Dear Friends,

If you yearn to go beyond the story of your life and discover greater freedom, happiness, and ease of being, I teach the “direct approach” to self-realization, which bypasses elaborate practices, belief systems, and self-improvement schemes. Instead of cultivating mindfulness, meditating to achieve some special state, or chanting a mantra to quiet your mind, you can learn to relax into your own natural state of inherent wakefulness, peace, love, and well-being, from which you’ve never been separated even for an instant. This home ground of unconditional presence and clarity is always available in the midst of whatever life brings.

Once you know where home is and how to keep returning, you can abide there as much as possible–and when you find yourself getting lost in old familiar stories and habitual reactive patterns, you can explore and inquire in order to loosen their grip over you. Abide and inquire—this is the twofold journey of deepening and embodying your natural state of unconditional presence, which I like to call awakened awareness.

Everything I offer on this website–the fruit of decades of spiritual experience and teaching–is intended to support and guide you on this journey.

Because mindfulness can be a helpful preliminary step, I created the Mindfulness Meditation mobile app—it’s filled with comprehensive instructions, guided meditations, and an eight-week plan to help you establish a regular practice. Or you can read my ground-breaking book Meditation for Dummies, now in its third edition with instructional CD.

If you’re seeking guidance in the direct approach, or you’ve been practicing mindfulness for years but find that it doesn’t seem to be bringing you closer to the awakening you seek, you can begin by watching my interview with Rick Archer of Buddha at the Gas Pump, watching one of my online satsangs, or reading one of my books, Wake Up Now or Beyond Mindfulness. (Read an excerpt from Beyond Mindfulness here.)

If you’re ready to go deeper and explore how to awaken from the illusion of separation and how to embody this awakening in everyday life, I offer live online video satsangs and classes that combine pointing-out instructions, teachings, guided meditations, and plenty of time for dialogue. If you want individual guidance, I offer spiritual mentoring and counseling designed to foster the realization of your inherent wakefulness and peace while helping you to release the core stories that perpetuate suffering. And if you’re looking for a full immersion experience, I lead periodic retreats and intensives in Tucson and New York.

Wherever you choose to begin, I offer you my heartfelt wishes for a fulfilling journey home to the source of all happiness and fulfillment, your natural state of awakened awareness.

With love and blessings,

Stephan

True self/ false self/ no self

Perhaps the most common core belief or story I’ve encountered over the years as a therapist and teacher is some version of “There’s something terribly wrong with me,” “Deep down I’m flawed, bad, evil, incorrigible, or unlovable.” Often this belief is accompanied by an underlying feeling of shame and a fear of being found out, exposed, revealed to be the awful person we believe ourselves to be. Generally this sense of inadequacy is based on being shamed as a child, on being made to feel stupid or bad or unwanted by parents or other caregivers, whether through careless words, neglect or disregard, or physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.

However this shame is instilled, the growing child will often do everything in her power to disprove or counteract the negative self-image by working especially hard to be good, smart, lovable, or successful. In the process, she develops and maintains a very positive self-image to present to the world, a false self, while still believing deep inside that the shameful self-image is the true self that will eventually be found out, much to her horror and humiliation. Eventually this split can become excruciatingly painful and lead to a persistent feeling of being inauthentic, fake, or phony.

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Politics of wisdom and compassion

Many spiritual people these days eschew politics because they believe it’s too messy and adversarial and inherently at odds with an awakened, nondual perspective. Others, surprisingly, seem to forget the deeper realization they profess to have experienced and take a strong ideological position that brooks no disagreement and allows no middle ground. “My candidate’s way is the only way, and no other point of view is worth considering or supporting.”

But embodying our awakening in everyday life calls on us to relate with other people and the broader society without either withdrawing to an inner mountaintop of detachment and disengagement or getting lost in a passionately held belief system, which is just a collective form of ego. Rather, we’re invited to respond to what life presents from the unconditional love and presence we know ourselves to be, not as a set of beliefs or values but as a lived reality.

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The deeper problem with pornography

I wrote this piece several years ago, but I’m posting it now because it appears that the mainstream media are finally addressing this issue. A recent issue of TIME featured an excellent cover story on the psychological and physiological effects of porn. Apparently, it’s rendering young men who have grown up on it impotent in actual sexual relationships, which is forcing them to pay attention and seek help. My sense is that the widespread availability of pornography has the potential to undermine lasting romantic relationship because it short-circuits the natural movement of sexual desire toward loving and mutually fulfilling connection. Here’s the post:

Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when I was a kid, pornography was sequestered away in seedy movie theaters and dimly lit “adult entertainment” emporiums. If you were curious to watch it, you had to work hard to find it, and the fear of being seen, coupled with strong social stigma, successfully kept most folks away.

Nowadays porn is everywhere, and you can indulge in it whenever you feel the impulse, merely by calling it up on your browser. Whereas once you had to make an effort to locate it, now you have to fend off unbidden emails and ads trying to seduce you into purchasing it. And late-night talk show hosts make knowing jokes about it, as if it’s an inside secret that everyone shares. If you’re drawn to it, the temptation is ever-present, the gratification is instantaneous, and the cultural attitude is blasé, if not approving. No wonder so many people, men in particular, become addicted to watching it.

As a psychotherapist and spiritual teacher, I’m not surprised when even experienced meditators and spiritual seekers report struggling with a fascination with porn. After all, sexual pleasure has such a powerful pull—without it, we wouldn’t survive as a species. My first suggestion, when I’m counseling someone, is that we set aside the question of whether the fascination is right or wrong and explore it, as we would any other issue, from the perspective of awareness.

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Discovering the light in the midst of the dark

In the months surrounding the solstice, as the external light and warmth of the sun decline, we’re invited to turn our attention inward to discover the eternal light that’s never extinguished, no matter how much apparent darkness accumulates. Among exoteric religions, Judaism commemorates the flame in the temple (signifying devotion and truth) that had barely enough oil for a day but miraculously lasted for eight days. And Christianity celebrates the birth of the Christ child, who illuminates the world with his embodied divinity.

Instead of projecting this light outward onto some external figure or story, we have an opportunity at this time of year to recognize and celebrate the all-pervasive, all-illuminating light of awareness that is an essential aspect of our own true nature. Awareness brings the world into being; without it, there would be no experience. Though it seems to originate here, awareness doesn’t belong to you or me–it’s an essential quality of reality itself. Yet the recognition of the light as having its source in the heart we all share signals a powerful awakening.

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Attachment, non-attachment, and spiritual awakening

In the past several decades, four major influences have been radically transforming the field of psychotherapy. Mindfulness, drawn from the Buddhist tradition, has become an essential tool that therapists can both use themselves to attune to their clients and teach directly to their clients to help them find peace and clarity in the midst of challenging thoughts and emotions. Cognitive neuroscience has mapped the brain’s role in both emotional suffering and subjective well-being, showing which brain centers are activated in particular situations and allowing researchers to measure the effects of particular therapeutic interventions, including mindfulness.

Fueled by both mindfulness research and neuroscience, the field of positive psychology has shifted the emphasis for many therapists from curing mental illness to encouraging the cultivation of positive resources and traits that contribute to overall well-being. Finally, and most relevant for this discussion, attachment theory, which explores how the bonding of infants and their parental caregivers affects mature adult relationships, has once again highlighted the healing power of the therapeutic relationship, in particular, the loving connection between therapist and client.

Recently, I began wondering about the connection between attachment theory and the Buddhist principle of nonattachment. At first I lamented the use of “attachment” and mused that “bonding” would be a much better word to describe what happens between infant and caregiver. In early infancy, of course, babies are often attached to their mothers, but as they mature through the rapprochement phase and beyond, they learn in an age-appropriate way to be more autonomous, deeply bonded but no longer attached.

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