How to remember who you already are, use mantra practice to subtilize your experience, and do your best and let go of the result

December 28, 2022

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

In the heart practice, sometimes you say just let yourself relax and feel who you are when you aren't trying to be anything. What's the difference between pushing out a persona and expressing yourself in a more free way?

We spend a lot of time, especially these days in this culture, trying to fashion a sense of self that is coherent and that other people will respond to with admiration or love or some expression like that, or approval. We are constantly trying to have a sense of success as a major part of who we want to be.

And we're trying to change how we feel about everything, change how we think about everything, or dogmatically cling to all that stuff, whatever. We're just almost continuously involved in the process that could be called self-fashioning, and it's almost like we're trying to build something that's already been built.

We're wasting all of our time and energy building something that's already been built. You're born with a full self, full of wisdom, full of karmas, full of unique expression, full of history. There is no sense in which you have to make a self.

Your job here is to express yourself and to become more free, if you possibly can, in that self-expression. So in morning worship, if we can forget all the work that we do to create a sense of self, all the narration that we have about ourselves, all the histories. History is a very dicey thing.

Even historians recognize that—that every story that we tell about a history leaves out an enormous amount of history, is very selective in what it includes in that history, and is completely colored by the person writing the history.

So to let go of our, even for a moment, our attachment to our history, our attachment to our family, our attachment to our friends and other loved ones, attachment to our stories about ourselves, attachment to past, present, and future, attachment to all of our identities, all of our gripes, all of our hopes, everything that we're constantly massaging all day long and working with and tweaking, and we just let ourselves be.

And then you can feel yourself as you are when you're not doing any of that work. And you can feel, even if you only feel for a moment, that you are okay. You don't need to be continually creating, fixing, deleting, editing—all the stuff that people do.

You already are someone in full measure. And what does it feel like to be that when we stop everything else and just feel our life? And if we lived like that, if we lived with no effort to manipulate, build, edit, tweak, delete self-image.

If we weren't trying to better ourselves in order to appear better, if we just did what we wanted to do from that place of having no self that we were fashioning, everything would just happen spontaneously in this beautiful way.

So that's what it means to be expressing oneself freely—freedom from conditioning. Not only are we conditioned, but we're just re-conditioning ourselves every day, every minute of every day, reinforcing all of these patterns, trying to make ourselves feel better.

We're trying to solve the same feeling with all of this contrived self-fashioning and attachment as we're trying to let go and resolve through spiritual practice. It's the same thing that we're working on or worried about. The feeling of things not being quite right, not quite knowing what's happening, not really feeling that we are a coherent self.

Underneath all this self-fashioning is a recognition, a knowledge that we aren't really a coherent self. If you didn't know that, you wouldn't bother trying to make one. You wouldn't be so scared.

So most of us, whatever our personality is, whatever our dosha is, whether we're fiery or watery, whether we're angry or scared or sad, whatever our basic orientation is, everybody is scared at the fragility of life and the fragility of— what they think is the fragility of the self.

But the Self isn't fragile at all. It's like the tree. The leaves fall off, but the tree keeps making more leaves every year.

So yeah, you're like the leaf, but you're also like the tree. So you have to be the tree, not the leaf. And then you can go be the leaf and be happy about it. Once you realize you're the tree, then you can enjoy all the leaves doing their leafy thing.

But everything you do to convince yourself that you're okay that isn't resting in presence won't work. You'll never be okay. You'll never feel okay. None of the things that you do, none of them, ever will make you feel okay for more than a fleeting moment.

The way that you feel okay will be so impoverished. Even if you have some fleeting moments of feeling okay, it'll be very impoverished. And it'll go away, and you'll be under constant threat.

Until we recognize who we really are, we live under constant threat and constant attempts to mitigate that threat. And none of it works. The only thing that works is discovering who you really are.

As the teachings say, you have to know that with confidence. And you have to be honest enough to know that what you've been doing doesn't work. Just feel inside. Like, look at all the work you've done.

Most of you are in your thirties, forties, and fifties. Feel inside. How do you feel inside? Has everything you've done worked? No. But most of us aren't honest enough to really recognize that and live by that.

You still have some hope that we can remain in control of stuff, and that what we tried a hundred million times before will work. And finally, we'll end up with this self that feels okay.

But you can't solve the problem of your anxiety about the self by applying the means of the limited self. You have to get back in touch with your primordial self. That's how it works. It's the only way it works.

And there are many, many roads to doing that. This isn't the only one, but that's what has to happen. And the result is that you become a very spiritual person. [speaks ironically]

No, the result is you just have more fun, and you stop suffering so much. You have more freedom to express yourself, more possibilities. You love more, you're more generous, you have more clarity. Life is just so much better when you're not running after potato chips.

When you were talking about the incoherence of the self, I like overlay, like, a feeling of brokenness onto that.

Yeah, you're not broken. Every situation is completely unique. So how would we identify a coherent self? What would that look like? It would be stale because it wouldn't know how to respond differently or even contradictorily, because sometimes circumstances call for us to do the opposite of what some other circumstance called us to do, right?

So unless we have 360 degrees of freedom, then we're going to apply behaviors, feelings, and concepts in circumstances where they don't belong.

So the coherent self is made up of concepts. This is who I am, this is my history, these are my identities, this is how I respond to this. Oh, I always do that, I never do that. My astrology this, my diagnosis that, whatever. We're just basically a bundle of these dogmatic narratives and dogmatic concepts and repeating emotional reactions.

So when that gets taken apart and all that energy gets repurposed or just liberated, then we might do anything. We're going to be responding to things as they actually are, not through this morass of stale and dogmatic things.

I mean, it might feel incoherent if you stop identifying with certain things or you stop responding in certain ways. Other people might find you incoherent.

For instance, if you live in a culture, like in California, where over-emoting every time you meet someone is the social norm—going into paroxysms of exclamations just because you ran into somebody at the supermarket—that's a social norm for a lot of people of a certain swath of California.

And if you don't do that, if you just say hey, hi, someone thinks there's something wrong with you. You're no longer, like, coherent in the sense of you're no longer being a good actor, an obedient actor.

But the thing is that it also comes with incredible open-heartedness. So most of the time, that is something other people can feel, and that's what creates opportunities for communicating, even if you're not being an obedient actor. You know what I'm saying?

So yeah, it can be destabilizing for others and for you as things are kind of dropping off. But if we're being an honest practitioner and we're being a mature practitioner, then we know that that is absolutely necessary. And we just determine that we're going to work with it and be uncomfortable sometimes.

So freedom is the freedom to respond within the proper context of circumstances rather than just doing whatever the hell you want to do.

Yeah, it is responding to what is actually happening without any conditioning. So Ma described that as kheyal—improvisation, like an improvisational music that's happening with all of reality.

So it's not like I'm responding in the proper way for this context. It's not a product of thinking how I'm going to respond properly in this context. It's just arising spontaneously like an improvisation.

But is that arising spontaneously— does that have embedded within it a kind of wisdom about what is appropriate for that situation and what is not?

It doesn't need to have that. Because if you're being open-hearted and responding with clarity and spontaneity, appropriateness isn't even a question. You don't have to think about these things anymore.

But most of us are never going to be in that condition all the time, so we don't have to worry about it. But things like appropriateness are things that you think about when you're still thinking about things. So it's important to think about them when you need to. Right?

But if you were Ma, you wouldn't need to think about that. So then maybe the best that can happen is— you know how athletes talk about being in the zone? It's kind of like being in the zone. You're just moving with incredible clarity and skill, but you don't really know what you're doing.

They're not premeditating anything, they're just— the action and response is instantaneous. So maybe you'll have moments like that. That would be a good result.

Something else you mentioned in heart worship—letting the boundaries of your skin not limit you. Or like letting— when chanting om, for instance, letting it reverberate beyond the sense of a physical barrier.

Sure. One of the beautiful things about mantra is that mantra is so tangible. The vibratory quality of mantra, especially if we're chanting out loud, is so tangible, and it has such immediate impacts on how we sense things.

And one of the things that we can pay attention to is how mantra in general, not just at the surface of our skin, but— I mean, I point people there because when we chant om, it's moving out from the center. But in general, mantra can help us to lose the concept that we are a body in space separated from everything else.

So a mantra can connect us to that continuous vibratory aspect of existence, of which our body is a part. So our body is called, in some shastras, visible sound. And we know that there's a vibratory aspect to all of existence. And in Trika, it's called spanda.

That vibratory aspect of existence, which is also called shakti, is absolutely continuous throughout all of existence. There's no gaps, there's no break in that vibratory aspect of existence.

And so our bodies are like waves arising out of ocean of living presence, of living self-aware vibration or trembling. And this kind of alive reservoir of infinite potential, out of which all forms are rising.

And so as we begin to chant mantra, and this is why mantra is such a great practice for people to begin with and end with, but as we chant mantra more and more, even if you don't think about it, eventually you're going to start not having the same experience of your body that you used to.

So the mantras that we chant are more subtle as compared to our body, which you could say is more dense. So a mantra is the mantric body of a deity or something, and as a mantric body, it is more subtle than this kind of visible sound.

And so we pour the mantra into us, and we're, like, leavening our body. We're making it lighter, we're making it more receptive, we're making it feel less separate.

The experience of density is an experience of separation. It's— the experience of form, without having recognition of that living presence that form is arising from, is an experience of separation.

So the more mantra we pour into ourselves, the more subtle our experience of our body becomes. And the less we are experiencing our body as a separate object in space. So there will come a time, if you decide to do mantra a lot, there will come a time when you will absolutely be unable to experience your body as a separate object in space.

And you don't even have to do anything intentional. All you need to do is chant the mantra. So it's cool to play around with stuff and to kind of experiment with our sensorium, but you don't have to make any of this happen, right?

Like if you put yeast into your bread to make it rise, you don't have to stand at the counter going rise! The yeast does the work for you. You don't have to be like rise, rise!

And the mantra is the same way. As long as you keep putting it in, things are going to get more light and open and receptive and sensitive. More nuanced, right? So you're going to have a more nuanced sense of a body.

Mantra is the first practice I ever learned, so that means I've been doing mantra for 39 years every single day. My sense of embodiment is very, very different because of that and other things I've done. So it just happens over time, right?

And then, when your sense of embodiment changes, you can be more skillful in life. If you've experienced your little plot of visible sound as being continuous with everyone else's little plot of visible sound, then you can play with other people on these very subtle levels.

Or play with anything, really, right? Because it's like I'm lifting my arm up, but now I'm lifting my arm up in a field of living awareness, presence, not just lifting my arm up in emptiness. So it all becomes very fun at some point.

I feel like there's a mantra that's always on actively, like in my subconscious, just, like, the effect of it, of having inactive mantra and then also doing active mantra practice.

The first stage of that mind repetition is more like an earworm, when we can't get a pop song out of our head. So when you're at that stage—it's good to get to that stage—then you're hearing the mantra, but that's it, you're just hearing the mantra.

Or maybe you even still have a partial sense that you are repeating the mantra, and it's partially repeating itself, and you're partially doing it yourself. And you're not really sure.

But then it can just repeat itself in our semi-conscious. It's not evoking anything, it's just like the mantra. So that's good, but it's a very beginning thing after we've done a mantra a lot.

Eventually, mantras become revealed to us. The devotion and wisdom of the mantra becomes revealed to us experientially.

I think I thought that when my teacher said the wisdom of the mantra would be revealed to us that, like, literally I would get, like, notes. Like this wisdom and that wisdom and the other wisdom. I don't know what I thought, but not what actually happened.

So when I say that the wisdom is revealed, I mean in our own experience as feeling and usable knowledge. So at that point, if the mantra is repeating, we're also having this whole associated set of feelings or experiences with that. It's not just a repetition of a mantra.

Or feeling devotion or suddenly our attention is turned toward something that we have a real relationship to. And whenever we're in a relationship with something, there's communication. So there's something evocative about the mantra when we get to a different stage of our relationship to that sound form.

Any advice or thoughts that you have about how to have a healthy relationship with the future?

One is you can't control it. And there are many more possibilities than you could possibly be aware of.

So whatever narratives we tell ourselves about the future, whether they're optimistic or pessimistic, whether they're fact-based or fantasy-based, any story that we tell about the future is actually a fantasy. Because the future is created only by what is happening now in the present, and it's always up for grabs. It's always dependent on what we do now.

So the best orientation to the future is just really just get it into your bones that you don't have control over it. No matter what you do, something could just come out of left field and change the whole result.

This is the big teaching in the Bhagavad Gita, where Krishna is teaching Arjuna, the warrior, and says the only thing you can do is act, and you must let go of the result because any result you're imagining is not necessarily what's going to happen. You don't know.

So try to really hold yourself to some sobriety about your control over the future and how little control you actually have. Which can be relieving, actually. If we think we're responsible for the future—wow, that's a burden.

The other thing is you only need to decide what you're going to do next. So just make your next step one that you feel happy about. That's all you really can do. And you just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

So just keep your focus more small, and just put one foot in front of the other. And do the best you can with each step. If you do the best you can in that moment—which could be crap, I mean, sometimes the best we can do is really not that good because of circumstances or some limitation we have.

So when I say do the best you can, I don't mean be perfect. I literally mean do the best you can, however not good that might be. But you do your best. Try your utmost to act with integrity and whatever skill you happen to have. And then in terms of plans, just don't plan too far in the future. And be ready to change your plans at any moment if circumstances change.

This is advice that's been given by teachers for millennia, probably. Don't plan too far into the future. Just plan a little bit ahead if you have to, and then be ready to change your plans. Don't get too attached to your plans. We live in impermanence. Anything can happen.

And it's also— even though we don't like it when our plans go awry, it's also interesting. Sometimes we plan something, and something better happens. Sometimes we plan something, and things go really wrong. But in either case, the surprisingness of reality, the surprisingness of how things unfold, is something we can enjoy.

I always think about, like, if something happens and you end up in the emergency room or at a doctor's office, like you break your toe or something happens and then all of a sudden your day is just completely different than what you planned. Right? You thought you were going to be here, and you're in a totally different, unexpected environment.

I mean, as much as we don't like that kind of thing, there's also something fun about it. Like all the pieces just get thrown up in the air. All the pieces we so carefully laid out.

So try to have a more realistic view of you in this world. Each of us has very little impact on the world, but we can have some. And just being open-hearted and doing our best every day is good enough. That's what we can do, and it's good enough.


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