Posts Tagged ‘sounds true’

The Primacy of Experience

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

I have now hosted over 100 episodes of Insights at the Edge, a free podcast series in which I interview Sounds True authors about their life and work. What I have found is that the part of the conversation that always interests me the most is when people talk about their own direct experience–their experience with difficult times, their “illumination” experience, their experience with intimate relationships (the good, the bad, the ugly). These are the moments when the conversation becomes the most real for me. I feel like saying to my guests, “Please don’t tell me what you think sounds like wonderful philosophy, tell me what you have seen with your own eyes, tell me what has surprised you, tell me what has disappointed you, tell me what has helped you feel most alive and free.”

Being in the spiritual education field, I have recently developed an allergy to people telling me that “life is like this” or “life is like that.” I am very interested in knowing what people have discovered for themselves, but am very disinterested (and yes, allergic) to people telling me how life is, period. Recently, I recorded with a Sounds True author who repeatedly used the phrase “in my experience” to talk about the discoveries he has made. I noticed how much I appreciated the spirit of this phrase, how there was a certain humility in his presentation, how he wasn’t speaking for all people, for all time, in all dimensions. He was speaking about what he had discovered in his own experience that might be helpful to others.

One of the questions I have been asking myself is, “Why have I developed this allergy to people telling me that the universe works, definitively and forever, like this or like that?” I recently discovered this quote from Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche that I quite like: “Ambiguity is called a seed syllable when it becomes a starting point rather than a source of our problems.” To me, what Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche means by “ambiguity being a seed syllable” is that each moment is unprecedented and fresh— we can be open in any moment to a new possibility. We don’t need to attach ourselves to some type of certainty (possibly a false certainty) as a way to feel at peace. We can be at peace with not-knowing.

After listening to hundreds of hours of Sounds True recordings and hearing all kinds of wise teachers contradict each other (and sometimes even contradict themselves), I am beginning to feel at home with ambiguity. I do not need a wisdom teacher to take away ambiguity because it is too destabilizing, because I can’t handle it. And I feel allergic to advertising that promises me that someone else’s theories will assuredly work just wonders for me, all the time and in all situations. What I am interested in is the personal process of discovery, and sharing notes and experiences with other spiritual journeyers. What I find is that when people talk to me from their own first-person experience, I relax. No one is preaching to me about “how it is.” Instead I am touching in with someone and for a moment seeing the world the way that they see it. And that makes my world bigger. I feel in those moments that I am connecting with another person, not being preached at (hallelujah!). And perhaps most importantly, I feel interested in diving deeper into my own experience, inspired by this person’s genuineness and vulnerability.

Manifestation Manifesto

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Over the past few years, I have heard more and more people talk about “manifesting.” From what I can tell, the going definition of manifestation is “learning how to use spiritual principles to get what you want out of life.” Of course, it is usually stated in more palatable language like “how to realize your dreams” or “how to create the life you want.” Often, when I hear people describe this view of manifestation, I find myself feeling irritated. So, I decided it was time to write my own “Manifestation Manifesto.” (As you can see, I’m using this Publisher’s Blog as a chance to constructively express – at least I hope I’m being constructive – many of the pent-up frustrations I have been feeling as a publisher in the field of personal and spiritual transformation for the past 24 years.)

So in response to all of the manifestation talk I‘ve heard over the past few years, here is my “Manifestation Manifesto”:

Step 1. Listen to your inner voice.

Step 2. Do what your inner voice says.

Step 3. Repeat Steps 1 and 2.

That’s my manifesto (very short!). And although it sounds quite simple – and it is from a conceptual viewpoint – that doesn’t mean it is easy.

Step 1: Listen to your inner voice.

I believe we all have a trustworthy inner voice. You might experience it in the form of words spoken internally or as a gut feeling, an intuitive vision, a flash of insight, or a spontaneous sense of knowing. In traditional religious language, this inner voice might be called “the voice of our conscience,” which may not be too far off the mark. I do believe we each have an internal guidance system that is always available, if we are willing to stop and listen.

You might ask, “Where does this inner voice come from?” That’s a good question – and I don’t have a good answer. What I do know is that for me this inner voice is a compass. It feels to me like a reliable, benevolent, evolutionary messenger service, something that is guiding me to express more, to love more, and to extend more for the benefit of others.

It’s my experience that there is no shortage of available inner guidance. What is in short supply, however, is our willingness to tune in and listen. Most of us are too busy, busy, busy (ironically, trying to manifest our dreams, right?). Imagine how much power and impact we could have if we paused and listened to make sure we were actually scurrying in the right direction.

If we are interested in manifesting more in our lives – more abundance, more happiness, more contribution to others – one interesting question to ask ourselves is why we don’t spend more time listening to our inner guidance. Caroline Myss, the medical intuitive and author of Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can, has investigated this question in some detail. She posits that the reason many people don’t listen to their inner guidance is that they don’t actually want to change – certainly not in dramatic ways. We may say we want change in our lives (we want to “manifest” something that doesn’t currently exist, right?), but we usually want it on our terms, not on unconditional terms, not if it costs us something like our current sense of security, our current network of relationships, or our current identity structure.

And this brings me to why I often feel irritated when I hear people talk about “manifesting their dreams.” It is as if this all-powerful ego-based person wants to orchestrate a new world order according to their likes and dislikes, as if this whole universe exists to line up around our personal wishes. I really see things in quite the opposite way. The way I see it, we are servants, not masters. What are we serving? That is for each person to answer in their own being. In my case, I am serving a higher field or finer dimension of vibration that has qualities to it like truth, beauty and justice. I am also serving and partnering with all of the beings, seen and unseen, who have worked and are working to bring these qualities into form. To put it another way, for me the central question around manifesting is not “What do I want?” but instead “What is wanted from me?”

Step 2: Do What Your Inner Voice Says

Once we hear our inner guidance, we need courage – or to use Caroline Myss’ language, “a backbone, not a wishbone” – if we are to manifest in the world. This is complex territory, because there are all kinds of unconscious reasons we don’t want to act on the messages we hear.  I will give you an example from my personal and professional life:

For about 5 years, I knew I needed to hire a President at Sounds True. The company needed day-to-day operational leadership, and I needed the time to explore other avenues of self-expression and contribution. I was, however, terrified about making this change. What if I hired someone who ruined the 20 years of work I’d put into the company, eroding the value of the business? What if I hired someone who was better than me at running the company, and I ended up feeling like a horse put out to pasture? What if and if and if?

Finally, my inner voice stopped talking to me in clear sentences and started creating difficult circumstances in my life – including a schedule that was totally unmanageable and a love partner who could not tolerate how little time and attention I had for our relationship. It was as if my guidance system could no longer get my attention by whispering so it started shouting through the circumstances of my life.

A year and a half ago, the shouting got so loud I couldn’t help but listen. So I finally made the decision to hire a President. (Happily, April 1st 2009 will be the one year anniversary of a fellow spiritual traveler and business professional named Grant Couch filling this role.) Why did it take me 5 years to take this step? Because, as Caroline Myss says, I was afraid of how much and how quickly my life would change. In a certain sense, I was “hiding” behind all of the tasks that I had to do. I knew this just below the surface of my consciousness, but I didn’t really want to acknowledge this knowing because I was hiding for some very good unconscious reasons. Suffice it to say I was protecting my heart; it can be quite scary to change in ways that radically – and publicly – increase our level of vulnerability.

So for me, when it comes to manifesting, a useful line of inquiry is “Why am I not doing what I know I need to do right now”? That is a totally different approach than “visualizing what I want” or expecting hoped-for external events to happen. It’s about deeply inquiring into our own resistance and what lies underneath it. My experience is that when I can archaeologically dig up that unconscious material, feel it and release it, it’s like untying a knot. Once that knot is untied, the energy to manifest flows swiftly and generally, unimpeded. Doors fly open. Surprising allies arrive. Magic happens.

Step 3

Repeat steps 1 and 2

There is no end to manifesting and expressing who we are. I recently spent some time with Eckhart Tolle. We were filming a trailer for Eckhart Tolle TV, a new online television service that Sounds True is launching in partnership with Eckhart Teachings. I asked Eckhart why he was bothering to create this new service at all. I wanted to understand his motivations. Obviously, Eckhart can be spending his time in whatever way he wishes; why get involved in a multi-year commitment requiring so much energy and creativity? When I asked Eckhart the question “Why are you bothering to create Eckhart Tolle TV?” he paused for about a minute. Then he looked directly at me and said, “I am responding to the evolutionary impulse.”

I love that answer. When we are responding to an evolutionary impulse, we manifest in a way that is pure and selfless. We tune in. We are given instructions. We respond boldly, wildly and unconditionally. And as a result, we manifest in ways that serve evolution itself.

–Tami Simon

Enlightenment in five easy steps?

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

Here at Sounds True, we have seasonal meetings (called “creative direction” meetings) where our creative team gathers to brainstorm (and argue—in a constructive way, of course) about how best to position each one of our new titles. By creating a position for a title we are launching it into the world as a new and unique being—what it will look, sound, and feel like; what makes it unique from every other title that has ever been born.

The writers at Sounds True have historically advocated describing each program in terms of its benefits to the customer. The idea is that people want to gain something—intelligence, peace of mind, greater health—when they spend their money on inner learning and spiritual development. Well, those “benefits” sound good (they sure do!), but here’s the rub: The spiritual journey is often more about loss than gain, as much about embracing our darkness as it is about basking in the light. Advertising that promises the spiritual journey will be easy, fun, and always filled with light and bliss has some very real problems attached. Specifically:

It makes us misunderstand and reject our own experiences of “descent.”

Experiences of “descent” are those times when we need to be deep within ourselves—when we are called to inner silence and inquiry, when we are letting go of something that needs to be let go of, when we are grieving, when we are wrestling with and sorting out our priorities, when we are grappling with physical illness. These times of descent are part of life and are intrinsic to the spiritual journey. They are not times of failure or of being off course; they are passageways that need to be traversed so we can emerge with greater depth of being and, dare I say, wisdom.

If we ingest advertising that says that the spiritual journey is all about peace and feeling positive all of the time, then we are prone to believing that we are somehow “failing” during such times of descent. We will reject ourselves and our experience; we will actually pull away from the initiatory experiences we are having that hold so much richness and information, and we will instead stay on the surface of our lives and wonder why we feel like something is missing. Without the descent there is no real ascent; it is like wanting all of the vitality and energy of springtime but being unwilling to experience winter.

We are not prepared for the real work of the spiritual journey.

If we believe that the spiritual journey is quick and easy (like following the instructions on the back of a bag of microwave popcorn), we will not be prepared for the real work, the “heavy lifting” of genuine transformation. What I mean by “genuine transformation” is a process by which everything that is false in us—our emotional defenses, limiting beliefs, and self-structures—are seen and released, and a new unbounded and mysterious sense of self emerges which is fluid and ever-changing. Of course, this heavy lifting is more about “un-doing” than doing. But in my experience, when it comes to letting go of my need for power and control and safety, as well as my need to be universally well-liked by others, this process is quite a process indeed!

The problem with believing that the spiritual journey does not require real and sustained work is similar to the problem that emerges when a partner in a love relationship believes that the relationship should continuously unfold beautifully and perfectly without either partner needing to work at it. When tough spots emerge, there is no willingness to engage, to go deeper. The real treasures, those that can only be discovered through sustained engagement, remain hidden.

We lecture others about our theories of happiness instead of meeting them in their unique experience.

If we believe that the spiritual journey is formulaic, that there is a one-size-fits-all series of easy steps to follow, then when other people are suffering, we insist on sharing with them our winning formula. I do not believe this is what people really need or want from us when they are in emotional pain.

Recently, I spent three days in a studio in Madison, Wisconsin with Parker Palmer recording a series of talks about “The Undivided Life.” He is a beautiful writer and educator and someone who has written courageously (and now spoken courageously!) on the topic of depression. Parker himself has gone through three periods of clinical depression (he describes the most recent experience which he underwent during his sixties as “becoming the dark”). One thing he learned in these periods was how people could best relate to him in ways that were truly helpful instead of simply driving him deeper into isolation. He named this ideal form of relating as being “neither invasive nor evasive” and he compared it to how a dying person might want to receive a visitor—the visitor would not try to “fix” the dying person (for who can fix the fact that we are going to die and this is actuality the situation we are all in?) but would instead be at the bedside with total presence and a full heart, neither invasive nor evasive.

If we know that the spiritual journey is mysterious, complex, and totally individual (not reduced to a series of simplistic steps) then we can be with each other in this way—present, open, attentive, warm, and available. We can be fellow travelers instead of salespeople with one-size-fits-all answers.

The irony here is that the spiritual journey is the most exciting, the most rewarding, the most benefit-packed focus we could ever have for our lives. I remember at one point approximately seven years ago speaking with spiritual teacher Reggie Ray about my own ambitious nature. I wondered if a life focused on inner growth could ever really satisfy me. His comment was that the inner journey would nourish me and fulfill me in ways outer accomplishments never could—that instead of feeling drained and empty from working in the world (even with the purpose of being of benefit to others), I would feel overflowing from the inside out with a sense of richness and fulfillment.

So yes, we can describe Sounds True titles with benefit language galore, but we need to be careful we never sell the spiritual journey as something that is easy, quick, formulaic, and without challenge. That would be a serious disservice. As Parker Palmer says, there is no resurrection without death. As I see it, our real job at Sounds True is to communicate the great glory of dying.

–Tami Simon

Leap . . . and Life Unfolds

Monday, December 1st, 2008

Writing a blog like this is a type of “leap” for me. It is one thing to run a publishing company and stand behind the work of great luminaries and spiritual teachers. It is another thing to stand up front and use my own voice in this way. Preparing to write this first entry, I started thinking about a phrase that I have often heard repeated in spiritual circles: “Leap and the net will appear.” I just don’t think that’s true, at least not in all cases. People always want guarantees when they take a risk, and they want their spiritual endeavors to come with guarantees (if I follow this path, I must know that I am going to become happier, wealthier, etc.). What if there are no guarantees? What if we leap simply because we have to, because not leaping leads to stagnation and stuckness and sometimes we know in our hearts we just have to extend, regardless of the outcome?

Back in 1985, it appeared to others (my friends and family) that I was taking a leap to start Sounds True. But really, it was more like a calculated risk. The leap came when at age 20, I dropped out of college. It actually felt like I jumped off of a train that had been going 100 miles per hour (a stunt-like maneuver, I leapt off the train and rolled on the ground somersault fashion and found myself studying meditation and traveling in Sri Lanka, India, and Nepal for a year). It was a dramatic leap because I had been on a certain track, an academic track. I thought I was going to be a professor or something like that because I loved learning and I loved ideas. And here I was, called by something mysterious to discover what it meant not to get a degree in mysticism but to live the life of a mystic.

When I started Sounds True a year after returning from India, I had nothing left to lose. I was a college drop-out volunteering at a local radio station and working as a waitress to pay the bills. During this period in my life, there was a prayer that I said every day: “God, I am willing to do your work. Show me what it is.” The word “willing” was a very intentional part of the prayer. I did not want to approach finding my life’s calling in a “willful” way and I also didn’t want to be “will-less” — not exerting myself or caring about the outcome. I wanted to be shown, and I wanted the universe to know I was willing to do my part, whatever it might be, however humble it might look.

At the age of 21, I received a small inheritance (about $50K) when my father died. This was the money I used to start Sounds True. Starting Sounds True was a calculated risk. I lived very simply at the time (in a rented house with four other people) and I felt as though I had nothing to lose. If after the end of two years, Sounds True was not able to pay me a wage, then I would shut it down and go look for a job (which would put me in the same place I was in before I took the risk, seeking meaningful employment in a landscape that didn’t seem particularly promising).

People sometimes ask me if it took courage to start Sounds True. And the answer is no. What did take courage was to leave a situation (Swarthmore College) that promised a lot of rewards that were meaningful to other people but not actually meaningful to me. It took courage because I had no idea what would happen or how my life would unfold. I risked losing the respect of my family, and I had no explanation for my actions. I knew I had to leave a situation that felt wrong to me, but I had no idea what would feel right.

Since leaving college and starting Sounds True, there has been no end to “leaping.” Sometimes, I have taken a leap and suddenly it feels like a magical white horse has appeared underneath me, wings spread, and we fly through the air together. Other times, I have landed on the ground with a resounding “thud.” Sometimes, I have taken a leap and felt really humiliated at the results (a public talk that didn’t go well, for example). No matter. There are no guarantees. A “thud,” however painful, can lead to a new birth. What matters to me is to keep leaping, to keep moving away from the known and trusting the great fertility of the unknown.

We could even take this further. What if there is no “known”?  What if all of our plans and safety nets are fictions we have created to give us an illusion of personal control? What if life, when lived “full out” with our hearts leading the way, is more like a free fall in space than a construction project?  With this first entry, I have now made the “blog leap,” and I am doing so in free fall and in dialogue with you, Sounds True listeners. I would love to hear from you.

–Tami Simon