Here’s an excerpt from a projected longer work on the paradox of being both pure Spirit or Consciousness and, at the same time, an embodied, imperfect human being. I share it here as a preamble to my online retreat of the same name, which begins in May. (For more information, visit the Events page on this website)
Perhaps the greatest paradox of the spiritual life is that we ultimately realize ourselves to be eternal, limitless, and all-pervasive, yet we wake up each morning in a particular body and mind, experiencing life through a particular set of eyes and ears, called upon to relate to particular people and circumstances. Though we know that we’re essentially nothing and everything, we still find ourselves answering to one name and not another, preferring strawberry to chocolate, laughing at some jokes and not others, and having certain feelings and thoughts but not the feelings and thoughts of the person next to us. Our essential nature is unconditional and free, but our bodies and personalities have been deeply conditioned over a lifetime and may react to life in automatic, preconditioned ways that do not accurately reflect the profound understanding we’ve awakened to. Unlike the proverbial hermit on the mountaintop, we’re called to live our inherent perfection through these imperfect human forms, dealing with the “karmic bundle” we’re received from a combination of early experiences and genetic endowment. Welcome to the path of awakened embodiment.
As long as we’re fully established in the nondual truth that subject and object, self and other, are inseparable and that the world we encounter is merely an expression of our essential nature, often called Consciousness or Mind, this paradox poses no challenge whatsoever; it’s just a description of the extraordinary mystery of being human, the word made flesh, spirit taking human form. Life unfolds in its magical and perfect way, and who we really are remains both intimately engaged yet profoundly serene, in the world but not of it, touched, bemused, but undisturbed. Everything we encounter is welcomed and embraced as an equal expression of its source and essence, our very own self; nothing is left out, rejected, or refused. Embodiment, in other words, takes care of itself.
But as soon as there’s even a hair’s breadth of separation, subject and object are set infinitely apart, and we’re thrust back into the realm of self and other, of me and you and the world outside, where we’re compelled by fears for personal survival to do everything we can to protect ourselves from forces beyond our control. This is the realm the Buddhists call samsara–and most people call home. One moment we’re feeling at one with the flow of life, completely surrendered to the nondual field; the next moment we’re feeling hungry, frightened, and alone, gripped by deep feelings and disturbing thoughts we forgot we had.
This place where samsara meets nirvana, where the personal merges with the universal, I like to call the razor’s edge. In fact, it’s just another name for this timeless moment, where emptiness endlessly expresses itself in form. One of my awakening experiences occurred while I was doing a body therapy session. As I was lying on the mat, breathing deeply, I had the clear recognition that I was an infinite ocean of potential gushing forth through the heart as the boundless multiplicity of the manifest world. In other words, I realized through direct experience that each of us is the meeting place of the universal and the personal, the absolute and the relative. This is not some abstract concept; it’s a lived reality happening right now, through every body and mind. Consciousness and its objects are one, and they join in the seamlessness of the now.