By Peter Fenner
One of the common things I hear from people when I’m running a workshop is that, “This space is great, but my life is so busy. I just don’t have the time to rest and be present to “what is.” I’ve got the meals to prepare, emails to do, phone calls with family and friends, making a living! All I really want is to spend my life in this space, but I have all these other commitments that I can’t walk away from. What can I do? How can I respond to the demands of life and still cultivate the connection to nondual awareness?”
I respond to this plea in different ways.
First, I will point out that the “doing nothing” that’s happening in a workshop or on a teleconference call can’t be compared with inactivity. I may say, “It’s true that in [Timeless Wisdom] workshops we aren’t playing sport, surfing the internet, engrossed in a movie, negotiating airport security, or visiting our parents, but the “this” we are doing—that’s happening here—is ultimately unrelated to being still, or inaction. At the very least we can see how, right now, it’s possible to abide in awareness—and talk, listen, make notes, stand up, sit down, and move around.
It’s true that, as beginners, it’s easier for us to enter awareness when the environment is simple, stable and undemanding. But, it’s also important not to make a connection and think that “this”—being here—is doing nothing. We aren’t doing nothing in the way we typically use that phrase. We aren’t sitting around aimlessly, watching things go by. We are resting in a pristine state of being: a state where we could rest, fully aware, without a flicker of boredom or distress, for eternity. This is completely different from “hanging around, letting time pass by, doing nothing, until something comes along.”
In fact, I question the belief that we really want to spend more time resting in awareness?
I think that, if we really wanted to spend more time “here”, somehow we’d figure out how to do it. The Buddha worked it out—how to be permanently free—as have hundreds of thousands of other sages. What’s clear is that there is a fundamental change in priorities. For the Buddha, the priority wasn’t having a roof over his head, or knowing where his next meal was coming from. Something completely different was going on. So different that he didn’t need a roof over his head, money in his pocket, or fallible human company. It’s easy to say, “Ah, but he could renounce all those things because he was enlightened.” But this is a cop-out. For the Buddha, the only thing was abiding in liberating awareness, needing nothing, rejecting nothing, and letting his life unfold with no concern or preoccupation about tomorrow, or the next minute. His power and influence as the founder of a new religion came precisely from his capacity to encounter everything that came his way:
- scorching heat
- drenching rain
- an empty stomach
- unrestrained adoration
- assassination attempts
- numerous smear campaigns
…without any of these producing the slightest mental or emotional disturbance. Such was the power of his unconditioned love and nondual wisdom.
If the same priority was alive in us, we wouldn’t be who we are. It’s very simple; we’d be a completely different person, someone so different from who we are, we couldn’t even recognize ourselves. We would see a clone of our body, but the speech, functioning, gait, comportment, lifestyle, network of friends and colleagues and career (if we could still call it that) would be completely different: like someone from a different planet. For a start, we wouldn’t be saying, “I don’t have enough time to rest in awareness. My life is too busy. I have too many other commitments.”
There is nothing to be gained in thinking, “I don’t have enough time for this work.” We rest in awareness for us long as we can. If we could do more of “this” we would. I have no doubt about this.
I invite you to be honest and realistic about how you are with this. Complaining about our time being limited and committed, and wishing it were otherwise–that there wasn’t so much to do, there weren’t so many responsibilities–merely fosters conflict. No one ever entered (or re-entered) this state by thinking, “I wish I could do more of this.” Unless, of course, in thinking like this we see that there is no “this” to want more of! No one has ever entered buddhamind wishing that their life was different. In this work we embrace what is, aware of our deepest longings and our present choices, acknowledging where we are with love and understanding.
The Bhagavad-Gita speaks about the practice of desireless action (nishkama-karma). When time is available, we sense that there’s nothing we need to do, and so we do exactly that. We find a quiet place and abide in unconditioned awareness. In the rush of getting things done we may forget the possibility of being “here,” but not entirely. Unconditioned awareness is always here, silently in the background, needing and expecting nothing but somehow drawing us into it. Knowing that the ever-present possibility can shine through at any moment, we grow in our capacity to find the time for abiding. We remember how sweet, peaceful, spacious and free this space is, and we receive it as the sourceless gift of the universe. We find a few minutes each day, and each week, to rest in nondual awareness, and we plan ahead for a retreat so we can dwell more deeply and uninterruptedly in timeless presence.
Peter Fenner, Ph.D. is a spiritual leader in the adaption and transmission of Asian nondual wisdom and Founder of Timeless Wisdom, a California nonprofit. He is a pioneer in the development of nondual therapy. He created the Radiant Mind Course® and the Natural Awakening: Advanced Nondual Training.
Peter runs courses, trainings, retreats and satsang telecalls and offers individual coaching sessions. His students and clients include Buddhist psychotherapists, psychologists, coaches, Zen masters, Sufi masters, Vipassana and Mindfulness teachers, Yoga teachers, psychiatrists, medical doctors, hospice workers, students of Tibetan Buddhism, followers of Advaita, artists and spiritual seekers worldwide.
Peter also offers retreats on four continents. He has presented his work at leading universities and institutions including Columbia, Stanford, CIIS and Naropa.
*Buddha Pic/Art: Julian Bound