Tami Simon: You're listening to "Insights at the Edge." Today I speak with Arjuna Ardagh. Arjuna Ardagh is an awakening coach, writer, teacher, and public speaker. He's the author of seven books and many audio and video programs, including the 2005 bestseller The Translucent Revolution.
Arjuna studied with the great Indian teacher Papaji, and is the founder of the Living Essence Foundation and Awakening Coaching Training organizations that are dedicated to the awakening of consciousness within the context of ordinary life. With Sounds True, Arjuna has released the book and audio program Leap Before You Look, and the audio series Let Yourself Go.
In this episode of "Insights at the Edge," Arjuna and I spoke about how one may channel light by becoming translucent, while also simultaneously accepting their shadow side. Arjuna also spoke about what he calls the "myth of enlightenment," and that we can look no further than our own intimate partner if we are seeking a true teacher. We also explored translucent spiritual practices that can be done in relationship, as well as a radical release process for working with both fear and anger. Finally, we talked about what it might mean to live a life that is spiritually mature. Here's my conversation with Arjuna Ardagh.
Arjuna, you've introduced an interesting word into our spiritual vocabulary, if you will, which is the word "translucent." That it's possible for people to live translucent lives, and even to practice spiritually in a translucent way. You talk about translucent spiritual practice, so tell us what you mean by this word, and why you found it to be an important word to introduce.
Arjuna Ardagh: Hmm. Well, you know, I borrowed this word from physics and the physical universe. A translucent object is neither opaque nor transparent. We know what opaque is. You know, a wall is opaque: if you have a solid wall with no windows and you shine a light against the solid wall, no light passes through, and that's called opaque.
On the other hand, an object that is transparent would be like a really clean piece of glass that you hardly see. So sometimes you have that funny scene in the slapstick comedies in the movies where somebody walks right up to a big window, and they just bump into it because they don't see it. So that's completely transparent. And a translucent object might be like a piece of frosted glass, or like a crystal, like a rose quartz crystal. It has shape, it has color, but it allows light to pass through it, but it retains its own identity. That's really what I mean by a really translucent person. They have become a transmitter of light. They allow light to pass through them, but they still have an individual identity.
I think really I came up with this word because what I saw was that people had this big distinction between what they call the ego—and you know the ego is usually very much judged in so-called spiritual circles. You know, you need to get rid of the ego; the ego is a bad thing. And then, the opposite end of the spectrum is this state that we revere called enlightenment, which in my opinion is something of a myth. I'm not sure that enlightenment is really a real thing. I think it's rather an aspiration to avoid being human.
So what I mean by "translucent" is that you can still have your desires and fears and individual quirks, but you have come to a deep enough recognition of the dimension of yourself that is limitless and free, that you could say that light can pass through you. You appear to glow from within. And I'm sure that most of the people we know are translucent.
The other interesting thing, Tami, about the word "translucent" is that it's not an absolute word. You know, "enlightenment" is an absolute word. People use "enlightenment" generally to say somebody is enlightened or they're not. They don't say that somebody is quite enlightened on Tuesdays and unenlightened on Thursdays. "Enlightened" is usually used as an absolute word, like "dead" or "married" or "pregnant." Those are not kind of percentage words.
I'm using "translucent" as a relative word, like "interesting" or "adorable." You know, these are words that people use: "He was really nice on Tuesday but not on Thursday," or "He's really nice when he's playing the guitar but not when he's teaching basketball." So I use "translucent." First of all it's a relative word: you can be more translucent in some areas of your life than in others. You can be more translucent some days than others. It's a word to communicate the degree to which a universal infinite dimension of light is able to transmit through you, through the medium of your personal identity.
TS: Now, I want to get to this idea of translucent spiritual practice in just a moment, but you've said something I think is very intriguing. You've kind of thrown the gauntlet down here that enlightenment is a myth. In saying that, are you saying that in your work—the work that you did to write the book The Translucent Revolution, including your own personal relationship with the teacher that you studied on and off with for seven years, Poonjaji—that you haven't met people that you would claim are enlightened, or using this idea of transparency, fully transparent? That everybody is translucent? Is that what you're saying?
AA: Yes, I would say that. Yes, that's just my opinion, but actually Poonjaji was of the same opinion. People used to ask him, "What is enlightenment?" because they thought he was a teacher of enlightenment. He would say, "Enlightenment is a word in a vocabulary of those who are asleep."
That's a very interesting statement, because basically the word "enlightenment"—and Tami, this isn't just semantics. This is a really, really, important conversation. In my opinion, [this is] a cutting-edge, quantum leap conversation, because who uses the word "enlightenment"? Who talks about enlightenment? There's one group of people who talk about enlightenment, who are spiritual aspirants who have a teacher, and they want to say, "I'm on a path, working toward enlightenment." And people don't say this so much anymore, but they used to [say], "I'm a seeker on a path." Where is the path going? To enlightenment.
So what does that do to your life, to your relationships, to your sexuality, to your capacity to give your gift? If your life is about trying to get to a future state that you're not in now, as far as I can see, if you make your life about a future state [that is] better than this one, [this] is going to kill your capacity to really enjoy and relish this present moment. So that's one group of people who talk about enlightenment.
The other groups who talk about enlightenment are those who claim to be enlightened. And that historically has very often been Oriental gentlemen. It's been much more prevalent and used by men than by women. You know, you see what happens. You very often get an Indian man, but it's happened with Western people too: "I am enlightened. You must follow me and follow instructions I give you, and you can become enlightened also." And then you discover the same gentleman who is saying this is having sex with teenagers, or amassing a Swiss bank account, or doing something weird, because it's always the inevitable result, in my opinion, in trying to repress or hide your human side. If you try to present yourself as perfect, you're always going to build up a shadow.
So in my opinion, the willingness to drop the idea of enlightenment and actually be present with what is now, in its embarrassing humanness and its divine quality at the same time, is an enormous quantum leap for maturity for human beings. It's a quantum leap from what I would say is spiritual immaturity to maturity. The tendency to want to be in a higher state and to project the higher state onto other people, in my opinion, is what keeps us somewhat immature. And the willingness to step into your own presence and accept your own shadow side, and the willingness to see another human being as also an emanation of light, but also having shadow.
That to me is a much more mature relationship, because now we can see that everybody is a schmuck! And everybody is divine at the same time! We don't need to make a hierarchy out of it, you know? And so just in the world that I live in, that's actually a lot better place to have fun.
And it means that, for example, that I can meet my beloved wife and realize that she is the divine goddess, she is the divine mother. She is everything beautiful and she's got this controlling, anti-independent Norwegian personality at the same time. And they're both there. And I can worship the divine emanation that comes through her, and I can laugh with her about the quirks of the personality, and it's all good.
So I've been through this dance a lot in my life. I have prostrated myself at many gurus and then felt foolish afterward, and I hope that I'm kinda done with it now. That I'm really standing very strong in the recognition now that all of us are all of it: we are all divine, and we all have shadow. And what I look for in a human being is not that they embody a superior state. What I look for in a human being is that they are completely honest and transparent about their inadequacies and weaknesses as a human being. That's what I trust. That's what I worship, is that kind of honesty.
TS: Now Arjuna, as you are speaking, it sounds to me that you yourself have made a journey we could say toward this place of spiritual maturity, from perhaps holding enlightenment and enlightened people up in some kind of way. Would you say that's true? Could you tell us a little bit about what may be some of the turning points for you, how you came to this perspective that you now have about being translucent with a shadow?
AA: Yes. With my head hung in embarrassment, I will admit to the fact that I have done this a lot. I have looked for people to put above me. And of course, as the personality works, if you look for people to put above you, then inevitably it's unavoidable that you will then look for people to also put below you. It's just how the personality works.
I think for me, Tami, I've been acting as a spiritual teacher for a long time, but the truth is that all of that was never really fueled by—I mean, when I was a teenager I got started. It wasn't like as a teenager I thought, "Oh, what do I want to do with my life? I want to be a spiritual teacher." That was never the case.
What was true for me was that I experienced a really unbearable level of suffering. Really unbearable, you know. I mean, there was quite a bit of mental illness and suicide in my family. I grew up in London, very unhappy, and around dysfunctional people who I was born into. And in a way that can be a horrible thing to be born into an unhappy family, but at the same time it can be a great blessing, because it gives you the impetus to find something deeper in yourself.
So when I was 14, I started to experience really deep depression and anxiety and fear. And I realized, "Oh my God, I've inherited broken personality habits." And I looked around and said, "What am I going to do? I don't want to go nuts. I don't want to kill myself as a teenager, so what am I going to do?" One alternative at that time in the early seventies was psychotherapy. But you know, if you got to know psychotherapists in the seventies, you realized that they were more mixed-up than the people they were trying to help. So then I discovered meditation, and that looked to me like a good option. Like, whoa, you can meditate and discover this dimension of yourself that is free, so let me try that.
So at 14, I learned transcendental meditation, and then moved on later to other teachers and other practices, but it was always fueled by a way to deal with suffering. It was a way to deal with the really unbearably difficult aspects of psychological suffering. And I want to be honest about that, because to this day that is really for me what has fueled my spiritual life. You know, it's been a way to cope with the personality. I just happen to have a personality that is particularly dysfunctional. So my impetus to deal with it was stronger than other people's.
But you know, I think for me that we can meet in this. We can meet in our honesty about the difficulties of being human, and our compassion for other people's difficulty in being human. And then spiritual practice becomes one particularly effective way to find another dimension that is not the personality.
I've completely forgotten what your question was!
TS: Well, the question had to do with your own emerging into this view that you are calling more spiritually mature, which is basically giving up on there being enlightened people.
AA: Yes, exactly. Thank you. I have a very short memory span. Absolutely, so when I was 14, I projected onto a teacher who was actually a very sweet man, but I realized after some time that he had failings too, and then I found another teacher.
So all the time I think really like many, many people of my generation—I wasn't the only person who did this—the difficulty that we experienced with our own condition led us to want to project onto something better or different in another, some kind of model, some kind of an image of perfection. And so I went on doing that, but of course, in that theatre—if you project your teacher as somehow perfect or better than you are—you're taking a role in that theatre of someone who is lesser than. So if you project up onto the one in the front, you're becoming the seeker or the supplicant. If you project onto the other as the source of everything, you're actually in the same way denying your own presence as that same source. That's the standard way we get into it.
And that's what causes a lot of difficulty in guru/disciple relationships or teacher/student relationships, is if you want to say that the teacher is higher, higher means there must be a lower. And then you put yourself in the lower position. The difficulty with that is that you cut yourself off then from discovering that dimension yourself.
Ironically, I've discovered this from interviewing so many people for The Translucent Revolution. Most of the people I meet who are experiencing some degree of freedom, they discovered this degree of freedom when they left their teacher. It's kind of a weird thing. They may have gotten great benefit from the teacher, but the actual explosion of freedom came when they left.
There's a gazillion examples of this, but one example is Saniel Bonder, who has written some really good books, a really great teacher who was for many years a student of Adi Da. Adi Da has gone by many names: Baba Free John, Da Free John, many names. Adi Da was very much a higher than/lower than teacher. That was his style. I think he even claimed to be in a higher state of enlightenment that anyone else has been in. And so Saniel Bonder sat with great reverence, devotion, and respect at the feet of Adi Da for, I think maybe 20, 30 years. But when he finally left as a rebel, he almost immediately experienced his own sense of freedom.
I can find hundreds of stories like that, including my own, that when you actually leave the hierarchical environment, you discover freedom. So maybe that hierarchical environment was a good fertile soil for that sprouting to eventually happen, but nevertheless sooner or later, I think we have to step into a world where we can see divinity everywhere. And where we no longer operate hierarchically, where we no longer see people as more enlightened and less enlightened, where you actually experience oneness. And that's of course where all the goodies are and things get delicious, and that's where you experience love in so many ways.
TS: Now Arjuna, including your own story, you sort of tossed that off. What did you mean by that? In your own life, [what was] this experience of separating?
AA: As I said, I did that when I was 14, I did it with another teacher. With Poonjaji, it was a little more difficult to do that because he threw you back onto yourself so much. With Poonjaji, he really insisted that you discover that in yourself. He really was genuinely not interested in being a project screen.
But I think this really has blossomed for me more than anything in my marriage because there came a point—you know, you were asking about my own story, and I think one of the most pivotal points in my own story was in February 2002. It was a bit more than nine years ago, I was sitting on my deck, I was 44 years old, and I'd just broken up another relationship. I was married for many years and was divorced and would kinda have these one-year relationships, and I'd just broken up another relationship. And there I was traveling the world, quite successfully a spiritual teacher, and I was able to conduct large events—you know more than 1,000 people sometimes, really guiding everybody into this great big love, but not able to sustain it in my own intimate relationships. Oh my God! What an incredible hypocrisy, really, that you can guide people into a big impersonal love, but you can't actually get along with the person you're having sex with. It's kinda crazy.
So I sat on the deck one night after having finished a relationship. My kids were with my ex-wife. And I looked up into the sky, and I realized that if I die one day, Tami, if I die one day and realize that I never truly loved another human being, that would actually be a wasted life. That would actually be a failed life for me. If I die one day not having achieved the perfect peaks of enlightenment, I would be totally OK with that, but if I die never having loved fully, that would be a broken life.
That was a pivotal moment where I realized that I had been enthusiastically climbing a ladder for the previous 30 years, a ladder of spiritual attainment, and my ladder was leaning up against the wrong wall. I was climbing a ladder toward enlightenment, and when I actually sat on the deck and looked up in the stars and felt this openness, I realized enlightenment is really not that important to me. Loving deeply is much more important, but I'm so terrified of it that I can't make my life about that.
So three weeks later, having realized this, I met a woman who had come to the same realization, and she also had explored spiritual practice. And she also had realized that love was a more important value than anything else. So we embarked on a journey together. We didn't get together right away as a couple, we just became friends or acquaintances for a while, and then we actually got together after a few months. And we realized that our personalities were not actually predisposed toward loving relationships. Both of were quite broken, because we came from these families where that was the inheritance.
So we made a decision together to practice. We made a decision to practice in relationship, in such a way to live this deeper dimension of love. And that's what we've been doing now for nine years, and it's taken tremendous depth of practice and dedication to learn how to meet from a dimension that is not the personality, but at the same time allowing the personality room to play.
So I think in terms of my own trajectory of unfolding, it was that moment that was the most crucial. It was realizing that everything we have looked for with gurus, you can actually have that with the person you are in relationship with, if you are willing to dedicate your relationship to something deeper than what is habitual.
TS: OK, so now I want to talk about this overarching theme, and then we can get into how to do translucent spiritual practice in intimate relationships as you are pointing to here, which is in your book, Leap Before You Look: 72 Shortcuts for Getting Out of Your Mind and Into the Moment.
You talk about this idea of translucent spiritual practice as being spiritual practice where we recognize both the perfection of the moment and endless possibilities for improving our life. And I think this is very interesting, just like you've introduced this word "translucent," being translucent versus being 100 percent holy, enlightened, and transparent, this idea that our spiritual practice could be translucent. I wonder if you can talk a little bit about how we hold the paradox of being and becoming in our practice.
AA: Well, I think you just said it pretty well! [Laughter] You know, the thing about paradox is that you can't reconcile them in your thinking. You can only reconcile them in your living, you know.
So one of the most famous paradoxes is the paradox of freedom of will. Freedom of choice and pre-destiny, you know. There's a powerful intellectual argument for both: that you can see logically that we do have free will, and you can see logically that things do unfold on their own. And you can't reconcile that intellectually, you can only reconcile that by just living your life, and you realize that both are there.
So in the same way, it's not logically consistent that things are exactly perfect in this moment, and there is endless room for self-improvement. Those are contradictory statements. But actually, our life, when you just live your life, you realize that both are true. You know, in this moment I'm standing now in my office looking out at the forest. And the light is shining down on the trees and there's like a million different shades and brightnesses of green, and it's incredibly beautiful. And in this moment, outside of the thoughts, it could not get better than this. And you just have to move a little bit and interact with people and realize that there's always ways to become more loving, more conscious, more receptive, more tender, more respectful. So both are simultaneously true and you live it, you live it.
But I think here's the thing about that paradox: if you fall into either side of the paradox, you fall from grace. If you fall into the world of self-improvement—I think we talk about this a bit in the introduction of Leap Before You Look—if you fall into the addiction of self-improvement, then you really never enjoy this moment because you're always trying to fix yourself. And we know what that's like in relationship. You know if a relationship become about processing and self-improvement, you never really enjoy the person as they are, because you're always thinking about how to fix the other person, how to fix yourself.
On the other hand, you can fall into the other side, into the delusion of everything is perfect. And that I would say is the delusion of enlightenment, which is very common in Advaita, nondual circles. This idea, "Well, there's nobody here, there's nothing to fix." Well, how come your life looks so broken then? How come you've got relationships that don't work and you can't pay the rent if everything is perfect as it is? It's not true, you see. It's just not true.
So it's somehow in a paradoxical way that both are the truth: things are perfect as they are, and any moment you can drop into the now and feel the perfection of it and you are also in a dance that is evolutionary. And when you are actually willing to be in the evolutionary dance, you can see there are endless things to fix and improve and work on as an art form—but it has no end. It's not about you working on yourself so that you can finally arrive. You're working on yourself just as you might work on painting, and you can constantly paint a better picture. You can constantly, if you make music, make better music. You're in an endless process of upgrading that really has no final point of arrival.
So you live these together. You live the spectrum between these two, and that's what I mean by translucent practice. You're not practicing for a better tomorrow. You're practicing for a more generous now. You're practicing to give your gift more fully in this moment now.
TS: Now Arjuna, I can certainly see falling into the side of the equation where we're constantly trying to improve our lives and we miss the moment. Now, you talked though about the person who experiences the perfection of this moment, moment after moment, as that being deluded. Don't you think it's possible that somebody could feel this moment, and the next moment, that they're not deluded, that they're in touch with that? What do you think?
AA: Well, yes, to fall into the perfection of this moment is what I mean by translucent practice, but it's always this moment, this moment, this moment. But you see, what frequently does happen for people who get interested in this, is then they want to say that therefore everything is perfect. Because I can access this dimension, moment by moment, where it's full wonderful and shining, therefore there is nothing wrong anywhere.
And that's where I would say we get to be a little deluded, because if you look at the world and you say, "Well, the relationship between Palestine and Israel is perfect and there's nothing that needs to be changed," or you look at the state of the health care system in the United States and the fact that people don't go to the doctor when they have cancer because they're afraid they don't have any money, and somehow that is perfect. If you look at the incredible economic imbalance in this country, where now it's worse than it's ever been, where a tiny percentage of people control an enormous percentage of wealth. I mean, you can say if you'd like that all that's perfect, but in my opinion, maybe the simplest thing for me to say is that I just don't find that very interesting, when someone becomes obliged to say that everything is perfect.
Or let's bring it down home, you know where maybe in your own relationship, you're with your beloved and you know that your beloved is bored and not feeling totally adored, but you get caught in an idea that everything is perfect, so you lose interest in [asking yourself], how could I adore my beloved more? How could I bring more freshness to the situation? Or maybe you have children, and somehow you know in your heart that you're not connecting fully with your children. Somehow you know that there's a distance between you, and they've gone off into their own world and you've lost touch with what is really of interest to them. But everything's perfect, so we don't attend to it. That's what I mean.
Tami, that is a very common spiritual ailment among a certain kind of spiritual philosophy. It's a common ailment for one to say, "Because I have tasted a dimension of myself which is free, and because I have tasted life outside the mind, therefore any idea of anything needing be worked on is delusional." I think that's a very important trap for all of us to be aware of.
And the way to resolve that trap is not to go the other way and say everything needs to be improved, but to be willing to live the paradox where you can feel the perfection of this moment, and at the same time you have the humility and the honesty and the sobriety to realize that there's a million things that we can do to be of service, a million things we can do to make this world a more joyful place, and there are a million injustices that we can bring our attention to resolve. And there are a million things that we're doing in our own lives, which are unconscious and unkind, and all of those things can be worked upon, but without losing touch with that dimension where everything is sweet. So it's both together. That to me makes a beautiful human being.
TS: Hallelujah! I am 100 percent with you, right there. So moving right into it in the world of intimate relationships, where I think most of us know that there's more we could be doing in addition to being in the present moment with the beauty and perfection of our love in any moment. You share some interesting practices in Leap Before You Look, and I want to throw a couple of them out and have you talk about how we might actually do this in real life, on the ground. So one of the practices that you offer that I personally found quite challenging is welcoming criticism in our relationships.
AA: Ah yes, that's right.
TS: How might we do this?
AA: Good. So you know, what I notice that happens for many couples, or for many spiritual people, is that they are in relationship with their beloved—this happens interestingly, and I don't know why, more for heterosexual men in relationship with heterosexual women. So a man with a women, this pattern is very common that the man experiences his wife to be nagging. So she's telling him, "You know, why don't you focus more on your gifts and look more beautiful in the way you dress?" And he blocks her off because she's nagging, and then goes to a spiritual teacher or a men's group or something in order to get exactly the same advice. Right? Do you follow what I'm saying?
TS: I'm with you. This lesbian woman is tracking with you perfectly.
AA: I know that it's a common dynamic between the masculine and feminine, and I wasn't really sure how it would play out between two women or two men, or even how it would play out the other way. But that is the most common scenario where we find it.
So what one of the practices that can be really beautiful, is if you are looking for a teacher, someone to help you overcome limitations, why would you want to look beyond the one who most cares for you, who has most investment in your gifts coming forth? Now, my wife Chameli, she is a Viking woman. She is from Norway, her parents are from Denmark. These are Viking roots, you know. She's not a cushy, cushy kind of a wife. She'll get ferocious if she needs to, and most of the advice she gives me is really good advice. Most of the things she "nags" me about are really things that would behoove of me to pay attention to, right? But of course, like many other men, I recoil against it coming from her.
So I've noticed as a practice, when she appears to be nagging, what I do as a practice is I take a breath and I open myself, and I say: "I consciously and deliberately look for the truth in what she is saying." And I find the place where she is right, where her calling forth of deeper gifts is accurate and true and right. And I look for that and I'll connect with that, and I'll say, "Thank you, yes, you are right."
But then there's a time limit. If she keeps nagging, I'll say, "What you said five minutes ago is correct, and I'm going to work on it, and attend to it, and let's look at practical ways that I can attend to it. But please now, don't beat me up about it, because I've got the point of what you are saying." So that's an important piece, too.
And this can happen in other scenarios, too. It can happen with a woman taking criticism from a man, but it's not quite exactly the same dynamic because of the nature of the masculine and feminine psyche, but it can take place between two women and two men as well. But this is one beautiful practice where you can find the evolutionary tension that you look for with a teacher, you can find that with the one who actually cares about you the most, which is the person you're having sex with and sharing a bed with.
TS: Now, Arjuna, what is happening internally, when you're being criticized and you see yourself starting to perhaps feel agitated and going into some kind of defensive mode, and then you "welcome criticism"? What are you doing inside?
AA: It's what we call in our deeper love work "sitting back in the saddle." You can imagine you're riding a horse, and you sit back in the saddle. When you're being criticized, there's usually a defensive trigger that comes into play, a sort of defensive mechanism that gets enlivened. So you notice that, and you take a breath, and you consciously sit back in the saddle, and you relax back into the saddle.
And just that willingness requires a commitment, it requires a decision in advance, but that commitment to sit back in the saddle and receive, you suddenly find that what was unpleasant becomes helpful. And you realize that this is somebody who loves me and cares for me and wants to help me. It's not actually somebody who wants to cause me any harm.
TS: But I mean this act of sitting back in the saddle, I wonder, do people need some kind of additional training to be able to do that right in the moment when they are being criticized?
AA: Yes. And we actually have developed—we've been teaching this work for a long time, the deeper love work in workshops around the world, and more recently we made it into a course that people can do at home. I don't think you can really take these practices in isolation. They need to be practiced in a kind of coherent integration.
So one of the foundational practices has to do with commitment. We divide commitment into four phases, and this is actually a ritual that people do with each other, or you can do it on your own if you're single.
So the first phase of commitment is what we call the question: Why am I alive? Why am I here on the planet? And we recommend that people take anywhere between an hour and a whole day to just sit with that question: Why am I alive? Human birth is quite inconvenient and can be painful, so why am I alive?
And the second phase of this commitment process is: What gets in the way? This is to recognize the habits that block the question, Why am I alive? The habits that arise that actually interfere with my purpose of being here.
The third question is: Where can you count on me? These are basically the gentle disciplines that we have already integrated into our lives, which are pretty stable. So for some people it's meditation, some people it's daily exercise, some people it's practicing honesty. All of us have developed habits that can be relied upon that actually amplify our gifts.
And the fourth question is: Where do I need support? And that's where it becomes relational. Where do I need support from the outside in order to live my gifts more deeply?
So those are the four phases of commitment. So we work with those, and there are also some other foundational practices that we teach that are also in Leap Before You Look. Let me just grab my copy here. There's other foundational practices; there's one that we call "Hear, Nowing." Yes, it's number 32 in the book. It's a practice to cultivate the capacity to tell the truth about the present moment. To tell the truth about what you're hearing, and feeling, and seeing, and touching, and tasting in this moment without going into stories. And at the same time, the capacity to amplify true listening, to practice listening like the sky, to listening without an agenda.
TS: Now explain a little more, how do I do this "Hear, Nowing" with my partner?
AA: OK, good. The way that you do "Hear, Nowing" is actually rather like homeopathic medicine. You don't actually want to overdose. You want to keep it limited and disciplined to just 10 minutes a day.
So for the first five minutes, you stand facing each other. And let's say you would start giving a commentary in the present moment. So what are the things that you can say in this moment? "I can feel a little tension in my belly. I can feel tightness in my breath." And then maybe you have a thought. And you say, "I'm having a thought about what we're having for dinner." Then you come back to the moment, and you say, "I can feel my feet touching the ground. And I'm looking in your eyes, and I'm having a thought that your eyes are beautiful. And now I'm noticing an itch in my shoulder."
So you just keep going for five minutes, just constantly describing what is undeniably true in this moment, which could include physical sensations, things you see, things you hear, but also thoughts and judgments and memories. They are equally welcome, and they're just labeled as that.
The other partner practices listening like the sky, which means they relax into themselves and they listen consciously, not preparing what to say next, consciously not judging or reacting in any way, just like the sky. Just listening, and the words are just absorbed and dissolved into the empty sky.
So this is "Hear, Nowing." After five minutes you switch over. The other one speaks, and there's no discussion afterward. When you're done, you're done. You just walk away.
And this has a kind of alchemical affect. It takes about three to four weeks until it fully kicks in, but after three to four weeks of practicing this regularly, you discover that the quality of just simple honesty about what is true in this moment becomes habitual. And what that means is that the practice that you've been doing five minutes a day, it kind of creeps into the rest of your life, so now just naturally, easily and spontaneously, there is a quality of simple honesty starting to bubble up. And in the same way, this quality of listening like the sky also creeps more into your day-to-day life. So both of these qualities develop: honesty and open listening. They develop more over time, and they become foundations for the rest of living the deeper love.
So all of the other practices you can work with, they rest in this foundation of simple honesty and simple listening. Try it out. You know, it only takes you 10 minutes a day and it's completely revolutionary. It's completely and totally, irreversibly. We did it for years, and it's completely changed everything about our lives.
TS: You know it's interesting to me, Arjuna, your book Leap Before You Look talks about many different kinds of translucent spiritual practices that we can do in different parts of our life, with family, community, working with feelings, our body, working with the breath itself. Yet in our conversation, you and I, I think based on our shared interest, we have gone directly to the topic of intimate relationships because it seems like in terms of the shadow parts of our life—the places where we're most likely to be revealed as withholding or defended—it's in those intimate relationships where that would show up the most, wouldn't you say?
AA: Definitely. Definitely. That's actually why it's so wise to bring your practice to intimate relationships, because you'll find a lot more stuff to work with in intimate relationships than you ever would in a teacher/student relationship. That's why I've chosen to make Chameli my guru, because I get much more mileage out of having her as my teacher than I ever did from having somebody that I have less intimacy with.
TS: So that's interesting to call your partner a "guru." What do you mean by that exactly?
AA: Well, you know the word "guru" simply means "gu-ru," that which dispels darkness. I forget which syllable is which; I think maybe "gu" means darkness, and "ru" means that which dispels. I can't remember, but it means that which dispels darkness, that which dispels ignorance. So a dog could be your guru if your dog helps dispel ignorance. Of course, we've come think a guru must be an elderly Indian man, but it's not true at all.
I've had many great gurus. You know, I was very fortunate that I was close to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. I was quite close to Osho, Bhagwan Rashneesh. I was close with Poonjaji. I had a great Tibetan teacher, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche. But honestly, great as all those teachers have been, nobody has provided the degree of evolution and unconditionally loving support than my wife.
It's not that you have to find the right partner. You have to find the right disposition. You have to find the right disposition within yourself that you can meet your partner in a spirit of surrender, in a spirit of openness and curiosity that maybe they can see you better than you can see yourself. And so for me, I know the benefits of having a teacher, of having a guru, but for me there's no better guru than your own marriage. There's no better guru than your own love life, if you know how to treat it in the right way.
See, it's all to do with disposition. It's all to do with getting clear why you're here on the planet, and what kind of support you need. When you do get clear about why you're here on the planet and what kind of support you need, then you realize that there's nobody better qualified to offer that support than your own intimate partner.
TS: Now that's an interesting step, the support that you need. Tell me what you mean by that.
AA: You see, what interests me really—because you know I work with clients, and I do a form of coaching called Awakening Coaching—and what I'm always interested to know about is, what is it that your heart is longing for, that your soul is longing for? Because people use the word "enlightenment" or "freedom" or something, but it's often a word they've been taught. So I want to know, in your own words, in your own language, what is it you most long for?
People usually have a way of explaining that. It might be, "I'm longing to really love." You know, when I got clear for myself, I realized that I was longing to really deeply love, and that was my most important value. And I feel now that I've been able to do that, and I feel much more at peace. For some people, they long to really create music that is sublime. Somebody maybe really longs to serve in another way, maybe they really long for deep meditation. But I want to know on your terms, if this is your dream, your movie, and there's nobody else in charge of directing the movie but you, what is it you most long for? It's what interests me. From there, you see, everything falls in place around that.
Now, when you realize what you're most longing for, you also realize that most people realize that they long for something, but they are also sabotaging it at the same time. Almost everybody—like in my case, as I sat under the stars, I longed to really give my love, and I was the one most sabotaging that at the same time, you see? Both are true: I long to love, and nobody is preventing me from loving more than me, right? Or somebody else might say, "I really long to be healthy," and realize that there's nobody stopping them from being healthy more than themselves and their habits. So most of us realize that we have longing, and the one who is the most sabotaging the longing is me.
And then that's when you realize that you need support in that. I need somebody to help bring forth my deepest longing. And you see, that's where you come to the possibility that your intimate partner is the one best qualified to offer you the support that you need.
TS: Wonderful, thank you. There's so many different parts of Leap Before You Look that we could talk about, but the other section that I'd really like to spend a little bit of time on has to do with working with our feelings. Specifically, there's two sections of the book that I'm interested in hearing you talk about. One is how we can enter fear, and the other is a teaching that you give on what it might mean to explode with anger. So entering fear and exploding with anger, I wonder if you could talk about both of these.
AA: OK, let's start with the fear. Generally speaking, the best way for me to understand how I understand fear, the best way to talk about this, is the old story of a man who is walking by a cliff. And he walks by the cliff, it's in darkness, it's nighttime and there's no moon. And he falls from the cliff, and he reaches out and grabs a branch as he's falling. And so now he's holding from the branch, and he can hear the waves crashing on the rocks below. And he knows that if he just lets go, he's going to fall to his death. So he closes his eyes in terror and just hangs on the whole night. And when the dawn comes he looks down, and literally six inches below his feet is a ledge. If he had just let go of the branch, he would have fallen six inches to the ledge and rested a good night's sleep and figured out what to do in the morning.
And it's a lovely story that illustrates our relationship to fear, that we hang on [because we are] avoiding something, where if we just relaxed into it, it would be fine. So we fear. Think of the things we fear, [such as] that our lover will leave us, and sometimes it's when your heart most opens and you realize that it's fine, and you find somebody that loves you even more. Or we fear losing all our money. And actually when people do lose all their money, sometimes they've found that it was the money that had the most traps, you know? Or sometimes we fear all kinds of things, and ultimately we fear death, but people who die and come back say that it was actually the greatest joyride they've ever experienced, that it was just light and all good things.
So I think that's the thing about fear. When you notice that you're really fearing something, at least within yourself, enter the fear and allow yourself to enter what you've most avoided. Allow yourself to walk toward, in your psyche, that part which has most freaked you out. And that's where there's freedom. If you can actually embrace what you've been afraid of, that's where there's freedom.
TS: But what does that mean, "enter the fear"? What do you mean?
AA: I think there are really two ways that you can enter the fear. One is to embrace the frequency that you've most avoided within yourself, and the other is to actually embrace the situation. What I would say is, if you're willing to embrace the frequency, then you don't need to embrace the situation.
So let's take losing all your money. Ultimately, somebody's got a lot of money and somebody's got no money. Really, within limits, what the difference is, is just a printout on a bank statement. Somebody who has got millions in the bank or somebody who got $2,000 in the bank, the difference between them is what their bank statement says. The rest is all to do with what that means, you see?
So if you have a lot of fear of losing money, there are really two ways to resolve that fear. One way is to close your eyes and feel that the fear of losing money is tied to an energy—a frequency in your body, like an emotional frequency of lack, of not enough. And like a piece of music, that has a vibration to it. So if you can actually enter into the frequency, you become free of it, without having to play out the drama in your life. So that's one way of getting free of fear, is to enter into the frequency that you have most not wanted to feel.
If you're not willing to enter the frequency, then life will arrange for you to enter the situation. So let's say you're really afraid of being abandoned by somebody close to you. If you're willing to enter the frequency, and feel what abandonment really feels like and really make friends with it, then your beloved doesn't need to leave you. If you just are run by this fear of abandonment and you're not willing to feel it, sooner or later someone's going to leave you, because that's how life is set up. You get to feel the things you've avoided, whether you like it or not.
TS: So entering the frequency means that frequency is alive in your body, and you actually feel it, you sit with it, you stay with it for a period of time?
AA: Well, actually the technique that we teach is a bit more than that. We actually teach people to amplify it, because what I've noticed is that if you try to be with something or watch something, there is very often a residual feeling of still avoiding it. So it's like, "OK, I'm going to be with this in brackets, so that it will go away." So what we teach people to do is not just to be with it, but to actually consciously build it up without a story. That's the other thing that's important, without a story. To build it up, make it stronger and stronger without any story attached, so that you actually start to celebrate it. The frequency of abandonment, you build it up so much that it almost becomes like a sexual feeling, an energy increasing in your body. You build it up to the point that you can't build it up anymore.
What we've discovered is that in any moment when you build something up completely, you can't, in that same moment, resist it. You can't build something and resist at the same time. So when you're completely building a frequency in that moment, you're not resisting it, and then you discover freedom. So that's the take on fear.
What I would say is, whatever frequencies are there in your psyche that you absolutely don't want to experience or build up, those are the frequencies that will run your life. Those are the frequencies that you will be forced to visit, whether you like it or not.
TS: And then briefly, if you can tell us how that would apply to anger, let's say as a frequency that somebody might want to avoid, but here we're going to take a different approach.
AA: So if you really have an unfriendly relationship to anger—generally speaking people who have an unfriendly relationship to their own anger don't like to feel angry. But when you don't like to feel angry, you develop a story you tell yourself where you say, "I'm not angry. I don't have anger, the rest of the world is angry." So consequently, you keeping seeing or meeting angry people. So actually what you experience is anger is coming toward you, and it's very threatening and very horrible and you don't like it.
So what we tend to do—and this is especially common in what we call the spiritual New Age personality—is we develop a sort of love-and-peace attitude, that anger is bad. Nobody should get angry, it's bad energy, and the right way to live is to love everybody and hug everybody. And if anyone gets angry, then we judge it as very bad. Over time that actually creates a tremendous weakness, not only because you end up avoiding people who get angry, but more important, it builds up a weakness because you cut off the anger in yourself. You have an unfriendly relationship to your own anger, which means you also cut off your own power. Really the biggest loss of judging anger is that you lose connection with your own power, your own capacity to break through limits, to make a difference, to be really powerful and amazing in life.
So the way that we would recommend to work with this is to—really Let Yourself Go has lots of examples of this—invoke a memory of anger either in yourself, or sometimes it can start with anger from another person. And then instead of pushing it down, you actually find a way to enjoy it.
Anger is great example you gave, Tami, because I've discovered in my own life and working with clients that anger is one of the most pleasurable energies to run through your body if you know how to celebrate. Anger can be as much fun and excitement as sex. Anger is a very cool, yummy thing to be experiencing. You've got to actually recognize and unplug the idea that anger is wrong.
There are actually two energies, which traditionally have been repressed by religion and politicians. One is anger and the other is sex. So if you're walking down the street and you behave in a way that's really angry and aggressive, somebody's going to call the police and you'll get taken to jail, because it's not OK to be really strongly angry in public. The other feeling that is not allowed is sexual arousal. You're not allowed to walk around feeling sexy, aroused, or showing signs of sexual arousal.
It's OK in public to cry. If you sit down in a public place and cry, people will come close and say, "Are you OK?" It's OK to laugh or be loving, but the expression of sexuality and anger are not allowed socially, because you cannot control a population that is angry or horny. Right? You can't have organized religion if the congregation is angry or horny. You've got people who are going to start claiming their own power if they are angry or horny. Politicians cannot organize society into an economic hierarchy where some people have more than others if the population is angry or horny. If you got a population that's angry or horny, you've got a social revolution on your hands.
So this is just a little side note, but we have been conditioned to believe that anger is not OK from childhood to kindergarten. In kindergarten if you get angry, you'll be sent to the corner. If you express sexual feeling in kindergarten, your parents will get called. If you cry in kindergarten, the teacher will come help you. This is deeply ingrained in us.
But here's the amazing thing: if you enter into anger, not with a story but just as an energy, like a RAAHHHHH, if you find a deep growl within the body and really play with it, it actually can give you a tremendous feeling of freedom. It wakes up power. And it can become as pleasurable as an orgasm. In fact, with the unrepressed flow of anger through the body or sexual feelings, it's hard to know which to choose because they're both so alive and yummy.
TS: Now Arjuna, obviously you have some fabulous experience here working with anger. So I want to make sure that I understand. Here I am, I'm amplifying it somatically in my body, I'm feeling it more and more, and then what happens? It's growing in me, there's like an explosion or something?
AA: The first thing is, if you or anyone is interested in any particular method I'm teaching, it would be good to listen to an example on Let Yourself Go. It's a particular technique we use, and it takes less than five minutes. We call it radical releasing. It's usually done with another person.
A coach will guide the client into this process of building, building, building, until you can't build anymore, and then it actually falls back, and then you relax into the question, "Who is experiencing this moment?" So you build the energy, build it, build it, till you can't get anymore. Usually you do it with a sentence. So the sentence for anger might be you know like—well we'll have to think of something that won't be deleted from the recording. You know, for anger it could be something like, "Leave me alone!" So you say, "Leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone!" So you build it and build it and build it until it cannot be built anymore, until you're completely overwhelmed just with this frequency.
And then the coach will say then, when it's at the absolute maximum, "Now just let go." That building only takes place for about two minutes. And then you just let go, and drop back into the question: Who am I? Who is here? Who is present? Who is aware? Who am I? You drop back into this question: Who am I? And then from there, you just check the body, you check the place in the body where you were feeling the anger, and usually you find a spaciousness or a presence. It's best to listen to an example on the recording of this. It's best to just notice there's a presence, just an openness. And then you check the statement again, "Leave me alone" and it doesn't have the charge. You check the opposite, "Come close to me," and it also doesn't any charge. And then you go back to the situation, and you realize that the situation doesn't have any charge.
So what you've done, you haven't made anger go away, you've taken the resistance off so that anger and its opposite are equally welcome. And this is for us, in the approach that we have called Awakening Coaching, this is what we would call freedom.
Freedom is not that you've transformed all your negative feelings into positive feelings. Freedom means that you don't have that distinction anymore between negative and positive feelings. Everything is equally welcome. There's a place for anger, for grief, for suicidal despair, a place for wanting to have sex with everything. There's a place for kindness, there's a place for compassion. There's a place for outrage. It's all welcome, it's all good. Everything is all good. There's no such thing as negative and positive energy; there is only repressed or welcomed energy.
Whenever we transform from the repressed to the welcome, we have more freedom. So I would say that anger is one of the most important energies to free up, to liberate, because so much of our life force gets trapped when we have the idea that anger is wrong.
TS: Now I just have one final question for you, Arjuna. I feel like a thread that has run through our entire conversation is upgrading, if you will, people's view of what spiritual practice might be like. That it might not be simply about resting in open space, but that there are practices that we can do in our intimate relationships when we feel triggered. There are practices to welcome and work with difficult feelings. And I'm curious, if you were to summarize—I mean, here you're somebody who has been so deeply involved in teaching spiritual practice and interviewing spiritual teachers and really surveying and synthesizing what's happening in the translucent revolution that we're a part of, so what do you think mature spiritual life is like? What would you call a mature spiritual life?
AA: Wow, OK, that's a great question. It's taken me a bit by surprise. I would say a mature spiritual life is one in which you kind of assume in a certain way that this is a dream. And that the characters, the people that you meet, are the characters in the dream, and basically you're enjoying this dream for the purpose of awakening and giving the love that is your true nature. So that means whoever appears in your dream, the purpose of the dream is to be a source of genuine blessing.
So I think one quality of spiritual maturity is that you're living in your own movie, not somebody else's. Which is why I think we need transformed relationships to spiritual teachers and the concept of enlightenment, because if you're following a teacher, you are basically living in somebody else's movie, as an extra in somebody's movie. I would say that spiritual maturity means that you are living in your own movie but in a funny way, not your own movie like "MY movie!" But you're living as the awake dreamer in which you become a source of blessing and giving, and you realize that the purpose of being here in this movie is not to get more stuff for you. The purpose, the blessing, the fulfillment of this dream is to unleash the gifts that you have to give.
So I would say somehow spiritual maturity is a combination of waking up this dimension of yourself that is free, and fully transforming it into a gift—sexually, emotionally, in parenting, in business, in social and political action, in art, in education. In every area of your life, your latent nature has been transformed into a gift that is not just obvious to you, but that is obvious and palpable to everyone else in your life.
TS: And because you mentioned this term "blessing," do you think we could end this conversation by offering our Sounds True listeners a blessing?
AA: OK. The blessing that I would wish on anybody is: May you fully remember why you came here. May you live this life on your own terms. May you live from your own values, and may you find a way to fully give and discharge the gifts that you were born to give.
TS: I've been speaking with Arjuna Ardagh. He's the author of the book Leap Before You Look: 72 Shortcuts for Getting Out of Your Mind and Into the Moment. There's also a two-CD set called Leap Before You Look also published by Sounds True, as well as a six-session audio learning course called Let Your Self Go: The Freedom and Power of Life Beyond Belief. Arjuna, thank you so much for being with us on "Insights at the Edge."
AA: Always a pleasure Tami. Thank you so much.
TS: SoundsTrue.com: many voices, one journey.