What’s age got to do with it?
At a recent nondual meeting, there was some discussion about whether it helped to have age and experience to be “realized,” to be able to consistently stay in Awareness, let go of the separate self. I gave this some consideration. Now this comes from someone who has only had glimpses of that state (which Holger might say is not a “state”). I often feel light years from pure Awareness.
But I have meditated on whether age and world experience have anything to do with finding, or maintaining (abiding in), Awareness. You might say, “you can’t truly meditate on something external, certainly not on a topic.” You can argue with this methodology, but I know from meditating on Zen koans (e.g., “Does a dog have Buddha consciousness?”), you can take the concept into meditation, drop it into Awareness, let it sink to a non-verbal level, let go, and be open to what comes to the surface.
Both answers to that koan are correct, and both are incorrect. A Zen master will only accept an answer when the master knows the student has progressed to a certain level of understanding. I believe the same is true of aging and Awareness. There are those, like Krishnamurti, Ramana Maharshi, who found enlightenment early, before they were 30. Then there are many of us who have searched all our adult lives, off and on, for that state of Realization. I know some will say, “It’s always there; you are always there; there is no separate self; etc.” (I’d like to write another essay on “political correctness among non-dualists”). But let’s concede that many, if not most of us have only had glimpses; we can rarely find our way through the clouds, veils, weeds, whatever metaphor you prefer to describe what prevents us from realizing our true Self.
Many in our meetings seem to believe that it’s suffering that leads us to this non-dual reality (or maybe to any religious belief). I think for many, that is true. I don’t know what led me to this space but I have an idea of what will get me through the threshold: Courage. I know that sounds a bit trite or dramatic, like one of those mottos they put up on corporate walls. But I’ll explain what I mean.
I’ve always admired people who decide to make a living as artists or musicians. Most of them take a great deal of risk in doing this. Some geniuses, like Michelangelo, know at a very early age how good they are. But most of us would have to trade the safety and security of a regular job to do what we really desire. Many musicians, singers and songwriters come to Austin to achieve their goals. They wind up working full- or part-time at Whole Foods. They struggle. Some make it. Some very talented people make it just to the fringes, playing or singing in bars at night but never quite breaking through. A few years ago (pre-Covid), I heard a young woman sing in a karaoke bar. She sat a couple of seats down from me at the bar, and I told her, “You have such an amazing voice; you sound like a professional.” She said, “I was: I travelled all over the country with a band. But it was just such a hard life, I quit, got a regular job.” But she had the courage to try to live her dream.
I’ve always wanted to be an artist or a writer, a poet. But I never had the courage or the persistence to make the leap until after I retired and had some sense of financial security. Many give up that sense of security early in life to do what they love to do.
I think that same kind of courage is required to find our True Self: We have to give up everything. In one conversation, Nisargadatta said, “Unready means afraid. You are afraid of what you are. Your destination is the whole. But you are afraid that you will lose your identity. This is childishness, clinging to toys, to your desires and fears, opinions and ideas. Give it all up and be ready for the real to assert itself.”
How many of us are ready to make the leap, to give up what we “think we are,” to give up the separate self that we’ve groomed, cultivated, clung to for so long? I don’t think it has as much to do with age as with courage.
As I was thinking about what we have to give up to find Awareness, I was also reading through some poems I wrote many years ago, and I discovered one that kind of shocked me: There may be another point in our existence when we gave up everything. Maybe we had to have courage to get here in the first place. And maybe we need that same attribute to return.
What did I give up to get here?
I gave up everything just to be here.
I don’t know what that felt like.
Was it a relief to leave the ether,
take form? When we begin weaving particles
into the soul, and open a window
into that turbulent cycle,
that which was so unencumbered
now becomes too cold, or too hot,
the soul’s back aches,
the soul’s eyes dim,
the soul slows down.
How do I even find the soul now, amidst
this thick fabric of fiber and bone?
I’m so far from that original conception.
I imagine the soul clinging to those first
perfect particles like a life preserver
and bobbing in the middle of the ocean.
No sight, no touch, pulling
the structure together with pure mind.
I don’t have any idea what this space means to those
who come right up to the edge of it
and don’t quite get across.
A seed unfolding begins with an idea, a speck
smaller than the dust the raindrop forms around,
a thing in mind, a thought-thing that falls
free and has such strong
gravitational pull that matter
clings with love to pure being.
And what lonely atom would not want to enter
into the vibrant, luminous bloodstream
that runs within us?
How is it that I get so locked in the pool
of these particles I drew to me,
I, a thought-being, thought made flesh
and fully knowing it?
It’s only in rare, open moments
that I know I gave up nothing,
that it’s all here, extending
out from these edges that appear to be so dense.