Saturday, March 28, 2009

time on my hands

Hey I thought of a good acronym :
Sustainable Ecological Creative Spiritual Communities (SECSC) get it?!
say it like it sounds.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Pondicherry and Auroville

Well I just got back last night from a couple of days excursion to Pondicherry and Auroville. Pondicherry is about a 3.5hr bus ride east to the coast and is an ex-french colonial town famous as the home of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.

Sri Aurobindo was a contempory with Sri Ramana Maharishi and died in the same year of 1950. Aurobindo was an early key leader in the Indian Independence movement but later withdrew from politics to focus his energy on his spiritual work.

His main point seems to be that enlightenment doesn't stop with the individual becoming transcendentally liberated from suffering. For him he felt that what was needed was to bring the light of enlightenment into this world and transform it into an enlightened world.

I'm not all that familiar with the specifics but the basic idea seems pretty good. His spiritual partner, a french mystic known as the Mother, lived on until 1973 and in the late 60's she spawned the bold experiment that was to become known as Auroville.

Auroville is an experiment in community living which aims to integrate all the aspects of life into one holistic package covering the spiritual to the material and everything in between. It is a non-sectarian project with the backing of the Govt. of India and UNESCO covering quite a large area of land anout 12km north of Pondicherry.

Eventually it is envisaged to be a fully functioning city for up to 50,000 people however at the moment it seems to be more of a loose-knit and spread out collection of around 80 small communities with 1500-2000 people from all over the world. Each of the small communities has it's own particular focus such as organic farming, renewable energy technology, education, creative arts, healing etc, etc.

At the centre of the place, both physically and spiritually, is the Matrimandir, which is a huge spherical meditation chamber. I didn't actually get to go inside this time as they make you jump through quite a few hoops which I suppose protects it from being treated like a tourist attraction and helps to maintain the purity of the energy. I was able to go to the visitor centre and to view the structure from a distance. It's very impressive and big and puts one in mind of a huge golden golf ball from outer space that has landed in the middle of a horse racing track.

I hear it is good energy in there so I may or may not make it back for a repeat visit. Afterall it is all within oneself and I'm already living in one of the worlds great power spots of Consciousness. All in all, Auroville is quite an impressive place although, by their own aspirations, is still only in its infancy. They are doing some very innovative stuff and, while not being unique in their aspiration to combine spirituality and sustainable eco-community creative living, certainly seem to be one of the worlds largest and longest running modern day experiments along such lines.

They are not really set up for casual drop in visitors and so inorder to get a greater feel for it all one would probably have to live and participate in community life for at least some weeks. I'm not sure whether I want to do that at the moment or whether my little taste is enough for now.

Pondicherry itself is quite nice, at least the eastern coastal french part of town, with wide fairly clean and fairly peaceful streets. On the cycle back from Auroville I also stopped off at the beach and had a bit of a swim in the Indian Ocean which was very warm but still refreshing after riding in the hot sun all day.

The bus ride back was fun. After waiting at the bus station for an hour I just managed to get on the right bus before it left. Already it was over full but the driver let me sit up beside him on the box above the engine. It wasn't that comfortable but better than standing like a couped up chicken for 3hrs like many of the rest of them.

Another interesting Indian transport example I saw was a whole family of mum, dad, three small kids and a baby all on one standard Indian bicycle! I would have taken a photo only I was myself cycling and trying to avoid being squished by the many huge trucks and buses passing by, each trying to out do the other in the loudness and duration of their horn blasting.

Have a nice day :)

Monday, March 23, 2009

green eggs and ham - a glossary

Self (I Am)
- pure undifferentiated consciousness prior to individuality
self (I am) - the individual identity which when identified with thoughts becomes the false-ego

N.B. the higher and lower meaning of the same word is often differentiated by capitalisation

the feeling-sense of 'I' - the feeling of 'me' or 'I' at the core of the ego; the scent-trail of which leads one back to the source of the True 'I Am' as the Self
the True 'I' or 'I Am' - the Higher Self beyond thoughts or feelings

Self-Inquiry - the approach of focusing attention on the feeling-sense of 'I' such that thoughts drop off and the True 'I' or 'I Am' is revealed

Pure Awareness, Pure Consciousness, Pure Being - synonyms for the Self

Sat-Chit-Ananda - the three essential, inherent and inseparable qualities of the Self, namely, Existence-Consciousness-Bliss or Stability-Clarity-Peace

Embodied Beingness - a term I was using to refer to feeling very present, very still and very centered in the body which I was associating with the pure individual sense of 'I am'

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I am as I am

I am as I am
and it's okay to be me
because I Am became I am
just so I could see

This life is for living, loving and learning
so I set myself free
because I am that I Am
and that I Am is me

my story and all about me

You know in case it escaped anyones notice this 'I' has aspirations to become some kind of a meditation teacher. I was reflecting on this this morning and how it seems to be one of my central ego-identifications.

I can trace this all the way back to when I was 16 and getting very into Transcendental Meditation (TM). After feeling intensely lost and separate I suddenly found something which made perfect sense to me and provided a pathway to travel and friends along the way. It was clear to me that I wanted to become enlightened and, when the time was right, to also teach meditation.

Of course I didn't, and still don't, really know what enlightenment is but at least I had a feeling that this was the right direction to take and a rational concept of what growth in consciousness meant. A concept which went something along the lines of releasing all of the internal crap that was making me miserable and keeping me separate, and similtaneously getting tuned up with the cosmic intelligence and all of the wisdom, power and peace that that entailed. When I say power, I mean using ones full potential rather than just getting by on the measley 10% or so they say we are using of our brains capacity.

So that whole TM journey is a story in itself which I won't go into now. Getting back to my aspirations as a teacher. Now these rantings on this blog are a reflection of my own journey of trying to gain and express some clarity on these matters; and it may be that some persons might find something of use, something of interest, something which resonates for themselves amongst it all or not as the case may be. But I was looking into it this morning from the perspective of what is in it for 'me'? What juice is my ego getting out of holding onto and pursuing this self-concept?

I took a pen and paper and started drawing it out. The first thing that came up is that it can give me a sense of self-worth, a sense of contributing something helpful to others. Seems harmless enough but the lack of cleanness and the ego comes in from basing my sense of self-worth upon something I do rather than naturally just feeling enough within myself regardless of what I do or don't do. In other words, ones sense of oneself to be based upon simply Being rather than having some kind of gun against my head based upon 'my doing' and 'my achieveing'.

Not only that but in perhaps seeming to help someone else in their own journey, or expressing something well and getting good feedback, that is feeding my own ego and helping me to feel good about myself. Then comes pride and pride comes before a fall. So I identified that beneath this seemingly innocent desire to help others is the not so innocent desire to help myself. On the one hand to prop up a lack of self-worth and on the other hand giving me a feeling of false pride, both of which stem from self-judgement, and fear of judement from others, that I am not already intrinsically enough as I am.

Of course the egoic 'I am' is never enough (I'm diverging into spiritual metaphysics here which necessarly entails borrowed knowledge and speculation upon my part); the inherent nature of the ego is that it is always full of cravings and aversions. Seeking pleasure, avoiding pain and all the time creating misery. That's the point; the ego-self will never bring us lasting fulfilment; it is not capable of this and isn't meant to, despite it's best efforts.

Lasting fulfillment comes from within, not from any situation or circumstance in this world no-matter how carefully arranged. Now once we get onto this inner-fulfillment aspect then our situations and circumstances in this world may change to reflect this inner-fulfillment back to us, but as long as we mistake the world as being the source of happiness then we will always be on the merri-go-round of chasing our own tails.

I read a good analogy the other day in a book by Sadhu Om; he says, 'as long as we seek to chase our own shadow it will always be running away from us and slipping through our fingers. When we start to gain wisdom and seek to move towards the sun instead then our shadow will always follow us with no effort on our part.'

So, the egoic 'I am' does a good job of creating suffering for us until such times as we begin to move back towards our own source which is the True 'I Am' of the Self. Then the mind becomes our servant rather than our master and although we still have a personality we are no longer bound by it, and in all likelihood it will have gradually become a wiser, more balanced, version of our former selves.

The other main thread which came up in this investigation was that being a teacher might provide me with a livelihood in this world. Now aside from any issues over whether or not 'spiritual teachings' should ever be charged for I was looking into what ugly stuff lurks beneath the surface of this again, apparently innocent desire.

In a stream of deepening consciousness it came as :

financial security giving a general sense of security
based on a sense of insecurity, lack of trust and greed

insecurity and lack of faith come from a fear of letting go of 'me'
this 'me' gives me a sense of 'self', familiarity, security and hope (that one day I will get it right)

so I am afraid of 'no-self', of losing 'my-self'
what does this 'self' give me?

the 'self' gives me a story and the possibility of a heroic overcoming of fears and short comings
no story equals no glory

what is this 'glory'?
jubilation, adulation, celebration
a temporary good-feeling, a high

but then it becomes the 'same old story' and no more 'glory'
so I always need a new story and eventually I'll have a 'multi-story'

'multi-stories' need a lot of maintainence and upkeep
a lot of time and energy to maintain the 'multi-story'

wouldn't I be more happy with a simple dwelling?
a simple life could be a good life
that's another story

who's making up all of these stories?
'I am'
from whence does this 'I am' arise?

from the Stillness of 'I Am'
I Am that I Am
I Am Awareness, Being and Bliss

I Am clarity, stability and peace
I Am whole as I Am
I Am

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I Am therefore I Aum

Um, amness? What's with the 'ness', Elliot Ness, Chicago? How the mind streams.

Loch Ness? Ok, so no 'ness' required, but "I" and "I AM"? U can't object to that surely?

Jesus says "before Abraham was, I AM" John 8:58

and "I and the Father are One" John 10:30

God said unto Moses, "I AM That I AM" Exodus 3:14

In Kashmiri Tantra the ever-blissful transcendental identity is called Aham - "I"

Um, Am, Aum. Now there's a word.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God" John 1:1

So I Am therefore I Aum? Perfectly good

Friday, March 20, 2009

a dialogue on awareness

The following is a dialogue which seemed to help the questioner in gaining some clarity about awareness. Clear understanding helps and then one has to apply it in practice.............same for me, same for you, same for everyone.

Questioner : I really must be missing something here, so I will go back to basics. I read somewhere the process of waking in the morning goes like this; ‘I – am – awake – in the world.’ So ‘I’ is already in existence. I think that is what you have been saying.

Answer : first is awareness, denoted as I AM, then arises the 'I' thought and so the wheel starts turning

Questioner : So the ‘I’ is the ‘am-ness’ , the awake-ness and that which is in the world?

Answer : I have noticed that there is an embodied feeling of 'am-ness' which seems to be more of an energy or a feeling rather than a thought. however this still pertains to the body-mind and can be witnessed therefore it is not the True I AM which is the witnessing consciousness itself.

I was taking this feeling of 'embodied beingness' to be the feeling-sense of 'I' however I no longer think this to be the case as I ask myself, 'who is experiencing this 'embodied beingness'? 'I am'. It is this prior sense of 'I' which is the feeling-sense of 'I'. it denotes the subject; the perceiver. the feeling of 'embodied beingness' is an object of perception. the 'I' is the subject; the experiencer. by following this feeling-sense of 'I' we arrive at the simple naked awareness from which this 'I' arises

It can be quite confusing what is meant by all these terms like 'I', 'amness', etc as they have two levels of meaning - the meaning as denotations of pure awareness and the meaning as reflections of that in the body-mind; Self and self. I notice that teachers are not always very clear in their use of these terms either which can lead to confusion.

you could say that the world is in the awake-ness as without the awake-ness we would not percieve any world and it is found that our perception of the apparently solid world changes as our lense of perception becomes clearer.

Questioner : So the question is, how will the ‘I’ be known when found and by who? Or is it that the ‘I’ cannot know itself, as you said before, like the eye cannot see itself?

Answer : Awareness simply Is. without it there would not be awareness of this and that. ' you' know awareness by being awareness. there is no separate ' you' to know awareness. awareness simply is and it is possible to abide as that and then all these ideas of 'I' and ' you' are seen to be simply thoughts coming and going within awareness.

you define yourself as your thought identity. this only has a borrowed sense of reality from the true I AM which is the prior awareness. you are not the patterns of thought. you are that in which these thoughts arise. it is a case of mistaken identity

Questioner : Then it comes down to a matter of faith.......I don’t like faith. I much prefer logic or evidence.

Answer : the only evidence that will satisfy your thirst is the actual experiential realisation of how simple this thing is. forget about enlightenment and self-realisation. it is so simple. here is the logic : without awareness there would not be awareness of thoughts. thoughts come and go; you, as the awareness do not come and go.

you are simply caught in the habit of identifying with thoughts. give attention to the prior awareness itself and the clarity and simplicity of this will dawn upon you with consistent and persistant intention in the right direction. the effort is not to realise awareness. awareness already is. the effort is to break the habit of thought identification and then the awareness of awareness will dawn upon you.

fix your attention on the feeling-sense of 'I' (that 'thing' which feels like me); keep attention fixed on that (with the help of 'who am I?' and/or 'I,...I,...I,'); keep refocusing on that when you are drawn out by thoughts. gradually the thoughts will lose their strength and the ability to keep attention focused on the feeling-sense of 'I' will gain in strength. you have to develop your attention muscle then once you have some stability in that you will be able to relax into the ever-present simple awareness from whence this feeling-sense of 'I' arises.

simple but not easy because we have the habit of a lifetime to change which has us basing our sense of self on objects (even thoughts are objects of awareness); we have to develop our attention muscle to be centered as the subject which is aware of all this.

it may be that there is a corresponding change or opening in the physical apparatus (brain, nervous system, endocrine, etc.) which supports this but that will happen gradually by itself.

don't split philosophical hairs of what if or what may be. eat the cake and find out for yourself. If this path of self-inquiry doesn't suit you and you feel more drawn to some other form of meditation then nothing wrong; that will help you and keep you moving in the right direction. some of the other things which have been suggested are perfectly good.*

* Please refer to the March postings 'on mantra and meditation' and 'a meditation upon 'I' (now stripped back to basic essentials)

Questioner (some time later) : Good answer. I can see now that there is only awareness. Everything else arises from this. That which is described as ‘I’ is in fact awareness.

Answer : That which is described as 'I' is Awareness. The 'I'-thought arises within this. So, great, now do it and Be It. Rome wasn't built in a day. The paper sets alight when you focus the suns rays with a lense and hold it steadily on one point. In this case the point is the feeling-sense of 'I' and the fire is one of Awareness. As for me, it's one thing to talk the talk, and walking the walk? a work in progress.

N.B. Ramana Maharishi has advised that at some point the current of Self-Awareness/Self-Inquiry becomes established in us all of the time, at first requiring conscious attention and later becoming effortless (like learning to ride a bike). It is very helpful to establishing Self-Awareness that one set aside regular dedicated periods where one gives this ones full, undivided attention. Twice a day for 20/40 minutes is good, starting off slowly and building up steadily. Having said that once a day is also good and whenever you can manage is certainly beneficial.

Remember, don't worry and don't hurry; what we are looking for is already here; we only have to become still enough to appreciate it. Apply the wisdom of the tortoise.


Ramana, Nisargadatta and Mooji collage of quotes

Psiplex, a friend of this blog has put together a very nice 3/4 minute collage of quotes from 3 Sages on Youtube to ambient music.

You can find it at

Have a nice day.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Jesus Christ, Super Star

Only a couple or three small things for you today. one is a good quote from the back cover of a book I was looking at. It was about this western guy who had spent 25 years in an intense spiritual quest. he finally meets this yogi who he says it was clear had achieved some deep insight into life. he beseeched the yogi "I have searched so long and so hard, please tell me the secrets of inner power", the yogi looked at him and asked "why do you want power? what are you afraid of?", then got up and walked away. this was the start of the westerners real spiritual journey......

The next thing is a short excerpt from another book. it says "In Kashmiri Tantra, this ever blissful transcendental identity is called aham ("I") versus the finite ego ahamkara ("I-maker"), which is driven by the desire to maximize pleasure and minimize pain and yet continuously sows the seeds of suffering."

And here is a paraphrased quotation from an Adyashanti video satsang I caught ten minutes of the other night, he says :

The very nature of the mind is to seek order
in the recognition and acceptance of this comes freedom
for then there is no longer this troublesome mind we have to fix
there is just an allowing oneself 'not to know'
and in this not knowing the 'me' is seen as just another thought
and all there is then is consciousness perceiving this moment

You know, as I was saying to a friend, aside from the possibility of my ego getting inflated it's very nice to receive any feedback and comments about the writings in this blog. apart from the people who are publicly listed as followers of the blog, the people who sometimes leave comments/emails and a handful of others I am aware of, then I have absolutely no idea who else, if anyone, is tuning in. so please feel free to make yourself known if you feel like it.

Ok, so there is one other thing that's been simmering for a day or two that I will share. that is my thoughts and feelings about Jesus. now I've meet a few relaxed Christians over the years and it was pretty obvious that their lives had been greatly impacted and transformed through some kind of acceptance of Jesus into their hearts. and there have been a good deal more Christians who seem more dogmatic in their approach and seem to be more in a persuading mode.

Now for me it is easy to accept that Jesus was a pure being of love and truth and whatever or whoever 'God' is, Jesus was in intimate communion with that. As such, I can very well accept the possibility that, for some people, by somehow feeling surrendered and connected with Jesus then Jesus can become for them like a gateway and a symbol for the mystery we call 'God'.

Where many people have a problem is with the whole exclusivity thing, that Christianity is right and everything else is wrong or somehow the work of the devil. Christians often quote Jesus as saying "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No-one comes to the Father except by Me" as justification for this exclusivity clause.

So let's look at that statement, firstly, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life". Ok so when Jesus says 'I am' is he referring to himself personally or is he referring to the universal 'I AM' of which he was an embodiment and which is the essential nature of us all?

I tend to go with the later interpretation in that Jesus was pointing us towards the Christ within, the Kingdom of Heaven within, and of which he was the living proof.

To further substantiate this line of thought consider the following :

In John 8:58 Jesus says "before Abraham was, I AM"
In Exodus 3:14 God said unto Moses, "I AM THAT I AM"

and again from the passage I quoted earlier :

"this ever blissful transcendental identity is called aham ("I")

Ok, so taking the second part of the statement "No-one comes to the Father except by Me", again who or what is the 'Me' he is referring to? The individual 'me' or the Cosmic 'Me-I AM'?

Even if we take it that he was referring to himself as the gateway to God, then it was surely in his capacity as an embodiment of Unity-God-Consciousness ("I and the Father are One" John 10:30). Since we all have that potential, and it seems many have realised it over the long course of history, then it seems unlikely that Jesus was claiming exclusivity.

Even if he was, it was in the context of Israel which was full of Torah-bashing zealots and idol worshippers, and so in that sea of ignorance he could very well say that "No-one comes to the Father except by Me".

But that statement of exclusivity then related to the historical circumstances of that time and place and was not a universal statement for all times and all places. Even if the statement is taken as universal then we have to look at the inaccuracies of translation and biased interpretation.

Finally if Jesus really did say that and really did mean what the Christians take him to mean then we have to consider the possibility that he was under a slight misconception or that for some reason God wanted him to say that inorder to help set up the context for division amongst world religions.

In the Indian conception of time, existence passes through many cyclic stages ranging from an age of Truth (Sat-Yuga) to an age of darkness (Kali-Yuga) with two others inbetween. We are currently said to be firmly in the Kali-Yuga for some thoasands of years and therefore these times are typified by division, corrution and quarrel.

Why? Because these cycles of existence are considered to be like a cosmic washing machine which expose the individual beings to a whole range of experiences (both 'good' and 'bad') which act as a ripening process so we each can finally come to realize our true nature and that we (as Consciousness) become all the richer for the experience. After all what else is God/Goddess going to do for all eternity if not have a little fun?

That is why they say this existence is a Divine Play, a Lila.

All of these last few paragraphs are just speculations; just possibilities.

The mystery remains.....................


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On mantras and meditation

N.B. As part of my 'slowing down' on the blog writing there are two posts today!
See below for 1st one 'to be or not to be.......'

I am coming around to the view that repeating the thought 'I,...I,...I,' is best reserved for self-inquiry rather than for general meditation upon an object (body/energy/breath). The reason being is that meditation upon an object is still a focusing upon an object, whereas self-inquiry is a turning of the attention around 180 degrees to focus on the subject (the 'I' focusing on the 'I'). By saying 'I' we are invoking the feeling sense of 'I' which invites this 180 degree turn. Therefore mixing the two up creates the possibility of trying to look in two directions at once which will only lead to frustration.

The 'a meditation upon 'I' posting though is fine as it is not focusing on any other object than the thought of 'I' itself which may lead to awareness of the feeling-sense of 'I' or directly into pure awareness itself.

As for what mantra (mind-tool) would be suitable for general meditation purposes, then.......?

Mantra seems to be a precise and sophisticated science and I don't pretend to understand or be qualified in this field. Each mantra seems to invoke a particular quality of energy and therefore it would be important to use one which is in harmony with the individuals own energy patterns or constituition.

Having said that however there are mantra's which are generally considered to be universal and safe for everyone to use. For example, one sanskrit mantra of this category is 'Soham' (usually pronounced 'So-hum'). Soham is said to be the natural mantra of the breath; 'So' on the inhale and 'Ham' on the exhale. It is said to mean 'I am That' affirming our essential unity with the Higher Self - however you concieve that to be.

This mantra can be very well combined with the breath and an awareness, for example at the navel (cultivating the energy of 'embodied beingness'). Allow the breath to become deep and smooth and feel the rising and falling of the belly with the inflowing and outflowing breaths. Some meditators and martial artists focus on a point called the 'Hara' which is said to be two finger widths below the navel and two in. This is said to be the energetic centre of the body and is very much connected to the same energy as the navel. Find which one suits you best and stick with that.

This meditation can be enough by itself (for the time being) and will help to cultivate a very grounded, stable, centered and solid energy in your being. And, as previously mentioned, it can act as an excellent starting point for self-inquiry if one is so inclined - simply do the first for a period until you feel very well established in the experience and then proceed to the next stage. I don't feel there is a need to hurry to the self-inquiry stage and I know from my own experience that if one is going off in more abstract practices without a solid grounded foundation within oneself then it can lead to all kinds of difficulties in normal life (i.e. exasperating ungroundedness and uncentredness etc.).

A mantra in this context is a simple sound or word which acts like a support for the mind to help us to step out of the circular patterns of thought and into deeper aspects of our being. By giving the mind a relaxed focus, which we keep on easily returning to when attention wanders, awareness will naturally begin to sink towards it's own centre like a pebble in a lake. Don't throw the pebble in making a noisy splash! Allow it to be more as if the pebble is gently sliding off your hand at the level of the water and easily slipping into the lake hardly making any ripple.

Another 'mantra' I feel you could very well use is the word 'peace'. Simply don't think about the meaning of peace (contemplation), don't imagine peace (visualisation) and don't use the word 'peace' as an intense mental focus to keep off other thoughts (concentration). No, none of that, simply allow the word 'peace' to be a gentle focus which helps you to relax and settle into your own subtle depths where upon you will begin to experience real peace. And naturally the meaning association of the word itself will help to invoke the experience which will become stronger as you cultivate a regular practice.

One word of caution. Don't go on chopping and changing your mantra as this just creates conflict in the deeper levels of the mind and leads nowhere. By all means try a few out and once you've found one that suits you then stick with it. Don't be seduced by what special quality this mantra or that one might invoke. The central purpose of this meditation, and use of the mantra is as an aid, is to help us to become consciously conscious in the moment and centred in our own being. Once that is done then all of the good qualities and energies of Consciousness will begin to manifest by themselves. Therefore, there are several good mantras and each one would be as good as the other. Just choose a simple one that resonates with you and stick with it.

When I say resonates with you, that has as much to do with the meaning of the mantra as anything else. For example, someone with a Christian upbringing would probably feel uncomfortable using a mantra which is coming from or connected to the Hindu tradition. And for good reason as it will automatically create confict with all of the religious conditioning and beliefs of that person. Far better to use something which is in harmony with the existing orientation such as 'Amen' which would be an excellent choice. Don't even call it a mantra, call it a prayer or a word of peace which invokes the blessings and protection of the Divine.

On the other hand obviously 'Amen' may cause a conflict with an agnostic or athiest person! Taking a good look at at transcending the limitations of ones conditioning is a whole other topic but for now, if you want to engage with this form of meditation, choose a word or a sound which you feel comfortable with, both in terms of it's feel and it's meaning.

Shalom could be good for a Jewish person and Allah for a Muslim. Soham is pretty neutral, as is peace. Some people meditate without even using a mantra at all, perhaps just focusing on the sensations of the body/energy and/or the breath. The important thing is not the form of the meditation but the substance of it in helping us return to the centre. Try a few things out and see what suits you.

Happy meditating! It's good, you'll like it.................

To Be or not to Be, that is the question.......

Ok, so I probably won't be turning into Darth Vader anytime soon. Just a little purging of the ego and a bit of fresh air in the shadows. You know in the whole of February I only posted on this blog 5 times. There are still nearly two weeks of March left and already I think this is number 18; that's quite some going and represents a considerable input of time and energy. Obviously I felt I had something I wanted to express and at least a couple of people seemed to like it.

Maybe my blog writing will slow down now (or maybe not). Yesterday, during and after a Werner Satsang, I had the experience of residing as energy. That is I was still walking around in my body, but my mind/thoughts were as if evaporated into the energy which precedes them. It seemed that there is this life-energy (prana/chi) and 'we' use this life energy to form the structure of our mind/thoughts.

I seemed to be experiencing the state of energy prior and was conscious of the tendency for this energy to take the form of thoughts and solidify as mind (and a particular view of the world). A. Ramana (Big Tex) said in one of his satsangs that Consciousness becomes energy and energy becomes matter, so we have to retrace our steps and go back the way we came.

All this talk about 'embodied beingness' I've been going on about seems to relate to a particular configuration of energy pertaining to the body-mind. I relate to 'embodied beingness' as a strong energy field which comprises a subtle aspect of this human form; of which we are normally unaware. So, abiding in the natural awareness of embodied beingness is a deeply pleasant experience of stillness and groundedness which is certainly captivating to the attention and keeps one pretty much in the present moment.

Meditating upon the energy or the body or the breath are all valid methods of meditation which help us to step back from thinking and to be more conscious in the present moment. Maintaining a relaxed focus on something which is naturally occuring within us, and repeatedly bringing our attention back there when it wanders, acts as a valuable anchor to the present moment.

This can be very worthwhile and beneficial in itself and it can also be a helpful precursor to actual self-inquiry.

Because energy or energy fields are something which can be percieved then they are not who I am. They comprise a subtle aspect of my vehicle in this existence but what is that which is aware even of this? What is that pure awareness beyond any percievable experience?

Who is experiencing this? I am. Who am I?

Behind the scenes is this feeling-sense of 'I' which is the subject of all experience. Becoming aware of that, however vaguely at first, and following that scent trail one-pointedly with our attention, is said to be the means which leads us back into the pure awareness which is prior to all thought, all energy, all relative experience.

Even our everyday sense of 'me', as mixed up with all kinds of identification as it is, is said to have at it's core the reality of the pure feeling-sense of 'I' which is the reflection of the true 'I AM' or Transcendental Pure Existence/Consciousness/Bliss; the Self.

Indeed it is said to be only because of this fact that our usual sense of 'me' has any sense of reality at all, and why by following this clue of 'I-ness' we are able to find our way back to the source.

And so what remains...........?

What remains of the individual being when all the rubbish falls away? I asked this question to Werner in relation to the fear of annihilation. To paraphrase him he said that what remain is the true essence of who you are beyond any psychological or emotional crap. Good riddance to it!

There is an opening to our transcendental universal nature which is then expressed through our own unique individual essence. Unity within diversity. Individuality within universality. Satchitananda in reflection. As above, so below.

Werner often advises that there is nothing we can do to Be That which we already Are, but that what we can do is to make ourselves available; and that much we are asked to do.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Who the devil am I? Who, the Devil am I?

You know I'm having 2nd thoughts about this self-inquiry business. After all, who in their right mind would undertake something which was going to destroy everything that I take myself to be?

Sure I want the bliss and the love, but I also want the Power and the Glory. I want to do it my way and I want to be around to enjoy it goddamit!

Better maybe I just meditate my way to a just before enlightenment stage and then I can have it all for me. Have my cake and eat it too.

I want to be the great teacher, I want to have all the affirmation, I want to be the Great One, I,I,I,I,I,I,I!!!

What's the point if I am not going to be there to enjoy it? Doesn't sound like a very good deal to me.

Who is this God guy anyway?

Monday, March 16, 2009

having ones cake and eating it too

Self-inquiry is essentially a Vedantic approach which seeks to directly transcend relativity whereas the approach of Tantra goes by the scenic route.

Veda means knowledge and Vedanta means the end of knowledge and relates to the single minded pursuit of transcending relativity and Realising the Transcendental Self; the one without a second. The teachings of the Upanishads (a class of Indian spiritual texts) expound on this, but the same intent of transcending relativity can be pursued outwith this context of traditional Indian culture.

There are several schools of Vedanta, each looking at things from a slightly different angle, but the school which this teaching of self-inquiry, as expounded by Ramana Maharishi and others, belongs is that of Advaita Vedanta. Advaita means 'not-two' or 'non-duality' and refers to the viewpoint or experience where everything is percieved as the manifestation of the One Essence with no degrees of separation.

Tantra on the other hand comes from the angle of the multiplicity of life, rather than the unicity. Ultimately the aim is the same but the approach is different. I only have an incomplete and outline understanding of Tantra (as of Vedanta), but I understand it to deal with the diversity of the ways that the One Unified Source manifests in this creation.

The essential insight of Vedanta is that the Self alone is Real and all else is an illusion, so it tends to not give much attention to, or is even dismissive of, the relative aspects of life. On the other hand, from the stand point of this ultimate realisation, even this world is seen as a manifestation of the Self, and the Jnani (Enlightened Sage from this Vedantic pathway) makes no distinction between the Self at rest (Absolute Transcendental Silence) and the Self in action (creation; the world; relativity). For the Jnani it is all a play of Oneness.

Therefore, given that diversity/manifestation is as much the Self as the Absolute is, then approaching Self-Realisation from and through the apparent experience of differences is an equally valid approach. This I understand is Tantra.

In the West tantra is associated with sex, however this is only one aspect and not the main point in itself. As far as I can work out the connection with sex has two aspects. The first aspect is in encountering and releasing our inhibitions, fears and neurosis around sex which are all part of the false-ego which keeps us in the illusionary experience of separation.

The second aspect is in the actual energetic interplay between the male and female polarities. Just like electricity has two opposite poles between which the electrons flow, so both within ourselves and between the sexes somehow the Self has manifested as this polarity of male and female and tantra has evolved ways and means to harness this polarity for accelarating the process of evolution (back towards our original true nature and that much the richer for the experience).

Broadly speaking the male aspect is considered to be Silent Awareness and the female aspect is considered to be Dynamic Energy. Both of these poles are contained within each of us and on a cosmic level are said to be the two inseparable aspects of the One Divine Self.

Tantra concerns itself with all of the various manifestations of energy inherent in this human form as expressed through the various energy pathways (nadis) and centres (chakras). The main chakra system, running up the spinal column, represents the various planes of energy and perception available within the human experience.

Connecting the dots of Satchitananda in reflection as this human form, it is apparent that the energy centre connected to the navel (and the inner body space between the naval and the base of the torso) relates to the 'Sat' aspect. That is the aspect of existence or what I have been referring to in this context as the experience of 'embodied beingness', 'I amness' or simply 'amness'.

The energy centre connected with the 'third eye' between the eyebrows (and the inner space from the base of the neck to the top of the head) relates to the 'Chit' aspect. That is the aspect of awareness, or the knowing capacity.

The energy centre connected with the centre of the chest (and the inner space from the navel to the base of the throat) relates to the 'Ananda' aspect. That is the aspect of bliss, love or the capacity to feel. N.B. Bliss and love in this context don't mean overwhelming ecstacy and emotional sentimentality. Rather more likely to be a still contentment and a pure connecting energy, however, anything can and does happen.

Of course this trinity of energies are not separate from one another and are all intrinsic aspects of the one thing. They are part of a smooth circular continuum with each quality coming to the fore at times and seamlessly melding into the others. Similarily there is no clear cut physical location to them either; any or all of these energies could fill the whole body of experience. The physical locations are only approximate counterparts which can act as a guide to help one tune into particular aspects of a more subtle experience.

So tantra views this human form as a gateway to the Ultimate and honours it as such. Tantric practitioners are not in a hurry to transcend relativity but are interested in investigating and integrating all aspects of their relative experience as the very pathway to the Self.

In Tantra there is the possibility of getting lost in the diversity of life and in Vedanta there is the possibility of missing the beauty of life. Personally, and if at all possible, I favour a balanced approach which encompasses the best of both worlds.

Satchitananda - Awareness of Being is inherently Blissful

I would just add that investigating the various subtle aspects of our experience is still a different thing from self-inquiry which is directly turning the awareness around 180 degrees back towards its own source in Pure Awareness. There is not necesarly a conflict just don't try and look in two directions at once! Do one thing or the other at any one time or at least that's how it seems to me at the moment. Each one must find their own way home.

Bare bones self-inquiry
When thoughts arise inwardly ask oneself 'to whom are these thoughts arising?'
The answer naturally comes 'to me'
Then ask oneself 'who am I?'
Nip the thoughts in the bud and refocus attention directly upon the feeling-sense of 'I'
Persist in this inquiry with the intention that the True Self be revealed
Keep on persisting in this inquiry until the false ego has been entirely destroyed and the Pure Self alone remains
That is it

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Please note that I have extensively revised the posting formerly entitled 'enquiry for the grandparents' and now 'a meditation upon 'I'. This is in appreciation of the fact that not everyone may be able to recognise the feeling-sense of 'I' straight away or relate to the experience of 'I amness' or embodied beingness. Any feedback or questions are welcome.

Also a slight revision to 'three verses on enquiry' and 'down the road a bit' for those interested

In the posting of March 9th entitled 'so what is this enlightenment thing anyway?' I speculated that 'Enlightenment' may be the merging of individual consciousness with some kind of Cosmic or Universal Consciousness. There may be a stage like that but I would now say (IMHO) that the initial thing is the individual Realisation of, and establishment in, Pure Transcendental Consciousness, which is simply the Pure Awareness at our core and the origin of the feeling-sense of 'I am'. This is usually termed Self-Realisataion, which may be the basis for some ongoing evolution towards Universality, but in itself seems straight forward enough.

In some schools of thought it is considered that both individual consciousness and Universal Consciousness (which is considered to manifest, maintain and dissolve Creation) both have their source in Pure Transcendental Consciousness and that 'Full Enlightenment' encompasses the totality of all of those aspects. Other schools of thought have more of a Personal God centered outlook and others deny that there is anything other than Self-Realisation. But all could agree that all of the rubbish we have accumulated obscures our true nature and that somehow this situation needs to be dealt to. At any rate until, and if, we experience these things for ourselves then they remain as theories.

Furthermore, in the posting on the same day entitled 'on not breaking on through to the other side' I speculated than by remaining with a quiet mind in the simple awareness of 'I-amness' then everything else would take care of itself. There may be some truth to this but I will also add that Ramana Maharishi cautions against becoming absorbed and plateauing in pleasant states. They are a good sign of progress but one should keep up the enquiry and transcend even these until one finally reaches to Pure Transcendental Consciousness beyond even the sense of individual 'I am'.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

towards the end of the road

All this talk of roads, or a journey of meditation, implies distance and time. However abiding in the awareness of 'I am' is only ever here and now. The idea of 'I am' there and then is exactly that, an idea, which is in fact a distraction from the reality of 'I am' here and now. Better stick with 'I am' here and now.

Within that 'I am' here and now however, there also seems to be a gradual deepening, intensifying and refining process which goes on gradually over the course of time. This is the paradox of the co-existence of opposites.

Carrying on from the last posting 'down the road a bit' :

So either way (enquiry into 'I' or meditation upon 'I'), one may begin having these momentary experiences of singularity which will increase in frequency, duration and clarity as progress is made. This experience is given many names such as Transcendental Consciousness, Pure Awareness, the Self, Turiya and any number of others.

Turiya is a sanskrit word which means 'the fourth' indicating that it is a fourth state of consciousness as distinct from the normal three of waking, sleeping and dreaming. It is said to be like the blank cinema screen upon which all the other three states are projected (deep sleep being like a dark blank screen).

It is called Transcendental Consciousness because as the substratum, it is beyond the other three states. It is called Pure Awareness because it is said to be the origin of our normal ability to be aware. Also because in this state, Awareness stands alone, aware of itself, with no object of awareness.

It is called the Self because it is said to be the original True Self of which even the pure feeling-sense of 'I am', embodied beingness, is but a reflection. The capital 'S' distinguishing it from the individual self we usually take ourselves to be.

When awareness of this state of Transcendental Consciousness becomes firmly established in us, such that it becomes the central, conscious and unshakable fact of our existence then Self-Realisation is said to have occured. It is not something which is created, but it is something already existing which becomes apparent once the obscurations have been removed.

For that reason, all of this meditation is actually a process of purification where the human nervous system gradually acclimatises itself to sustaining this type of awareness. Therefore don't be surprised when all the rubbish we have accumulated in body and mind starts to come out; better out than in as they say. It is actually a process of becoming more normal and more natural with ourselves.

Self-Realisation may not be the end of the story but really just the start of the true adventure into the mystery which is this existance. At any rate, getting rid of all the neurotic rubbish and coming to the stage of naturally abiding in the peaceful awareness of 'I amness', as a harmonious and whole human being, is something which most people could relate too and see the intrinsic benefit of.

I will say at this point that in talking of Self Realisation I am borrowing from the teachings of the Sages and cannot speak upon my own authority of direct experience. But that in doing so I have a reasonable degree of confidence through having practised some meditation and some self-enquiry giving a reasonable degree of experience and confirmation in the preceding stages. It is up to each one to do so for themselves as they feel drawn.

To close, here is an abridged quotation from the foreword to the famous book 'I Am That - Talks with Nisargadatta Maharaj', a well renowned 20th century Sage.

"In spite of its primevality the sense of 'I am' is not the highest. It arises with the body (and) when Pure Awareness is attained, no need exists anymore, not even for 'I am', which is but a direction indicator towards the Absolute. What prevails (then) is that which cannot be described, that which is beyond words. It is this state which is most real, a state of pure potentiality, which is prior to everything. The 'I am' (is a) mere reflection of it. Return again and again to 'I am' until it is your only abode; until the ego as a limitation of 'I am' has disappeared. It is then that the Realisation will happen effortlessly."

down the road a bit

Once ones practice of meditation or self-enquiry progresses one may begin to find that a certain degree of clarity and stability of inner experience is occuring. One may increasingly find that the mind becomes quieter and is resting more and more readily in a state of natural awareness of I amness and that this is a peaceful and quietly satisfying experience.

This natural sense of 'I am' is intrinsic to our human make-up only most often we are not aware of it because the mind is too busy in conscious and unconscious identifications (thoughts) of 'I am this' or 'I am that' and 'I need to do this' and 'I need to do that'. When we are able to naturally rest in the awareness of pure 'I amness' then there is an inherent feeling of wholeness and well-being.

If we are not in touch with that inherent sense of wholeness and well-being then we tend to look for it outside of ourselves rather than living our lives as an expression of intrinsic wholeness.

There may come a time however when this natural sense of 'I amness', or embodied beingness, becomes more our natural home and although the mind may sometimes continue to wander here and there we are never very far from home. As pleasant as this way of being may be however it is not the end of the story.

During ones meditation or self-enquiry one should not curl up and go to sleep in this type of pleasant experience (or in any other type). One should persist in the question 'who am I?' or in 'I,......I,......I,......I,' (or in whatever other support you are using in your practice).

The question 'who am I?' is not a question which calls for an intellectual answer. It is a means to keep the mind focused and alert in enquiring into this experience of 'I' and not drifting off in complacency. The feeling of 'I amness' is not the final goal but a pointer in the right direction.

If we continue going deeper and subtler in this enquiry then we may begin to find that we have momentary experiences where it seems as if the mind and the breath have been temporarily sucked up into a different state.

It is a state of singularity where there is no thought; just Pure Awareness standing by itself. Thought and external awareness are sucked up and enfolded in on themselves into a kind of singularity. It may sound mysterious but it is a natural experience and does not necessarily seem very dramatic when it begins to occur.

The same thing will happen if one is practising 'I,......I,......I,......I,'. The repetition keeps the mind focused in a relaxed way on the 'I' which allows awareness to sink, like a pebble in a lake, back towards it's own centre. The repetition should be natural, easy and should be allowed to become subtler and subtler.

It is not an effortful exercise in concentration. No the awareness becomes concentrated naturally as it returns to its source. Allow the repetition to become more like having a faint idea of the thought 'I' and to keep you in touch with the feeling of 'I'. In contrast, keeping up a clear, distinct and strong mental pronouniation of 'I' will tend to keep awareness more on the surface levels of the mind rather than allowing it to sink deep.

So either way, one may begin having these momentary experiences of singularity which at first may seem somewhat indistinct but will increase in frequency, duration and clarity as progress is made. In terms of the practice it happens spontaneously and comes and goes by itself. We should not have an expectation of it but allow things to proceed naturally. If there is a momentary experience then when one is aware of having a choice in the matter then simply return to the question or repetition of 'I'. If one is thinking about it, wondering if this is it, then one is off in thoughts and out of the experience. Again come back to the practice and continue.

This experience of singularity is given many names such as Transcendental Consciousness, Pure Awareness, The Self, Turiya and any number of others. I will say more about all of that in the next posting, but it is helpful for now to have a bit of a roadmap so that there is an idea of the journey and a context within which to understand inner experiences as they start to occur. Its all a good sign that things are heading in the right direction.

Happy meditating - take the rough with the smooth.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

a meditation upon 'I'

N.B. Please read in combination with this posting the one entitled 'On mantra's and meditation' posted on March 18th. this contains important information about mantras and other suggestions on meditation.

I wanted to write something explaining a simple approach to a self-enquiry based meditation which would be able to be easily understood and applied by anyone with the interest to do so, even if they have no prior background in such things.

Ramana Maharshi often indicated that his highest teaching was the power of silence which emanated through him (as a result of his Enlightenment). For those unable to fully appreciate this silence then he advocated the practice of self-inquiry, which hinges upon apprehending and holding onto the feeling-sense of 'I' with the question 'Who am I?'. A related approach he sometimes recommended was to hold onto the thought of 'I,...I,...I,' as a means to similarly allow awareness to return to its source.

This second approach would be especially suitable for those who may find self-inquiry itself a bit difficult to relate to or who are unable to immediately recognise what is meant by the feeling-sense of 'I'. Expanding on Ramana Maharshi's instructions in this regard and drawing upon my own background training in meditation I have come up with the following which I believe will be found to be an effective and beneficial method.

So, start with sitting quietly and comfortably in a place where you will not be disturbed. Close the eyes and turn the attention within. Feel the body and become aware of the breath. Rest your awareness upon the natural flow of the breath and allow your attention to find a natural resting place within the body. Continue like this for a minute or so allowing everything to settle down.

Now, begin the gentle inward repetition of the word 'I'. Let it be easy, natural and effortless. Allow it to find it's own rythmn and tempo, although slow, steady and gentle will generally be good.

As you say 'I' to yourself you may become aware of the feeling-sense of 'I'. That is, that 'thing' which feels like me; not a concrete thing or sensation; more of a subtle and perhaps vague feeling of some 'thing' which feels like me. Everytime in normal life when we say 'I' what are we referring to? We can identify ourselves as 'I am this' or 'I am that' but behind it all is the subtle and non-verbal feeling-sense of 'I'.

So without mentally analysing or intellectualising just continue in the practice and if you become aware of a feeling-sense of 'I' then very good; remain in that awareness as you continue. If not, or if you lose it, then don't worry, just continue in the practice of the gentle repetition of 'I'. You might find that your awareness becomes drawn to a particular sensation within. This is fine, allow it to happen and continue, 'I,...I,...I,...I,'

If thoughts come, as they naturally will, then as soon as you become aware that you have wandered off in thinking then simply and easily return to the practice. This is bound to happen and can even be a sign of some kind of release so don't be concerned or frustrated about it; it is natural. As soon as you become aware of having drifted off; simply come back again to the practice.

As you continue you may find that the breath and the repetition of 'I' are becoming more and more subtle and quiet. This is good, allow it to happen. You may also have the occassional and momentary experience where there are no thoughts, no thinking of 'I' and no awareness of the body. This is also good, allow it and when you become aware again of having a choice, continue easily in the practice. I have said more about this particular experience in the two posts following this one.

Continue for twenty minutes or so and then cease the repetition of 'I'; be restful and take a few minutes to come back slowly, feeling yourself present in your body and beginning to breath more deeply, before gradually opening the eyes and going about your day. It is good if you can set aside some time to do it regularly (even twice daily) but even ten minutes once in a while is better than nothing. If you get established in a regular practice then you can gradually extend the length of your sittings if you feel to, but slow and steady wins the race rather than working sporadically.

During the practice or during resting afterwards you might sometimes find that thoughts or emotions are crowding in. As mentioned, this can be a sign of something releasing or purifying so don't be concerned. Again, be aware of the body and feel for any sensations there. Be with these sensations and the breath in a restful way and this will help the disturbance to pass through more easily. It is also good to continue resting longer afterwards if this occurs and you have the time.

I have been recently practising along these lines myself and it is in no way an inferior practice to self-inquiry. In fact it is very effective and ultimately would lead to the same place as self-inquiry which is the pure awareness prior to thought. The result is a more peaceful, centred and conscious individual.

This technique I have outlined borrows heavily from Transcendental Meditation (TM) which I practised myself for several years. TM is a simple effective technique of meditation which has a large amount of scientific research behind it which demonstrate numerous practical benefits including improved health, well-being and creativity.

The technique I have outlined here differs from TM essentially in that it is using the word 'I' as the focus whereas in TM one is given a sanskrit mantra (suitable sound).

Ramana Maharshi has said that 'I' is the first and greatest of all mantra's; superior even to Aum (primordial mantra). The reason being is that before any other experience can be there must first be an 'I' (a subject) to experience it. The feeling-sense of 'I' is the lynchpin of our experience and the saying of 'I' invokes the very feeling-sense of 'I' which then becomes the very object of our meditation and the gateway to freedom.

In Kashmiri Tantra, the ever blissful transcendental identity is called aham ('I') versus the finite ego ahamkara ("I-maker"). Ramana Maharshi asserts that self-inquiry is the direct way to Self-Realisation because we are directly dissolving the egoic false sense of 'I' (ahamkara) which is the very thing which obscures the ever present reality of the Self, the True 'I' (Aham).

Using 'I' as the focus also avoids the objection of using some funny sound possibly associated with an exotic foreign religion. Just avoid turning your meditation practice into contemplating 'I' (thinking about the meaning of 'I') or of a concentration practice upon the thought 'I' (this may strenghten the concentration power of the mind but won't necessarily allow awareness to return to it's own source). The repetition of 'I' is to invoke the feeling sense of 'I' and is a gentle stirring to keep alertness focused and subtlely alive in the quieter levels of the mind so that the inward movement to the centre can continue.

Happy meditating. Any problems or questions and I will answer to the best of my ability.

relaxing with relativity

Part of the restlessness of my mind seems to be in always seeking an ideal of perfection and then wanting to proclaim it to the world. The perfect method, the perfect understanding, the perfect solution.

Clearly there must be many valid approaches and one trap is to get overly caught up in attachment to one and taking it to be the be all and end all. Another trap is in constantly running from pillar to post and never seeing anything through to completion. I have done them both and in both the unconscious identity thrives.

In meditation one could use the support of many different aspects of experience. For example one could use a mantra, the breath or the sensation of the body. The main initial function of the support is really as a diversion for the mind to help it step out of the merry-go-round of thinking, allowing awareness to come back to its own center, becoming consciously conscious in the now.

Or, as in self-enquiry, one could directly bring awareness to the feeling-sense of the 'I' who we take ourselves to be. Again, remaining present to that with the enquiry 'who am I?', awareness returns to its own centre.

Or one could very well take a combination approach according to ones individual needs and preference.

So, from now on, I am going to try and leave absolutism to the absolute and relax with relativity.

three verses on enquiry

who is enquiring?
I am
abide in the natural awareness of 'I am'
prior to 'I am this' or 'I am that'

use the silent enquiry 'who am I?'
to keep the mind subsiding in this abidance
until even this 'I am' disappears

just as the fan continues to turn for a time after the power is cut
this restless mind too will continue to turn for a time
remain in the enquiry and this too shall pass

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

note to self

awareness of being is its own fulfillment
so abide as that and be happy
all else is mind

Monday, March 9, 2009

on not breaking on through to the other side

So I had what to me was a rather profound insight which has revolutionised my view on things.

I had been seeing the qualities of awareness and of embodied beingness (I am) as being at two ends of a spectrum of subjective experience. To me this spectrum was still within the realm of mind and body and I was striving to somehow transcend it and to experience what I have taken to be the Pure Self - Pure Consciousness beyond space and time.

I wasn't sure whether I should try to plumb the deepest depths of embodied beingness or to try to scale the highest heights of disembodied awareness or to try and do both at the same time!

I was somehow trying to push and pull and stretch this big elastic band of inner experience, attempting to provoke a break through into the Ultimate! I didn't succeed!

Now I can see the error of my ways and am reformed.

Since time immemorial, from the testimony of the Sages, this 'thing' we call the Self has been attributed with three essential qualities; that of Sat, Chit and Anand, or Existence, Consciousness and Bliss.

As above, so below. So we find these three essential qualities reflected in our human experience. Sat, as the sense of individual existence (I am), Chit, as the capacity to be aware and to know, and Anand, as the capacity to feel deep contentment, unconditional love and connectedness.

Somehow we have not been aware of our true nature and our sense of individual existence has become mixed up in mind identification; we have lost touch with our inherent sense of fulfillment and so we seek to try and find it through objective knowledge and the situations and circumstances of this apparent world.

What I realised was that the sense of embodied beingness (I am) is not a separate quality from the awareness of it. Nor are they two aspects of some kind of linear continuum.

No they are both inherent and inseparable qualities of the Self (in reflection), so my attempts to try and find the Self by trying to isolate, separate and transcend its essential qualities was doomed to failure.

The missing quality was Anand (bliss or concentrated happiness). The only good reason really to try to find the Self is because one is trying to find some kind of deep lasting happiness, so what if in my strenuous attempts I was actually short circuiting the possibility all along?

The three essential qualities of the Self are Sat, Chit and Anand so I had the insight that maybe the key is not in trying to separate or exaggerate the qualities of awareness and beingness but in the simple resting in the natural awareness of beingness.

Funnily enough that turned out to be quite blissful! Not the least because now my mind finally had a satisfying explanation and could let go. It was like letting go of an elastic band which one is stretching and it suddenly snaps back to it's own natural shape.

And the natural shape of our true nature is Satchitananda. I'm not saying that I realised the Self but I feel that I may have stumbled upon a key to relaxing in the mystery.

As above, so below. Satchitananda as the Self; Satchitananda as a human. My reasoning and intuition tell me that by naturally abiding in this experience then the process of whatever needs to happen will unfold naturally by itself.

Or rather Consciousness will take care of Consciousness for the revelation of Consciousness! If any deepening of being, heightening of awareness or intensification of bliss needs to happen then let Consciousness take care of it.

Anyway that's my latest theory and at the very least I think I have uncovered a bloody good meditation approach (it definitely won't be anything new but it is a new revelation to me - at least in its conscious appreciation).


P.S. 13/3/09 After the initial exhilaration of this discovery I will add that Ramana Maharishi cautions against becoming absorbed and plateau-ing in pleasant states. They are a good sign of progress but one should keep up the enquiry and transcend even these until one finally reaches to Pure Transcendental Consciousness beyond the sense of individual 'I am'. See postings 'down the road a bit' and 'towards the end of the road' 12th March.


Awareness of Being is inherently Blissful
As above so below
So I be still and away I go

so what is this enlightenment thing anyway?

I can't claim to know what enlightenment is but based on the consistencies in the testimonies of Sages, on my own personal experience and intuition as well as that of many others then I can draw a few conclusions.

Yes our ideas of truth are very subjective and variable. However what is the same in each one of us is that there is a quality of awareness without which we couldn't be aware of anything, including our various ideas about truth.

What is also common to everyone is the sense of 'I'. That 'I' exist as an individual being otherwise how can we say 'I like this' or 'I don't like that'. There is an inherent and tacitly assumed feeling-sense that 'I am'.

You say that "I don't doubt there is an all empowering energy field or consciousness that we are all linked to and that we are here for a purpose - to evolve."

Both of the qualities which we all share, of awareness and the feeling-sense of 'I am', are said to be reflections in the human mind from this universal consciousness, much like the moon is reflecting the light of the sun and has no inherent light of its own.

Or you could say that we, as seeming individuals, are integral aspects of that universal consciousness and so share somewhat in its essential qualities of existence and awareness of that existence.

The thing is we generally experience ourselves to be separate individuals who go through life making choices and trying to do the best we can from our own level of understanding and experience (i.e. a crooks idea of doing well may differ from most regular persons).

Our sense of who we are and our sense of security in life are generally defined by our self image, our body, our family, our relationships, our profession, our accomplishments, our material position in life etc. etc.

Nothing wrong in those things in themselves but the problem is that we are generally identified or psychologically and emotionally dependent upon them for our sense of well-being, such that if things went very badly for us in these areas then it could be very devastating and bring with it much suffering (e.g. the loss of loved ones, the loss of material security, the loss of our sense of self esteem if we are not able to function in life as we would want to, etc.).

This is the normal human condition which we can all relate to. This 'thing' called enlightenment is to do with realising experientially our true nature as embodiments of that Universal Consciousness rather than as separate, limited, skin encapsulated ego's.

This Universal Consciousness is said to be inherently whole and complete within itself such that when our sense of experiential identity expands from the limitation of a separate individual 'me' to the true case as integral apects of the whole then we are no longer dependent upon outer circumstances for our well-being.

Our very nature becomes Well-Being and we are no longer seeking to find our happiness in the circumstances of this world. We are inherently happy, peaceful, contented and whole.

In whatever way we then feel drawn to do or be in the world then we will be more effective. Our relationships will be more fulfilling because we no longer have any sort of co-dependency with others. It doesn't mean we don't care, we will be naturally more compassionate, but that we aren't in a position of any kind of neediness for psychological or emotional affirmation or security from others.

So it might sound like this enlightenment is like a good insurance policy in case things go wrong or as a way to become more successful in the world. From one perspective there could be some truth in that but the real thing is that there is a total shift in identity so that we are no longer experiencing ourselves to be separate individuals trying to have a comfortable and happy life, but that we realise ourselves to be expansive conscious beings whose seeming activities and relationships in this world are expressing fulfillment rather than seeking it.

There are said to be three qualites in nature known in Sanskrit as Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. In the human psychological sphere Sattva manifests as clarity and balance, Rajas manifests as restlessness and desire and Tamas manifests as dullness and destructiveness.

The human journey of evolution you mention could be said to comprise of becoming purified of the Tamas and Rajas qualities and thereby becoming a more naturally Sattvic person; one could consider this to be a journey of becoming a progressively more enlightened, balanced and clear individual.

However the step beyond that, beyond the usual human experience, that is referred to as Enlightenment, is where this identification of being an individual is entirely evaporated and one becomes not an individual in relation to Universal Consciousness, but an actual conscious embodiment of this Universal Consciousness itself.

What that experience may be like who can say? But it does seem that one carries on in this human body playing ones role for the duration of this human life, same as everyone else.

So as you say, that might be somewhat beyond what Western thought generally considers to be the normal range of the human experience. However in traditional Eastern thought, the possibility of such Enlightenment is an accepted part of life and beings like the Buddha, who we can only assume must have evolved to this level, are held in deep reverence.

The full depth and true meaning of what such beings represent may not be easily appreciated but we can certainly say that their lives and teachings have had a tremendous guiding impact upon countless millions of people through countless generations and continues to do so.

Cases like the Buddha are very grand and very rare and it may be that many more Enlightened beings pass by, hardly being noticed, and yet having a silent powerful uplifting influence on the collective consciousness. And yet, the history of the east and of India in particular records the lives of many many Enlightened ones, even in recent and contemporary times (such as Ramana Maharishi).

As I quoted Werner as saying in my last blog, there are no stages in (Ultimate) Reality but in the human experience there may be many variations and shades of degree. Ultimately there is a clear distinction; there is either unconscious ego identification with being a separate individual, however subtle, or there is not.

If there is not that identification then Enlightenment could be said to be there, however in what way and to what degree of fullness Universal Consciousness chooses to outwardly express itself through that (human) form is part of the Divine Mystery and we cannot say.

And as I also said in the last blog there is manifold opportunity for delusion at every stage, warned of in every spiritual tradition, where the ego gets some cosmic taste and goes on a power trip in one way or another, perhaps considering ones-self to be Enlightened and deluding others also.

Werner put all of that also in the context of this Play of Consciousness as an integral part of the play. Not to worry about it but instead to rely upon ones own sincereity and inner wisdom to guide one through the spiritual jungle and to the correct teacher (for a reason and for a season) if that is what is required.

For myself, and probably for most people, getting to the stage of having a primarily Sattvic mind (balanced, creative, peaceful and positive) and yet retaining ones sense of individuality seems attractive and the prospect of somehow being annihilated and taken over by some kind of Cosmic Consciousness can seem somewhat dubious!

However the testimony and lives of the Sages reassures us that this is nothing foreign to us but just the dawning of our own true nature. This is the fulfillment of the human journey of evolution and a mystery which will sweep us up when the time is right and not before.

This apparrent seeking of Enlightenment is not really a means to an ends (as it may appear to be at a certain stage) but really a coming back to the centre.

A final transcendance of all seeking into 'The Peace Which Passeth All Understanding' and a complete surrender to 'Thy Will Be Done'.

As to, as you say, "world events (and) the total consciousness of the human race (being) a very long way from reaching utopia" then that is also part of the play. Regardless of the collective consciousness it is always possible for individuals to realise their own true nature as no doubt they have been doing quietly for millenia.

However there does seem to be an ever accelarating upsurge of awakening around the planet running in tandem with the seeming increasing tendency towards conflict and chaos. It makes for an exciting story and lets hope that the good guys win! :)

It is repeatedly affirmed by the Sages that the silent vibrations emanating from the Enlightened Ones, even if they do not outwardly seem to be very active, are extremely powerful in effecting the whole consciousness of mankind. It seems to be a question of balance and only time will tell which way the scales will tip.

Either way, in the grand scheme of things this era in which we live is but the blink of an eye of cosmic time and no doubt the story goes on through peaks and valleys throughout the ages.

The key is to realise that timeless essence herenow.

hope this helps with your question!

P.S. For anyone who wants to see a movie clip of one who was widely considered to be a modern day Enlightened One then check out

Nisargadatta Maharaj was a rustic uneducated Indian man who was yet considered to be a Great Sage of the Advaita (non-dualistic) teaching. Be warned, if you expect a gentle soft sort of a man then you are in for a shock. Nisargadatta was uncompromising and fiery in the communication of his experience. He was in the body until about 1980.

N.B. 13th March. In this posting I have speculated that 'Enlightenment' may be the merging of individual consciousness with some kind of Cosmic or Universal Consciousness. There may be a stage like that but I would say that the initial thing (IMHO) is the individual Realisation of, and establishment in, Pure Transcendental Consciousness, which is simply the Pure Awareness at our core and the origin of the feeling-sense of 'I am'. Please refer to posting 'towards the end of the road' 12th March.This is usually termed Self-Realisataion, which may be the basis for some ongoing evolution towards Universality, but in itself seems straight forward enough.

In some schools of thought it is considered that both individual consciousness and Universal Consciousness (which is considered to manifest, maintain and dissolve Creation) both have their source in Pure Transcendental Consciousness and that 'Full Enlightenment' encompasses the totality of all of those aspects. Other schools of thought have more of a Personal God centered outlook and others deny that there is anything other than Self-Realisation. But all could agree that all of the rubbish we have accumulated obscures our true nature and that somehow this situation needs to be dealt to. At any rate, until we start to experience these things for ourselves then they remain as theories.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

it ain't over till the fat lady sings

I would just like to affirm that what I have been sharing in regard to the self-enquiry process and Self-Realisation is only what I have been able to gather from books, listening to and questioning teachers, exchanging ideas with friends as well as from my own reasoning and limited degree of subjective experience.

My blog sharings on this topic are really just me trying to figure things out for myself and have also served as a useful forum for the cross-communication of ideas with others who are similarly interested. There has also been a motivation to share this in a way which might be helpful or interesting to others and also to potentially generate and partake of some positive energy in this regard.

I think that whatever spiritual enlightenment is, then no teacher or teaching has a monopoly or exclusive franchaise upon it. So each person who is putting themselves forth as a teacher no doubt has a degree of illumination and a degree of understanding which might, for a time, prove helpful and supportive to others in their own self-unfolding, recognising that no-one can give or take away that which is the essential nature of us all.

However there also seems to be manifold opportunities for degrees of self-delusion, limited understanding and different view points at every stage of the journey. So it would seem then to pay to never take ones own or others opinions too seriously, recognising that ultimately, this play of Consciousness is a mystery which is beyond the human minds capacity to understand. We may have some helpful general concepts about it but in the actual living of it, it seems that we must let go of attachment to the conceptual mind altogether.

I have found in my own explorations, both here at Arunachala and before, that the various teachers and teachings all have something useful to offer and can all offer some light on what may be considered as aspects of truth and pathways towards that. Furthermore, depending upon their own degree of direct illumination and upon ones own receptivity, then a teacher can also act as a channel for the silent energy of Consciousness to catalyse ones own subjective experience of what is spoken of whether it is considered as a Divine Presence or as a Vast Silence.

I like how Werner puts it; that there are no stages in Reality, but if one has a lasting experiential opening to a deeper appreciation and living of that Reality, then not to take it as something final (taking oneself to have become Enlightened) but rather as more like the ending of one chapter and the beginning of something new. That we do not get stuck in thinking that we have arrived, but that we continue to cultivate the deepening of our experience thereby always allowing the mystery to unfold and expand. That when the fixated identity of being a 'me' falls away then we are able to not take the whole story of this holographic magic show so seriously. That we can take this adventure here on earth playfully and fully enjoy our role as embodiments of unfolding Consciousness being made richer by the experience.

So even if the fat lady sings then may be it's not really over, it may be just the beginning...................

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

William Blake

Saturday, March 7, 2009

story time.......comin round the mountain

So, about a week ago I walked the inner path around the mountain again with a friend, Suzanne from Germany. It was a very pleasant walk. Technically one is supposed to go around in a silent meditative mood but we were talking and sharing our experiences in meditative mood instead.

We set off around 7am and once we had gone most of the way around and hit town we took the back streets instead of the unpleasant main road. It was quite a revelation. It was quite a peaceful village atmosphere, the streets were clean and the people were very friendly. We got accosted several times by groups of young children who were all smiles saying 'hello, how are you?', 'what is your name?' and 'where do you come from?'. I guess that those are the most common converstional english questions they learn in school. Then of course they are very keen for 'one pencil', 'one ruppee' and 'one chocolate please'!

Unfortunately I didn't have anything much to give them other than the first lot who I gave some bananas. Next time I go I'll try to remember to take a bag of pencils and maybe chocolates with me and I'm sure I'll be very popular. Actually it was a very nice experience and the children were very innocent, happy and sweet. They were very keen to be photographed and got a big kick out of seeing themselves on the digi-camera screen. I got some great pictures and have posted a selection on Facebook (hence the invitations to join some of you got).

After coming out of the village back streets we got some delicious freshly squeezed sugarcane juice and then proceeded up and across the side of the mountain towards the back of Ramana Ashram; completing our circuit and again avoiding the busy town. We climbed up to Virupuksha Cave and Skanda Ashram which are the two places where Ramana Maharishi spent much of the first twenty or so years of his time at Arunachala.

Suzanne took me to her favourite contemplation spot under a tree at the back of the small Skanda Ashram complex and we chilled out for a while. There was a band of monkeys jumping around in the trees around us and as I was about to leave a whole pile of very young ones came right up to me and were playing and pulling at me. It was quite special and I managed to take 3mins of video footage as well as some photo's which I will also post on facebook.

If you want to join Facebook then I have put a link on the left hand column of this blog page which will take you directly to the sign-up page. Registering is easy to do and you will have the option of allowing the website to search your email address book to locate friends who are already members and others who you might want to invite. If you don't want to do that there is an option at the bottom to skip those steps. So maybe see you on facebook sometime........

Thursday, March 5, 2009

and then some.......!

Ok, so one more post on self-enquiry before I get to the nice story :) So it seems apparent that there are two practical aspects to this self-enquiry; the first being focusing awareness on this sense of individual 'I-ness', and the second as effortlessly abiding as expansive clear awareness.

What I have been reporting on in the last two blog posts has related to the first aspect. That is focusing awareness on the feeling-sense of 'I-ness' which we tacitly take to be real and which is said to be the basis of all our identification as an individual 'me'. It seems that this feeling-sense of 'me' has it's roots in unconscious identification with the 'I' thought. It is said to not be real but continues to have an existence until such times as we bring awareness into it where upon it begins to lose it's hold and eventually disappears.

What is then said to be left is the light of the True Self; the True 'I Am' whereupon all duality and separation cease to exist (it was only ever an illusionary appearance anyway we are told). Ramana Maharishi wasn't all the time intently focused on the individual sense of 'me-ness'. No, for him it was long gone and he lived naturally in expansive clear awareness devoid of separation.

So the second practical aspect of self-enquiry is this abiding as expansive clear awareness. The word 'practical' implies something to do but this is more of a non-doing. An effortless resting in presence which in itself catalyses further expansion. I would hazard an estimation that to the extent that we are free from the bondage of unconscious identification with 'me' is the extent to which our awareness is naturally able to expand in effortless being.

Andrew has contributed some useful comments describing this second aspect of self-enquiry which I reproduce here :

“Being present AS You (Pure Awareness)” versus “focusing awareness ON you (individual sense of me-ness)”.

So the book title, "Relax into clear seeing" is accurate. I was taught a helpful method - continually renewing the following: "I intend to be present" No trying, just renew the intention then drop it. It is non-intellectual and quite helpful. There is no diving per se, but there is a stopping of seeking and a relaxing into what is here and now. Then the sense of Is-ness becomes apparent.

In a similar vein, instead of straining our eyes to see something, let the light fall upon your eyes. Instead of listening to hear something, let the sound effortlessly enter your ear. This encourages innocence, innocent non-verbal perception, effortlessness, non-grasping of the senses.

So these two aspects seem to be different and I will draw a tentative conclusion that as long as they seem to be different then one would be well advised to cultivate both. Regularly giving exclusive attention to investigating with awareness this 'thing which feels like me', and the rest of the time, whether active or inactive, resting, in as much as we are able, in this expansive clear awareness.

I will hazard a guess that over time the distinction between the two aspects falls away until even the focusing of attention upon the increasingly subtle sense of 'me-ness' is occuring within expanded clear awareness.

Ultimately too, the sense of 'me-ness' will completely dissolve and then...... and then...... and then we'll just have to wait and experience it for ourselves but for sure something good will happen.

The above discussion is something I've been trying to get clear on for some time and what has been said seems to make sense at least for me. The practice begins with the effort of focusing attention on and isolating the feeling-sense of 'me-ness' and expands into effortless being in the pure unencumbered awareness that we already are.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

who the hell am I?

Well, it's been an intense couple of days. Between Monday and Tuesday I went to five Satsangs with four different teachers! They were Mooji, Big Tex (A.Ramana), Werner and a new one called Madhukar.

Like Mooji, Madhukar (a German man with a very shinny head) honours Papaji as his Spiritual Master. For those who don't know, Papaji was an Indian man who left the body in the late 1990's. For about the last 10 years of his life many many Western seekers came to him and it seems that quite a number had significant awakenings to their true nature and are now teachers in their own right. Papaji himself went through his Awakening with Ramana Maharishi at Arunachala back in the 1940's.

So during the first Satsang with Mooji on Monday I got some clarity about Self-Enquiry which I expressed in the previous posting 'the thing that feels like me'. That evening I went to Madhukar for the first time (he was only here for a couple of days and is gone already). I felt quite high awareness energy in his presence and he sits there a lot of the time in silence.

I had noticed that 'this thing that feels like me' is also an object of awareness so I asked Madhukar to help me understand the distinction; what is the true 'I am'? Paraphrasing, he said that there is no distinction; it is a continuum. 'I am' appears in an individuated form as that thing which feels like me and expands to infinity in increasingly higher levels of awareness.

Later on, while by myself, I reasoned that this continuum of awareness, like the electromagnetic spectrum, could extend ad infinitum in either direction, so then where is the end of it? It strikes me that any vibration is part of the manifest existence which, like the moon, has no light of it's own and only reflects the pure light of the unmanifest Self. No matter how refined awareness in vibration becomes there must still exist a subtle distinction (separation) between the perceiver and the perceived until such times as awareness is turned back upon itself and merges with it's own source as the ever effulgent Self of Pure Consciousness. The One without a Second.

The following morning I went for Satsang with A.Ramana and asked him many questions about Self-Enquiry trying to understand what is meant and to relate it to my own experience. It came to a point where, even although I only had one question left, he put the kaibosch on me saying that I ought to just do it rather than continually objectify it and ask questions about it. It was a slightly heated exchange and in the end I just had to shut up and close my eyes.

My ego was quite provoked feeling somewhat misunderstood, frustrated and even slightly resentful, however I did not take it too seriously and recognised the value of having a very obvious expression of 'me-ness' to watch in meditation. Later on outside in the second session someone asked a question about what the Sages describe as the unreality of the world. A.Ramana was espousing the typically Advaita Vedantic (the Indian school of non-dual philosophy) view that the world has no objective existence independent of ones subjective perception of it, such that when one goes to sleep the world ceases to exist and then springs back into existence upon awakening.

I found this objectionable and did not accept his arguments or assertion that unless one accepts the unreality of the world then one can never transcend it. I sat there quietly simmering and yet in quite an aware state. No-one was saying anything and then A.Ramana said that if anyone had any questions then they had better ask them now while there is the opportunity. After ascertaining that he was accepting questions and comments from me I expressed my disagreement. He said he can understand why I would find it hard to accept but never the less.......................

Afterwards I read a chapter he had recommended to the original asker of the unreality question and found that what A.Ramana was saying was almost verbatim what Ramana Maharishi had been recorded as saying on the topic. Ramana Maharishi also said that the really important thing is not whether or not the world is real but to find out to whom it is seeming to be real or unreal. That is also a message continuously affirmed by A.Ramana whose stated mission is to preserve and disseminate the pure teaching of Sri Ramana Maharishi.

In the afternoon I went to Werner Satsang and put the question of the stated unreality of the world to him. He said that in a way it is true if we consider from a quantum physics point of view that there is no such thing as solid matter - it is all just ghostly vibrations of energy popping in and out of existence. Really there is just some big interrelated energy field out of which our senses and mind create some sort of picture of reality. On the other hand, there does seem to be consistency and common ground to this experience of the world. He advised just to accept it as a mystery, as some kind of holographic magic show, and the best position to take on it is no position, honestly accepting that one does not really know how it is. The main thing again being to come back to the centre and reside in that pure awareness of now. Werner is good as he can talk from many points of view and gives answers which are easily related to.

Finally in the evening I went back to Madhukar. I had no questions and after taking a comfortable posture went into quite a deep or high state of meditation where I remained silently alert for the duration of the Satsang and for the sing-along afterwards.

This morning as I lay on the bed after a papaya breakfast I asked myself 'who is lying here?', answer 'I am', 'and who am I?'

'who is having these imaginations?' 'I am' 'and who am I?'
'who is enjoying this pleasure?' 'I am' 'and who am I?'
'who is suffering this misery?' 'I am' 'and who am I?'
'who is thinking these thoughts?' 'I am' 'and who am I?'

The questions are just a way to short circuit the thinking process and to invoke the sense of 'me-ness', continually redirecting awareness back to it; this 'me-ness' which is said to be the lynchpin which underlies the whole structure of ego-mind-body identification.

If I am understanding correctly then this is Self-Enquiry, which is said by the Sages to be the direct way to dissolve the illusion of separateness and whereby Self-Realisation becomes apparent. By consistently cultivating this enquiry the individual 'I am' eventually becomes purified from mind identification and merges back with it's source - the Pure Self.

So the way seems clear enough; all that remains is to apply it and see it through to its conclusion. Even the so called conclusion is not in our hands and is said to be an act of Grace whereby the Universal Self seemingly reaches down and lifts us up into a new way of Being. All we can do as apparent individuals with apparent free will is to do the best we can to be present and in making ourselves available and presumably sooner or later somethings gotta give. There is no telling how long it could take; it could happen this very instant or it could take a long time so I guess one of the keys is to find the balance between intensity and relaxation.

Once the job is done then life in all it's expressions is said to be experienced as a direct manifestation of the Self in motion. There is said to no longer be any separation between stillness and activity, subject and object. All is a play of Oneness. I guess that is something which has to be experienced to really know what it means.

So that's that. On to more everday topics, I mentioned before that I have a nice story to tell and some nice pictures to share which I intend will be the subject of my next post. Some of you will have received an invitation to join Facebook from me. The reason for that is that I intend to use Facebook to post a greater number of photo's than I am able to on this blog and maybe even some short movie clips. However in order to view that you will need to become a member which is actually very painless and easy. If you want it to the website will even do a search for you of all the people in your email address book who are already members and link you up. I was surprised how many of my friends were already members and am glad that I finally joined.