Going Deeper, part one of three (#940)

Anyone who spends any time around principles-based practitioners will hear the word “grounding” bandied about a lot. It’s become a sort of a buzzword – a currency in the “whose better at this game” game. There are conversations about how “her grounding is deeper than his grounding”, which always sound vaguely reminiscent of the “my dad’s bigger than your dad” games we used to play as kids (and one which my children must sadly lose at all the time in their schools and playgrounds.)

Yet despite this somewhat pointless exercise in spiritual one-upmanship, there is a point to the conversation. Because our “grounding” – that is to say our level of understanding of who we are, what life is, and how it works – is pretty much the only thing we’ve got of any value as teachers, coaches, and practitioners.

Our grounding isn’t an intellectual understanding. Passing a written test on the principles behind the human experience would be like acing the final exam in a stand-up comedy analysis class. Just because you got an ‘A’ doesn’t mean you’re going to be any good at making people laugh.

Comic timing is one of those subtle, invisible things that can be learned but not taught – by the time you’ve got it, it’s in the bones, not the head. Similarly, our true understanding of life is the foundation for everything we say and do, consciously AND unconsciously. Teaching the value of spontaneity from a course manual just isn’t the same as inviting the class to stop outside and enjoy the sunshine in the midst of a busy lecture. The one is practiced; the other is real.

So what is it that makes up our grounding? What’s so important that 80%-90% of a transformative conversation is spent focused on it?

There are a million ways to talk about it, but I’ll break it down to three fundamental things for the purposes of this tip…

1. Who are you, really?

The Canadian mystic Terence Gray, better known to his followers as Wei Wu Wei, famously wrote:

“Why are you unhappy?
Because 99.9 per cent
Of everything you think,
And of everything you do,
Is for yourself —
And there isn’t one.”

If that’s so esoteric it makes your head want to explode, let’s back up a few levels of consciousness and think about it like this:

What is innate (natural) in all human beings, and what is learned (conditioned)?

I often use the following analogy to break down the answer to the question (with thanks to Lian Brook-Tyler of Born Happy for the drawing):

At core, we are all made of the same perfect stuff – what some would call spirit, or the life force, universal mind, or pure consciousness. This “diamond” of our essence is solid and unchangeable – multi-faceted and a perfect reflector of the light. But in our insecurity, we begin to think that we are full of crap – that the feelings of guilt, shame, self-loathing and selfishness we all feel from time to time are part of our essence and not the product of our programming.

So in order to hide our crap from the world, we develop a personality – a kind of ego-based nail varnish designed to distract the outside world and keep them at enough of a distance that they can’t get a good sniff of who we fear we really are. This is the “self” that so many self-help books aim to help us with, and the reason that our attempts at “self”-esteem, self”-worth, and “self”-love so often go awry. After all, to attempt to love, value, and esteem who we are only pretending to be is like worshiping the reflection of the moon instead of looking up into the sky to see what’s really there.

The irony is that when we let go of the quest for “self”-improvement, we often stumble across the essence of who and what we really are. And that wordless, indescribable Self needs no praise or idolatry, because it is made of the very love, appreciation, and intrinsic worth that we were seeking all along.

Next week, I’ll go deeper into a second fundamental element of our grounding – the one source of our million-fold experiences of life. Until then, you might want to spend a bit of time reflecting on these “pointing-out instructions taken from Ken Wilber’s stunning spiritual diary, “One Taste”:

As you rest in the Witness – realizing, I am not objects, I am not feelings, I am not thoughts – all you will notice is a sense of Freedom, a sense of Liberation, a sense of Release – release from the terrible constriction of identifying with these puny little finite objects, your little body and little mind and little ego, all of which are objects that can be seen, and thus are not the true Seer, the real Self, the pure Witness, which is what you really are.

So you won’t see anything in particular. Whatever is arising is fine. Clouds float by in the sky, feelings float by in the body, thoughts float by in the mind – and you can effortlessly witness all of them. They all spontaneously arise in your own present, easy, effortless awareness. And this witnessing awareness is not itself anything specific you can see. It is just a vast, background sense of Freedom – or pure Emptiness – and in that pure Emptiness, which you are, the entire manifest world arises. You are that Freedom, Openness, Emptiness – and not any itty bitty thing that arises in it.

Resting in that empty, free, easy, effortless witnessing, notice that the clouds are arising in the vast space of your awareness. The clouds are arising within you – so much so, you can taste the clouds, you are one with the clouds, it is as if they are on this side of your skin, they are so close. The sky and your awareness have become one, and all things in the sky are floating effortlessly through your own awareness. You can kiss the sun, swallow the mountain, they are that close.

Zen says “Swallow the Pacific Ocean in a single gulp,” and that’s the easiest thing in the world, when inside and outside are no longer two, when subject and object are non-dual, when the looker and looked at are One Taste.

Have fun, learn heaps, and happy exploring!

With all my love,


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