing, which is often just the doing of inaction. Noticing, inquiring, and paying attention are in between doing and not-doing. Or you could say, noticing is doing something that is already happening. Awareness is already happening, so when you notice something, you are “doing” this awareness that is already here! This paradox is what makes the noticing so powerful, without it necessarily reinforcing the illusion that you are in charge or making things happen.

ACTION AND INACTION still occur as a natural part of life. However, do you notice the Grace that is also present and that is present in all your actions and inactions? Grace is all there is. So all you need to do to live more fully in this ever-present love, peace, and joy is to give these things more of your attention. You don’t need to make love, peace, and joy happen or create more love, peace, and joy, but you can notice them more and more. Can you see the love present even in the movements of the ego? Can you feel the peace that is present in the empty space in the room right now? Can you experience the joy and natural curiosity that is already present in your questions before you find any answers?

CAN YOU ALSO be more fully present to your experience when it seems that Grace is a distant memory? The opportunity is to also notice what appears to be in the way of seeing the peace, joy, and love that are here and to find out what is true about these veils or illusions. Can you see Grace even in the movements of your mind and ego, which seem to hide Grace from view?
You can’t live more in this non-personal way because you already live totally in this non-personal way. The only misunderstanding is the idea that your life is somehow personal. The antidote is to see that your human life is already an expression of a supremely profound Grace and divine love. Your life doesn’t just flow within you or only as the particular events that you want to experience. It flows through you, everyone, and everything. Grace appears as everything that ever happens.

THE RECOGNITION of this deeper truth also just happens. Noticing and paying attention simply create a situation where that recognition is noticed when it happens. Effort to make the recognition happen doesn’t work, and unfortunately not efforting to make it happen doesn’t work either. Paying attention doesn’t make it happen either, but it does mean that you are paying attention when the recognition spontaneously happens. My favorite metaphor for this is how sometimes you can’t remember someone’s name, and no matter what you do, you still can’t remember that person’s name. Then ten minutes later, when you’re no longer trying to remember the name, it pops into your mind. Paying attention or noticing is what is required to notice the name when it finally appears. Similarly, you can’t make spiritual realization happen, but paying attention means you’ll experience it when it comes. A deeper recognition of the love that is always here is a function of Grace itself. Paying attention just means you stay awake until it happens!

*The opening poem is from Gifts with No Giver, by Nirmala, a free collection of nondual poetry.
** The Flower of Awakening is from the free ebook, That Is That, by Nirmala.
Both are available at
Copyright 2012 by Daniel Erway (a.k.a. Nirmala)
All rights reserved.  Used by permission.

(Happy birthday, Gina!!)


SPECIAL FREE OFFER: Download the Kindle version of Nirmala's new book, MEETING THE MYSTERY, Exploring the Aware Presence at the Heart of All Life, from which this article was an edited excerpt.
(Free offer will be available on starting after midnight Pacific time on March 15.  Note: Kindle e-books can be read on your computer, iPad, iPhone, or Android device as well as a Kindle e-reader.)

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