Honesty, Timing, and Death

August 23, 2023

Shambhavi and the Jaya Kula community gather for satsang and get real about all the questions we humans want answered. Intimate, courageous, heartfelt spiritual talk about pretty much everything. So happy you are here! A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

Saturn is the force, the intelligence that makes us see things more clearly and honestly. And basically, honesty is the foundation of our entire practice.

It doesn't matter how much spiritual capacity you have that you came in with at birth or developed later or something.

If you cannot be honest, if you don't have a desire to be honest, if you can let your karmas run wild and never even question your perspective, whether that's actually the case or not—your concepts and ideas about things—you have no basis to practice with it.

So Shani, Saturn, is that principle, that force, that intelligence that maneuvers us to look and see how we actually are, how other people actually are, how circumstances actually are.

And that's what we practice with. We can't practice with a fantasy. We can only practice with what's actually happening. There's no basis for sadhana in fantasy.

And of course, one definition of karma is being in a state of fantasy about stuff, even though our state of fantasy might sound totally rational to us and other people, but we're going to be a mix of that.

But we have to be at least wanting to discover what's actually going on. We have to be willing to listen and see when someone points out to us what's actually happening instead of reinforcing how we've always looked at things.

As I was writing about today, one of the things that we can do as practitioners is look and notice when we draw a line in the sand. When do we dig our heels in and say, 'no, I refuse to even consider what my teacher just said to me,' or what someone else pointed out, or what a circumstance is revealing, or what my own inner voice is saying, right?

I refuse to look at that. And I have all these reasons where I'm just going to get angry and stomp off, right? Something like that.

We should look at those moments because those are the moments when we stop being practitioners. Honesty is really and willingness to be honest and willingness to see things we don't want to see, willingness to step out of our normal ways of relating to things. This is the basis of everything.

When we have practitioners who are really honest, and even if they don't have a lot of capacity, it's just a beautiful thing. This is just a beautiful thing to see.

When we have practitioners even with a lot of capacity to maybe develop some powers or something or whatever, but they're not honest, then we have all the trouble that we get into with teachers and with ourselves.

Dishonesty and unwillingness to be honest and look at ourselves honestly, that leads to a world of hurt for ourselves and possibly other people too.

People actually regularly ask me, why can teachers have what seems to be accomplishment and yet cause so much harm. One way we could describe that is because they were never willing to really be honest with themselves.

They were never willing to give up their lot of power and privilege and pride. And even when it's pointed out to them, and even when they go through various falls, they just get right back up again. This is because they're not willing to be honest.

So it's a great capacity. Honesty is a great capacity, and Shani represents that. Shani represents sobriety and clear seeing and being a servant rather than a power monger. Shani is extremely powerful, but Shani is a servant, represents service.

For me, the feeling of having hesitancy around honesty is the same as the feeling of not having confidence in life process.

Yeah, absolutely. It's the same as that. You're spot on. That we have to somehow massage everything. Otherwise, it'll all go haywire. We feel we're in great danger somehow.

And that's ultimately a product of feeling separate and vulnerable in lots of different ways. When we start to get more in touch with that alive aware Self that permeates everything, we gain more confidence, and then we can take more risks because losses don't feel so dire anymore.

Where things are going wrong, we recognize that there's wisdom in that also. So we begin to see the wisdom in every circumstance, or just even if we can't see it, we have confidence that it's there and we'll figure it out, or we won't, but we'll just keep going, whatever will happen.

And we also begin to get this sense that life is very long, that even when this body goes away, there's this alive awareness here and it's just going to keep doing its thing and there's just nothing to get all exercised about.

There was a little girl named Cashy. Does anybody know who I'm talking about on Instagram? She's five years old or four years old and she's just this kickass snowboarder.

She's unbelievable. The other day I saw this video with her, on the front of her t-shirt it said, "Be afraid." And on the back of her T shirt, it said, "Do it anyway."

So basically, this alive, aware reality has total freedom to create any and all circumstances. Which means that in any moment, our lives are completely up for grabs. And our job isn't to try to solidify a result or a future or an outcome.

Our job is to be focused on the circumstance that's unfolding right now and serve that as skillfully as we can. We can just yield to what is. What is is that your life is completely in the matrix of this living awareness.

You're not in control. You have some quantity of freedom. You're completely in this 100% collaborative situation. So it's not really up to you what happens.

So instead of looking out too far, withdraw in your gaze just at the middle distance rather than too far out and just try to feel what's happening and go with it and do your best in the moment. And then whatever happens happens.

One of the things that is very relaxing in the face of the overwhelming unpredictability of life, the incontrovertible unpredictability of life is that if we do our best, if we do our utmost, we have a sense of calm. Because there's nothing more we could have done.

Even if our utmost involves mistakes or involves being incorrect or involves stumbling, because our utmost does involve that. There's no such thing as mastery, nothing. The minute I see anyone advertising anything and saying they're masters of something, I'm like, run the other way, right? You really don't get it. There are no masters here.

In a very ordinary way, just do your utmost. Generally for me, that means doing a little more than I thought I could. Not some giant heroic act, but just a little more effort or a little more giving, a little more open heartedness, a little more yielding, a little more.

And that's all you can do. And then whatever happens, what could you have done about it? Nothing. We all have limited capacity. We all have various karmas. There's only so much we can do.

And when we know within ourselves that we've done our best, then we can, in a sense, relax. Even if life totally takes a turn that we didn't want it to. Then our job is to always adapt to the new circumstance.

A friend of mine always used to say, 'Adaptation is really what skill is about.' Not getting what we want, not forcing reality to be as we wish it would be, but learning to adapt skillfully and, as I like to say, resistlessly.

Adapting without resistance to life's changing circumstances. That is the definition of a successful life.

There was a teacher who said, 'The bad news is you're in free fall. The good news is there's no ground.' [laughs]

Really, it's about reconciling yourself to how things actually are. You can only have so much to do with any circumstance, and the rest of it is up to the rest of it. So you just do your best with the very small part that you have to play, and you cannot do more than that.

I like to compare this also to swimming in a river because rivers are very long. So if you're swimming and you're thinking about a mile ahead instead of what you're doing and you're worrying about what's going to happen a mile ahead, you're going to end up crashing on a rock in the middle of the river and dying or getting very injured.

And when you swim, if you're really going to be skillful at swimming, what is it that you have to pay attention to? You have to pay attention to the water that's actually right around you. And whatever's coming up just a little ahead of you.

If you're too far ahead, if you're not paying attention to the flow of the river and the current and the things in the river, you're going to beat yourself or bang against something. You know, you're going to be unskillful.

The further ahead we try to plan and think and coerce reality, the less skillful we are.

Timing. How to distinguish good timing from bad timing?

A lot of our suffering is due to bad timing and our inability to feel for the time. And our karmas that cause us to rush everything in general or to hold back when we should be going forward.

If we had better timing, we would have more satisfaction in our lives. And we'd also have more relaxation because we wouldn't be battling the time and trying to do something out of sync.

In my life as a practitioner, actually being able to feel the time was something that came very late to me.

Lots of things happened and lots of perceptions open up as we're practicing. But the feeling of time really wasn't something that came early on. And I really credit the practice of divination with really helping me to have a felt embodied sense of timing.

So before we have that felt embodied sense of timing, we can, first of all, pause and try to feel. Trying to feel for the time is always a great practice, but we can use other practices like astrology, like divination, or just talking with people and figuring out what a better time might be.

We can also check in with ourselves. If we're someone that just always wants to get stuff done and tends to rush forward, we can feel that chugging engine of rushing, anxiety happening.

And we can recognize that that is propelling us, not maybe a sober evaluation of the situation. And we might want to just pause.

If we're someone who's more lethargic and tends to hang back, we might want to work on that by trying to liven up our systems so that we can move forward with a little more speed and have some of better timing.

So there's a lot of things we can do to supplement until we have a better sense of time ourselves. But bad timing is really one of the linchpins to our suffering, for sure.

I try to totally forget that I'm going to die. I try to think about it. I try to think about it regularly, but I think it's different than actually having an embodied understanding of it.

One of the things that can help is just feeling your life as an energetic event more. A lot of the times we run around feeling very dense, feeling like we're this dense object in space, and then that seems to have some sort of permanence about it.

But if we're more in touch with the energetic aspect of our incarnation, which is much more porous and open to the environment and less weighty, and there's a lot more subtle movement to it. It kind of reminds us that we're just like these waves, you know?

But if we're always being just in our ordinary sense of a body, then it's harder to remember. So invoke your practice more to be experiencing, just in a simple way, experiencing that energy body more. That will help.

Because it really has very little substance in the way that we think of it. It has liveliness, it has a lot of liveliness, but it has very little sense of substance.

And it also feels continuous with everything. So there's less of that sense that there's something here to come and go as much.

Noticing if we're shocked when people die is a good indicator of where we're at, especially if we think certain deaths are unusual or unfair or more tragic than other deaths or something like that.

If we look at just the ways people die, people just die all kinds of different ways. If you can think of a way someone might die, that's probably happened.

I told everybody about that government publication that the US government publishes every year. I don't know what it's called, but it's basically just a public record of how people die every year in the United States.

And by each person's name, there's a number of how many people died that way, "Fell off a ladder - 47."

So if you go read that, and you'll just be like, 'Whoa.'

Where did you say this comes from?

It's the US government. I was in my early 20s when I discovered this one. It's so long ago. It's a government publication that just enumerates, and it's like this thick, it enumerates, well, it's probably online now. Back then, you had to order a paper copy.

So that doesn't mean we can't feel sad when people die, right? I'm not saying that we're supposed to be bland automatons. I'm just saying that anything and everything can and will happen.

Can you say more about that, about why we can still feel sad die when people die?

Well, there's a palette of emotions that are part of the experiential texture of life, and they're on the palette of God. That God is tasting these things through us, with us.

So there's no sense that when you become more realized that you don't feel emotions, you feel them more exquisitely in a more nuanced way.

You're not attached to feeling certain things. They tend to just flow along. Whatever you're experiencing flows along much more smoothly and resistlessly than when we're attached to a certain form of emotional expression.

But realized people are experiencing the full range of emotions as tastes, as textures, as part of the poignancy and beauty of life. Those emotions are part of the artistry of God.

I've been haven't had a lot going in my life recently and I'm just having this growing sense of lostness that kind of just makes it difficult to feel like there's anything to do. It just feels weird.

Yeah, those are wonderful times. Maybe uncomfortable, but also wonderful.

We have motivations to do things that are born out of our karmic tensions, and they feel very compelling. We feel like, "This is urgent. This is important. This is meaningful. I have to do this. I must do this. This is my job." You know, whatever.

And then that goes away for some period of time. And if we have some practice under our belt, then we might, if we're lucky, have some of that pattern of attachment to the importance and urgency of everything fall away.

And then you enter into, as you beautifully described, lostness slash spaciousness. They're sometimes hard to distinguish.

And so you're going through this interim period, this sandhi, where your old motivation has fallen away, but the new motivation hasn't come in yet.

That's where that sense of spaciousiousness and just like "whoa..." comes in.

And it can feel also kind of bland if we're used to this very hyped up relationship to everything we're doing and how urgent and important and meaningful everything that we're doing is, and we're very hyped about it, which our culture encourages us to be.

Then when we start to lose some of that, things can feel bland and pointless.

This is a very common experience for practitioners to go through periods where whatever they were doing before doesn't seem as important, but now nothing seems as important. And so life just goes through a period where it feels kind of tasteless, right?

But if you just relax and try to experience the beauty of this and just going deeper and deeper into that sense of relaxation, then you'll find more natural motivation and it won't feel anything like what you were experiencing before.

It'll feel more like, Oh, you just get to express yourself. We're here. And as Lord Krishna teaches in the Bhagavad Gita, as long as we're here, we're going to be doing something.

So what is the something that is that essence here? The something that's at essence here is creative self expression.

And I don't mean everybody has to be an artist, but that sense of just expressing yourself in a natural way that could look like anything. It could look like being a cook. It could look like running a company. It could look like sitting around on a mountaintop. It could look like being a runner. It could look like being an artist. It could look like anything.

It could look like being a doctor or nothing if you had the money to be nothing.

You can let this play out naturally and just see where you wash up. But you're going to have to just let go very deeply. Just let the relaxation continue to unfold, and then you'll find something beautiful and a more natural, sweet and heart based kind of expression.

When we have these kind of opportunities, it's really wonderful. Not everybody gets these kind of opportunities. And when we get an opportunity to just go through these sandhi or bardos, where things are reorganizing and things are dropping away and other things haven't arrived yet, and we're just like having that lostness and spaciousness.

And we aren't compelled for reasons of needing food or something, we aren't compelled to put it back together again really quickly.

We can just let that happen and relax. That's really a gift. That is an opportunity, a big spiritual opportunity. Since that's happening, you should take that.

I just wanted to revisit something that you said about accomplishment. I would have thought that honesty would be a prerequisite to some kind of real accomplishment in a spiritual sense.

Didn't I say that?

Well, you said that you can have practitioners with great accomplishment who are not-

Oh, I just meant, like you know, some powers or learning or collecting a bunch of techniques. There is a possibility of just like in a brute sense, being able to work with energy or work with things and create certain effects and bamboozle people.

That does not rely on how open hearted you are.

Exactly. Trika Shaivism is about heart. That's what it's about. And although there is a big, big swath of traditions that went into it, and other kinds of traditions from India that does have to do with this sort of heroic male figure manipulating everything and having a lot of personal power, that isn't what the heart of the tradition is.

It's definitely there. I don't want to deny that. But if you look at the earlier pre-Abhinavagupta writers, Somananda, Utpaladeva and others, they were writing about devotion, about the heart, about everything being a heart.

And this, again, was also in Abhinavagupta, but he also was pretty attached to the figure of the heroic male, the vira practitioner. So we can tease that out and find what's really important.

I'm curious about how we should relate to close others according to the view? What I see, like mainstream culture, that my family, my friends, my relationships, my kids are more important than other people's kids and giving them more love.

In the conventional sense, the parents tell the child, "I love you, unconditionally. I love you more than anyone in the world." And of course, that love is not unconditional because it's dependent on the child being their child.

They don't unconditionally love every child. [laughs] So there's a condition. It has to be my child.

My mother always used to say, I don't really like children except my own. She was honest about it, right?

There's sort of like two layers happening at the same time, and one layer is coming out of the other layer. The base layer, the base layer is the base state of reality, the natural state, is a state where there is total equality of virtue and wisdom.

That's the state from which 'we love everyone' happens. That happens through any number of ways, but one of the ways is through doing sadhana and having this profound opening of the heart.

That you just love everyone and there's no question about it. And on that sense, you would love your own family and your own children as much as you loved anybody else, including just a stranger, a random person.

On another level, every relationship has a unique dimension. Every relationship has differentiation. So that differentiation is coming out of that total equality of everything.

It's basically the creative expression of what we call the base state of reality or Shiva nature. Everything is having this very unique quality and very diverse qualities, right?

So in that sense, we appreciate that the people that are most ancestrally close to us, we have a unique relationship with. We can appreciate that and act accordingly.

But it doesn't mean that we love anyone more or less than anyone else in that base way. It's a little bit different from the conventional view. A conventional view would be, of course, you love your family more. Also might be stupid non-dualism which would be everything is one, leave your family and just roam around loving people.

But this kind of tradition, direct realization tradition, says that we're basically holding that equality and the diversity together in one thought, one life, one body, one way of being in the world. So we're doing both at the same time.


Photo by Claudio Testa


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.