Invisibility, Intimacy, and the Way Things Are

Shambhavi and a student
August 3, 2022

Shambhavi riffs on invisibility as a strategy and the sweet taste of and intimacy with all life. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

It feels like Jaya Kula has some power of invisibility that it just kind of hasn't been noticed as much. I was just kind of curious about it, how you kind of view where you are and where Jaya Kula is just with, like, the greater spiritual genre of the public eye and what's out there?

Well, that's a really rich question, and it's something I've pondered almost my entire life as a teacher. And there's many, many different aspects to that. And I would say it is intentional, but it's also karmic.

I mean, it's written in my chart that I would be attracted to being somewhat invisible. It's kind of unusual because I have Jupiter in my first house, but there are many other factors in my chart that lead to this desire to be somewhat hidden. And there's a pattern that was already established, and then there was choosing that pattern [laughs].

And then, of course, I've received many, many teachings about invisibility, and I think those are all important.

Earlier on, and to some degree still, I was very much influenced by a series of dreams I had that seemed to be about past lives and how much of a pain in the neck I was in past lives that I had somehow risen to some place of prominence as a teacher and then just been a jerk.

So I felt, and still feel, like my own work as a person, not as a teacher, but just as a person, is to make sure that I never do that again.

I just realized, okay, I don't want to repeat this because the message that I got from those dreams was that I had all this opportunity and then I blew it. And I went on this big detour, and I don't want to go on that detour again.

So my own sadhana has been very much focused on cultivating modesty and cultivating I wouldn't say invisibility, but just cultivating anything that would go toward this place where perhaps I had been before.

The other way I thought of this is that there's a certain amount of announcing oneself that I find really abhorrent and distasteful and nothing I want to do. And yet if you don't do it, no one knows you're there. So, of course we have a website and we have an Instagram and we have a style guide for Jaya Kula that tries to walk a line between just letting people know we're here, but not engaging in any of this kind of language or self-promotion.

So I'm trying to be kind and let people know we're here. Because, really, if it were up to me, I would not have a website. It's a big pain in the neck, having a website. It's so much work.

But the thing is that deciding not to have a website these days is like deciding not to use the post office. I mean, it's just how it's done. So we've tried to kind of walk a fine line between using the tools that it's kind to use, just so people can figure out how to get access and not sort of fall over the edge with trying to proselytize in any way.

This is a very big topic for me, really, that I've been thinking about most of my life as a teacher.

The other thing is that there's a lot of ways that people have been hurt by teachers and spiritual communities.

And this doesn't just have to do with the lack of realization that teachers often have, but also with the lack of vision about communities. So it's not just a teacher that can hurt. Communities that are out of control can do that too.

So I think it's important to get to a place where we can actually create a zone where people can do practice and not risk horrible injury from being here because of us.

I mean, some people are obviously unhappy with circumstances, and it's beyond my control that they're unhappy, but they're just unhappy because of who I am or what's going on.

I can't control that. But I don't want anyone to feel like they can't practice here because we've abused them in some way. So my life has been about doing sadhana, and Jaya Kula is very focused on that, and I want to make sure that people can do sadhana here.

And the way that we present ourselves and the way that we conduct ourselves is very much a part of that, creating that kind of space for people.

I don't want to say safe space because spiritual practice isn't safe.

A safe space just means your expectations are met. That's not what's happening.

But a zone where people know that if they want to do practice, they can. In terms of myself, I feel like I'm more and more entering into a way of inhabiting the role of a teacher that I've really wanted to.

But my own over-enthusiasm has gotten the better of me, and my own pitta-ness has caused me to be over-emphatic with people and try to make people feel better or make people want to do practice or something like that.

There's a beautiful image that has always inspired me, and it's written about in a lot of different Hindu teaching stories about the sage who just sits under a tree and doesn't do anything, and whoever comes, comes, and whoever leaves, leaves.

And this has always been kind of an ideal for me that people would come and they would notice something was happening or they wouldn't, or they would want to practice or they wouldn't, but that I wouldn't have to do anything about it. I wouldn't have to jump in and try to enthuse people in some way.

And I was actually wondering right before teaching if anyone who has been around for a long time has noticed this and feels like I don't care about them enough anymore or something. Because I feel like, especially in the last year or two, I have really stepped back from trying to force anyone into anything or enthuse anyone into anything. And it's definitely still a work in progress.

But what I want to say about that is that even if I do manage to embody that sage under a tree more fully, which I'm definitely still working on, there's a certain amount of things with fire element where you're just like— [laughs]. And I really try to tone that down in terms of asking people to do anything, really.

And just the people who want to be asked to do things make that known to me by coming in a certain way and approaching me and the community in a certain way.

And I don't want to go after anyone anymore.

If you notice I'm not coming after you anymore, it's not because I don't love you and I don't care. I'm trying to relax and just let whatever happens happen and not try to make anything happen. And this is part of my own sadhana, and I think it's also like an expression of my traditionalism.

I'm really interested in working with traditions like this on their own terms, like, based on the epistemology of these traditions, not on some Western scientific epistemology. So, yeah, invisibility, it's a strategy, it's a natural movement in my life.

It's a beautiful way to just let things happen.

I was thinking about, also in terms of people thinking I'm like not liking them anymore or something that, in the movie about Namkhai Norbu and his son.

His son felt very, very hurt by Norbu because Norbu didn't treat him in any way like a regular father. He treated him like a Dzogchen master to a disciple. And this was very, very, very painful for his son, who for a lot of his life, until he got into his thirties, I guess, didn't even want to be a Dzogchen teacher, just wanted to be a normal guy.

He worked for some big tech company. He just wanted to get married, have kids, have a regular job, and he wanted a regular father, so it was really a source of suffering for him.

But he also said that his father never told him what to do, never criticized him, never said, I think you should do this, or I think you should do that. He just waited until his son showed interest in the teachings, and he waited for like thirty-some years, which is wow.

So his son had a job that required him to drive like an hour or more every day back and forth from work and so he started doing this mantra in the car, and then he started having dreams of his previous lives because he had already been named a tulku, a reincarnation, so he started remembering it, and that was on his drive to his IT job.

So everything worked out fine. I would like to have that kind of fortitude.

It takes a lot of fortitude when you just feel such longing for someone to benefit and they're not ready to receive yet, or they just don't want it, they want something else.

So that takes incredible amount of fortitude to just stand by. So I aspire to that.

Can you talk a little bit more about fortitude and how it's related to patience?

The fortitude or the patience is related to continually going back to whatever reminds you of how things actually are. You know, feeling an intense longing for other people to benefit and to not be suffering. One has to continually go back to that place that lets you know everything's fine, and that's where the fortitude comes in.

Because it's a kind of profound renunciation and this was, somebody was asking me about sanyas the other day, but it's really too much to explain in a proper way what the difference is between more conventional sanyas and the kind of sanyas that I have.

But part of it has to do with just this day by day, minute by minute, profound renunciation with respect to one's own reactivity, and continually trying to go back to that place and remain in that place where you have no beef with anything, where you're not just like, hanging on with your beef.

Because that's what we normally think of as fortitude. Like, I want something or I feel something's wrong or whatever, and I'm like digging in my heels and being patient.

Right? That's our normal idea of fortitude, and there's nothing wrong with that. But it's just the kind of fortitude that I think Norbu was experiencing and that I experiencing is not being able to indulge in that, if you're being really honest with yourself about what is happening here.

So you don't get to really wallow around in these fantasies that, if only I could help. And that's very, very austere. Very austere. And this is what is meant by inner sanyas. It doesn't have to have any external particular form.

Sometimes it's very easy. You're having a great Jupiter moon day and it's all fine. But other times you have to pull yourself away from being magnetized by this idea that there's some mission that's not being accomplished, or just that you're longing for something is really so important that you have to go crash in on someone else's life.

So bringing back to that heart space where it's just 'this is fine'.

Wisdom gives you a little pat on the head like you're a little kid, and you just have a lot to learn.

To feel that your son is a reincarnation and has all this potential and potentially a lot to give, and you know, might be your Dharma heir and preserving your culture and all this stuff, and then he doesn't want to do it. It's like, no, I'd rather go work for IBM. I think he was like a VP at IBM. That's hard. It's like, I have this incredibly beautiful, magical thing I want to share with you. But you'd rather work at IBM.

Okay, let me go back to my room and work with that [laughter].

Generations and generations of transmission and dakinis flying around in my dreams and magic of transmission and all this stuff, and received wonderful dances and all the stuff that was happening in Norbu's life, like how magical his life was, and all he wanted to do was share it with this person, and he was like, no, sorry, I'd rather work. Right. [laughter]

That just takes a lot of fortitude to hold.

I don't know how Norbu was holding it, but for me it's like just trying to get away from the place where I think I have some beef with this and get into the place where I know it's all fine and whatever happens is what happens, and it's not up to me.

And that's the other part of it, is that if you're attached to the role of the teacher, I don't mean if you're just being a teacher, but if you're attached to the role of the teacher, then as Ma said, you can really stop growing because then you have something to defend.

So it's important also in those situations and what Norbu was experiencing and his son was experiencing, that it's approached as sadhana. That whatever is happening around me, I approach this also my own sadhana, not just like some problem you're having.

Our karmic track is telling us, no, something must be fixed here. Something else has to happen. 'This isn't right,' but it actually is.

This reminded me of that quote, I think it was Longchenpa, where you said something like, the way things are, that's where That is.

Yeah. There's really no escape from the way things are other than into fantasy.

So all of our complaints about the way things are are just our fantasies about things should be different. And then we have, of course, all this emotional cruft build up around the way things are.

I've talked about before how I think most spiritual practitioners are idealists, and idealists want things to be otherwise.

We have the sense that, even if it's a real sense of, like, the magic of the round world, of reality in it's— more fully perceived by us, even if that's why we're idealists, there's still this, like, longing and in some way that pulls us along and helps us to find teachers and practices and stuff.

But then it can also just be the source of endless complaints about how things are. And eventually, if we're going to mature as practitioners and as teachers, we have to give up our complaints about how things are.

Because really, how things are really doesn't care about our complaints about it.

We're not happy with the pandemic worldwide. It just keeps going. It doesn't really listen to how unhappy we are with it [laughs]. So how things are is where it's at, whatever Longchenpa said.

I think that those desires for things to be different, and we keep hitting our head against the wall of how things are, if we're doing practice and we're starting to soften over time, we do stop hitting our head against the wall.

And I don't think the first stage of that is that we stopped desiring it. I think the first stage of that is we realize that that desire is not in line with the practice and so we start making efforts to relax that and try to be more seeing how things actually are.

Not like in details like oh, there's really a pandemic, even though I want it to go away. I mean, seeing the alive, aware, intelligence and brilliance of everything. When we see how things are on that level, that's when we don't hit our heads on the wall quite so often.

But I'm still hitting my head against a wall. Not as bad as I used to, but I still have a lot of longing for things to be a certain way that they might not be.

It seems like if you have the opportunity, you get opportunities to navigate more skillfully, also like find timing or sense timing, or if you do want something, you can go down narrow river or something, get it instead of just demanding it in the moment that's not available to you.

But that also has to do with where we can feel relaxation or cessation or amelioration of loneliness.

So where we're able to find intimacy has a lot to do with what it is we want in life.

And the more intimacy with whatever we have, the less narrow that threading of the needle is. But if, for instance, if someone has a low capacity for certain kinds of intimacy but they can be very intimate with a dog or a cat, they're going to be incredibly passionately, intensely attached to that animal because that's where they're feeling that intimacy.

And of course that's what we all want, right? We all want to feel that. We all want to feel our continuity with something, and depending on our karmic patterning, that something is going to be leading us in one direction or another.

So it's really trying to satisfy the same thing as spiritual life. But there's a huge spectrum of how much intimacy people are able to tolerate with how many different beings and in different circumstances.

Why can't people tolerate intimacy?

There's so many different reasons. I mean, just speaking from my own experience, there's too much overload of the senses.

Senses can be too open or senses can be too dull. It could be either one. I was just thinking to myself that when I was younger I had a hard time being out in nature because I was just so overwhelmed by the color and form of it. And I think some people are just overwhelmed by what's coming toward them.

But I don't think that's the only reason.

I could just say in general, the fewer boundaries we have and the more we're able to sort of receive whatever is coming toward us, it means that we have a certain kind of digestive capacity for a feeling of aliveness.

The reason why, or one of the reasons why it takes so long to experience awakening during spiritual practice is because we have to incrementally get used to more aliveness.

This is literally a feeling that comes into your body, energy, mind. And I know every practitioner who goes on for a while has moments of just feeling intense feelings of connection that are overwhelming, and it takes a while to get used to those things so that you can be in that condition every day.

I often wonder, or I often wish I could just be in the condition I was 20 years ago and then flashback to this condition because I'd just love to feel the difference.

The other day, I was driving down Solano Avenue in my car. No, not Solano, San Pablo. There's that median strip, and the guys were out there, the city workers were out there mowing the lawn, and there had been very tall grass, and then they were mowing it down really short.

And I had my hand out the window, and I just felt this wave of energy coming off this cut grass. And I thought to myself, wow, when things are destroyed, it releases all this energy.

But that could be in and of itself, of, like, having that kind of experience, like a lot of energy coming off some lawn could really be overwhelming if you hadn't gotten used to that, if your sort of psychic digestive system hadn't recalibrated. It's like a recalibration.


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