NATURAL AWAKENING – Peter Fenner
An Advanced Guide for Sharing Nondual Awareness
This guide goes behind the curtains of Dr. Peter Fenner’s highly distinctive nondual teachings. It reveals in great detail and clarity the subtle and sometimes mysterious skillful methods he uses in his workshops, trainings, public presentations and coaching to swiftly awaken people to the liberating freedom of nondual, panoramic awareness.
Peter has a unique ability to reflect on the deep processes involved in his nondual transmission, especially the nuances of language, deep feelings and silence. He is well known for the rigor, precision and organic flow of his unfindability dialogs.
The skills he reveals in this guide are many of the very same methods used by Dzogchen masters, Zen roshis and Advaita sages in “pointing out events” and “mind-to-mind transmission.” Peter’s teaching has been described by others as “free-form, continuous pointing to awareness.”
In Buddhism nondual awareness is often called the “ultimate medicine” because no higher evolutionary accomplishment is possible for any conscious being, living anywhere, at any time. When we see everything as the seamlessly changing fabric of immutable, unfindable awareness it’s impossible to be negatively touched by any environmental circumstance or inner perturbance. We move into the realm of embodied transcendence beyond disturbances and conditioned forms of peace.
In this guide Peter often shares at the “result, or fruition level.” He shows us how comprehensive awakening is our natural state, that infuses and embraces the totality of existence whenever we let go of personal striving, ambition, fantasies, hopes, fears and self-judgment. At this level our familiar preoccupations transform into a blissful and exquisite mandala that’s completely free of the narrow concerns of a self-absorbed life. The neurotic energies and paranoiac projections that shape samsaric existence self-liberate into a panoramic clearing that supports evolutionary transformation throughout the universe.
The guide is especially useful for facilitators, therapists and coaches as it powerfully accelerates the integration on the nondual in a form that lends itself to the public sharing of pure awareness. Peter also outlines everything he has discovered in 42 years of teaching!
Part One is a virtual manual for spiritual teachers, therapists and coaches in how to introduce groups and clients to the ultimate state of healing and being—pure, pristine, timeless awareness.
Part Two traces Peter’s contemporary expression of nonduality, and more especially his well-known Radiant Mind course, through to its Asian origins.
Letting things be: noninterference
When faced with a situation or problem, one possible action—or non-action—is not to interfere with whatever is happening. We don’t become involved. We allow things to be as they are and keep seeing what happens.
How is noninterference useful? When we resist what is happening, we suffer. Instead, when we give up the struggle against what is happening, we’re immediately free and complete. We’ve liberated ourselves from the prison of our own ideals. We’ve just stopped interfering with our experience. We’re doing nothing—simply letting our experience be, exactly as it is.
Noninterference is a defining theme of nondual approaches like Dzogchen and Taoism. Dzogchen offers the way of letting things be as they are, since this is how they are anyway. It’s sort of crazy to want things to be different. Dzogchen closes the gap by leaving things as they are.
It’s easy to assume that when something is wrong, we need to “do” something about it: we may need to do some clearing, or deep processing, and simply talk things through with someone! Nondual inquiry doesn’t assume that we are complete or incomplete. It’s a respectful offering, when you think about it, to allow people to be exactly as they are without imposing deficiency on them. Longchenpa, the great Dzogchen yogi says:
“Don’t condition your mind by [trying] to suppress your experience, apply an antidote, or mechanically transform it, but let your mind fall naturally into whatever [condition you find it]. This is the incontrovertible essence of what is ultimately meaningful.”
When we allow space around people’s emotions and problems, just by letting things be or “doing nothing,” we allow people to experience confusion or ambiguity. By allowing this ambiguity, we open up the opportunity for people to let their beliefs and emotions dissolve spontaneously. In Dzogchen, this is called “natural release” or “auto-liberation.”
As facilitators of nondual work, one of our primary roles within the setting is to attune to whether or not people are complete. Rather than watching like a hawk, we’re naturally and serenely alert to the question, “Is there anything that seems to be missing?” When “nothing is missing,” noninterference is often our natural response. Perhaps surprisingly, when “something is missing,” noninterference is also a valid response.
There are times when we can become aware that “something is missing”—someone seems incomplete—because we sense an expectation that we should be intervening or providing an explanation. At times, our response will be to “do something.” One of the many ways we can address the problem is to offer noninterference as a concept or theory and explain how people can use it to release their resistance to how things are.
By offering noninterference as a concept, we make people aware that it is always a valid option for them to just allow things to be as they are. A time when it might seem useful to do this could be when someone raises a problem and we decide to “do something”—offer guidance. Here, we can also remind people that the practice of noninterference is all-inclusive; that is, it includes all situations, thoughts, emotions, and it includes all states of consciousness. For instance, when people show concern that they are immersed in conditioned awareness, that is a time when we can point out that they could just let that be. They don’t have to resist the conditioned state. At this moment, they can just let that be how it is.
Noninterference also includes not resisting the times when someone is expressing very strong emotions. We don’t need people to be happy or not suffering. Nor do we need people to be perfect or enlightened. Someone could be heavily tied up within their identities and we would still be aware that everyone is complete, just as they are. There is no other way anyone could be right at this moment. Why fight it?
“One doesn’t discard [some experiences] and cultivate [others]. [Whether one’s experiences] are dynamic or stable, one should let them go wherever they want to go.… When the mind is diffused or dynamic, one isn’t discouraged; when it’s calm and stable, one desists from wanting [to continue in that state].” (1974)
At other times when we’re aware that someone is incomplete, we can find ourselves not needing to do anything. We’re letting things be as they are. We have the wisdom to trust that we can simply provide people with the opportunity to put space around their problems, a space that can allow the natural release of these problems.
The important point here is that, although we’re aware that the natural release of limiting beliefs and emotions is what can happen when we allow things to be as they are, this is not our intention. When noninterference arises organically, we have no goal. We’re neither “applying” nor “practicing” noninterference. It’s not an action that we consciously choose to “do.” We don’t “do” it in any idealistic or formulaic way that presupposes that it is going to dissolve someone’s problem. It may not, and we don’t have any concern about that. It’s just our natural response sometimes it can seem that nothing needs to be done.
At times like this, to announce that noninterference is what we’re “doing” is incorrect and would undermine the “non-action,” because people then try to work out our motive, rather than explore their own uncertainty with the situation. To clarify this further, it can be useful to offer the theory of noninterference at times when we’ve decided to “do something”—that is, provide some explanation—but when we’re taking the track of “doing nothing,” it’s best not to reveal that that’s what we’re “doing.”
In the following dialog, I’m working with someone who has a very negative story around the functioning of her mind. Even here I’m inviting her to let things happen.
S: I’m getting really angry sitting here. I have to share this with you. Other people seem to be getting what you are doing, but it isn’t touching me. My problem is that I’m plagued by parasitic thoughts. They just keep turning around in my head. I can’t stop them. They are with me day and night. They never give me a break.
P: Is this happening now?
P: Do you mind sharing with me what is happening?
S: I’m just thinking about my work, what happened in the office today. I can’t get rid of these thoughts.
P: Are these what you call “parasitic thoughts?”
P: That’s a very heavy judgment about your thoughts.
S: Well, they are parasitic. They eat away at me. They stop me from being here. Everyone else seems to be peaceful and able to hear what you’re saying, but I can’t get rid of these trivial thoughts about what’s been happening at work.
P: Well, instead of struggling to stop them, can you just let them happen?
S: Of course. I can’t stop them anyway.
P: Give yourself permission to think them.
P: Are you thinking those thoughts?
P: Okay. Just let yourself think them, let them be present for however long they continue. Can you do that?
S: Of course.
P: Can you tell me when they stop? There’s no hurry.
S: Well, I’m not sure why you’ve asked me to do this.
P: You seem to be thinking about something different now.
S: I don’t understand.
P: You’re no longer thinking about work. Instead you’re wondering why I’ve asked you to give free reign to your thinking.
S: Yes. I’m wondering what you’re doing.
P: Before we look at what we’re doing, I’d just like to check whether there are any that some more? Can you reactivate the images of your office and what was happening today at work?
S: I can’t.
P: Come on. You must be able to. You’ve been at work all day. You haven’t had time to adjust to being here.
S: But I can’t think about it anymore.
P: I’m patient. Perhaps we just need to wait a little longer.
S: I can’t.
P: That’s interesting. Only a couple of minutes have passed since we began talking together, and the thoughts that were burdening you are no longer present. In fact, you can’t reconstruct them even when I invite you to!
S: I don’t understand this. What am I meant to be doing then?
P: Obviously, right now we are meant to be doing this.
S: But I’m not doing anything!
P: Then there’s nothing for you to do.
S: That’s impossible. I’m a super-active woman.
P: Really? Prove it to me!
S: I can’t. I can’t find anything to do.
S: So what are we doing? What is this?
P: Yes, those questions seem to arise at this point. What are we doing? What is this?
S: Yes, exactly. What is this?
P: In some ways, we can let our attention become focused on this question. Whatever thoughts arise, we can let them ride on this question. The question is there because we can’t work out what this is. Usually we can say what is happening, even if we acknowledge that it is our interpretation, but right now we aren’t able to do that. Nothing seems to be happening upon which to hang an interpretation. What would we be interpreting? That’s the quandary. This is happening but we can’t say what it is.
About the Author
Peter is a leader in the Western adaptation of Buddhist wisdom. He is a pioneer in the new field of nondual psychotherapy. He was a celibate monk in the Tibetan Buddhist traditions for nine years. He has a Ph.D. in the philosophical psychology of Mahayana Buddhism and has held teaching positions at universities in Australia and the USA.
His recent books include:
• Radiant Mind: Awakening Unconditional Awareness,
• Radiant Mind: Teaching & Practices to Awakening Unconditioned Awareness (7-CD set),
• The Edge of Certainty: Paradoxes on the Buddhist Path,
• The Sacred Mirror: Nondual Wisdom & Psychotherapy (ed. with John Prendergast and Sheila Krystal).
He has taught workshops at Naropa University, the California Institute for Integral Studies, Omega Institute, and other centers, and given invited presentations at JFK University, Saybrook College, Stanford Medical School, Columbia University, and internationally.
Peter’s way of teaching is known for its dynamic and engaging deconstruction of all fixed frames of reference that block entry to unconditioned awareness, and for the purity and depth of natural, uncontrived silence that emerges in his work. He also has a unique capacity for sharing the skills and states of his transmission in a way that others can easily understand and begin to replicate the nondual transmission.