Open Your Senses and Quit the Karmic Sideshow

November 30, 2022

Sadhana destroys obstacles to our perceptions and reconnects us to our desire for freedom from compulsive karmic patterns. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

One way of the many ways we could talk about this life that we share together, impermanence, is that it is a theater of experience for the senses, of banquet of the senses. Or as Ram Krishna also said, a carnival of joy, or the mansion of fun. Or as Ma said, a madhouse. Right, and it is really a madhouse for experiencing through our senses, including the mind.

And unlike some other traditions where the senses are denigrated and bodies are denigrated and direct experience is denigrated in a certain sense, in this tradition and in others like it (the other direct realization traditions like Dzogchen and Chan Buddhism and Sufism, to some extent) we're learning to open what are called the gates of perception. Open the gates of body, energy, and mind.

And this means that we are allowing everything that is here to be met by us. And we're deeply immersed in that experience of livingness. This is called samavesha. It means immersion in everything equally without really making the usual distinctions we make about 'I want to experience it, but not that'.

So we're not trying to have experiences, but we're meeting the unbelievably diverse circumstances of our lives with the open gates of our senses, including our mind.

Our practices are specifically designed to open the gates of perception. So what does that mean? It means that as we go along, we're going to start experiencing not only ordinary, everyday things in a different way, but also the more subtle manifestations of life that we didn't notice at all, or so much.

So we have, for instance, our ordinary perceptions of sound and visual incoming things and touch and taste and smell and ideas and everything that comes to us. And our perceptions of that are going to start to take in more.

The range of human perception, of just ordinary perception is incredibly wide. And it's almost, like, so wide, such a range of what people are able to take in, able to see, able to feel, able to taste, that it's almost like people are living in different realities because of how different the perceptual field is.

So your perceptual field will just get bigger. You'll be able to take in more, digest more without being overwhelmed. You'll notice more. You'll notice more detail, you'll notice more color, you'll notice more form, you'll notice more subtlety and sound. All of that, just in an ordinary sense. Your perceptions get extended.

And then, if you don't already, you start to have perceptual, concrete encounters with the subtle, energetic aspects of reality. So you start to notice more subtle ways that the field of energy that permeates everything, how it's moving, what's happening with that, with you and with other people in your own body.

Maybe it just starts with you notice some little tingle because you're breathing through the third eye or something. That is an energetic experience that is more subtle than what most people are paying attention to.

And then, ultimately, what you are perceiving is wisdom. So ultimately, you're not just having ordinary perceptions, you're not just experiencing subtle energy. But you are feeling the reality of your circumstance, which is that you are immersed in alive self-aware wisdom all the time. And you are relating to that.

And at that point, the ordinary perceptions that you have, the subtle energetic perceptions that you have, all are recognized as being aspects of completely non-different from this alive, aware wisdom. This Self that permeates everything, that is giving rise to everything.

So at some point, you will no longer be able to separate so-called ordinary perception from subtle energetic perception, from the sense of living presence. That's what living presence is. It's the presence of self-aware livingness.

And so at that point, all those three bodies (the ordinary, physical, the energetic, and the wisdom) they just collapse and no longer seem separate at all. And then that is what real samavesha is. When you are immersed in that and you recognize that you are completely continuous with that, you are not different from that.

Texture is a great word. And I'm sure that other people have more pronounced experiences that they would describe in a different mode than texture. But for me, texture has always been super prominent. Everything has this incredible texture and that sense just deepens.

And it's not just that you are experiencing something. This is usable understanding. This is not just you observe something. You're immersed in it and it becomes usable. You can navigate with it. You can start to feel the texture of how other people are and the texture of relating to other people and the texture of time.

Right, and you can start to feel the wisdom that is speaking to you, directing you, guiding you. You can start to feel when one way you're going to go is wisdom says no, and another way wisdom says yes, right? And it becomes very palpable. It's not airy fairy. It's not something that's, you wonder if it is even real.

Because what's happening is your subtle channels are becoming more skillful, more capacious. We're able to host more wisdom. And so it becomes as palpable as your ordinary senses used to be. It's just your senses operating in a bigger way. So it isn't something that you have to wonder, is this really happening?

That might be at first. Because when your senses are opening up, at first it can seem very fleeting. You wonder, did that just really happen? Or it comes and goes so much that you're not really sure what's happening.

But eventually you keep practicing and it becomes your new normal. And then it's just, like, that's how your senses are operating. It's part of your sensory apparatus, just like your ordinary senses.

I've told that story about how when I first started to feel this wisdom aspect, I felt guru was everywhere. And it was absolutely terrifying. It was bad enough having one guru, but, like, having guru be everywhere. I just felt like I was, okay, wait. Can't make a misstep. I'm going to be seen. Everything that I do. So got over that, but it was scary for a bit. [laughs]

Can you talk a little bit about the difference between working or addressing karmas and attacking them and just kind of, like, karmas doing their scary dance?

So the basis for attacking our habit patterns or being really aggressive with them is that assumption that there's something wrong with us that needs to be fixed. And so there's a fundamental, like, sense of desperation or aggression in 'how can I get rid of this thing that's wrong with me?'.

That isn't the assumption of this kind of tradition. The assumption of this kind of tradition is whatever your unique dimension is, it's just a natural occurrence. And you have this built-in perfection, even with all the crazy patterning.

So that takes a lot of the charge out of how we approach the suffering that we experience because of these habit patterns. The second difference is that in our culture today, we are, I think, maybe as much impacted by the psychological narrative of the self as we are by Christianity.

So we have these two things. We have Christianity telling us that we're somehow just bad. We're just bad. And then we have the psychological version of the self saying that we've been damaged. [students laugh]

So we're, like, originally bad and we've been damaged. [laughs] And we have both of these things. [Shambhavi and students laugh] Both of these things have seeped into our bones. They're kind of in our cultural DNA even if we aren't Christian. I mean, I didn't grow up up Christian. But we're in this kind of miasma of these cultural messages and assumptions and practices.

So when we feel we're bad and we need to be fixed and we've been damaged, the psychological model of the self that comes from Freud tells us that we have to get very involved with these patterns in order to get rid of them. We have to go in there and tease out every aspect of it and explain everything and figure out why it all happened. And all of this incredibly binds up our energy.

So we're there thinking, okay, I have this karma that I don't like, that causes me suffering, and I'm going to find out exactly what it is and what triggers it and how it arose. I'm going to come up with a story about how it happened. And instead of just saying, okay, it's there. (We're not trying to ignore anything.)

What we're trying to do, instead of getting all involved with that and telling stories and making up explanations of things, we're, like, recognizing that something's happening that's limited and causing us suffering. And then we're thinking, okay, this thing that's happening is a bundle of energy and awareness. It's a bundle or a configuration of alive awareness. And how can we unbundle it and use that energy for something else?

Those patterns have momentum. And so in order to change their momentum (they keep going, this is what we call repetition or compulsion in our habit patterns) we have to siphon energy off, we have to go in a different direction. But we're taking a very functional approach rather than a narrative approach.

And so we want to do other repetitive practices, aka sadhana, that takes our vital energy and our awareness of body, energy, and mind, and just moves it and it starts moving in a different direction. Over and over and over again. Until that pattern loses energy and it loses momentum and may just get weaker over a lifetime. Or it may actually get resolved. We don't know. Not everything resolved in one lifetime.

But however it weakens or however it resolves, we get that energy back, right, to use for better things than the repetitive feelings and repetitive thoughts. So 'don't fight things' means don't get all involved with everything. Recognize that it's happening. But then start doing something else to redirect that energy.

And letting something do its scary dance means that we're not suppressing anything either. So trying to suppress our patterns of body, energy, and mind is also binding up a lot of our attention and energy. I mean, anyone that's tried to suppress a desire knows it's fundamentally impossible. [laughs] We might squish it, we might sit on it. It's still there. We really need to start taking energy away from that.

So while we're doing that, of course, we're still having disturbing emotions and thoughts and urges. We're just letting those things happen kind of over on the side, like a sideshow, right?

So for instance, if I have strong compulsion to do X, Y, or Z, I'm just letting that compulsion be itself. I'm not trying to moderate the actual feeling of compulsion. I'm just now doing something else. I'm supplanting that with something else that is leading in a different direction away from compulsion. It's a subtle thing. And it means that we're putting up with uncomfortable feelings.

So for instance, if I have anxiety and one of my ways of dealing with anxiety is I pick my split ends on my hair. But instead, I'm just going to sit and let the anxiety happen. I'm not going to do anything about it. And then I'm going to do some other kind of practice. I'm going to be in satsang, or I'm going to be singing kirtan, or I'm going to be doing mantra, or I'm going to be thinking of something to do with my practice. As best I can.

Obviously, it's not going to be 100% like that for a long time. I'm going to be doing this with my hair sometimes too. But we're just being easy on ourselves. When we don't remember to re-pattern things, we just gently go back to it as soon as possible.

So there's not this sense of like self-hatred, aggression, bashing ourselves, or trying to, like, get at something that's rotten. And it really is that horrible, horrible, concatenation of Christianity and Western psychology that has, I think, gotten us into this trap.

There are other cultures in the world where if someone has, like, some sort of psychological issue, mental health issue, and their behavior's kind of weird in comparison to other people's, their friends are going to say, yeah, that's just the way that person is. It's not every culture in the world that is so concerned that everyone fix everything. That's our speciality.

What I get into wanting to fix sometimes is around perceptions, around, like, things that are kind of part of my fire imbalance. [SHAMBHAVI: Mmhm] And just, like, when they come up and I know that it's imbalanced, I kind of still feel a little gripped by it. Is it basically the same thing? Like, just try to divert the energy and let it do its thing?

So people don't understand this because we have, like, this very either/or version of reality. But you can be in the state of your practice, being connected to some part of your practice or to Ma, or to whomever you connect to, and those emotions can still be happening. It's not like one or the other.


So if you notice that pattern of anger arising around some perception and you kind of, like, adjust, there's a way that we make subtle internal adjustments. But we're not attacking ourselves. But we do need to make adjustments in our perception when you notice that. That's part of wisdom arising, right? [STUDENT 1 laughs]

But you still might feel that feeling of anger, right? Because it's about fire element. So that's just going to take more time. But you just keep doing that.


And think about anything or do anything that feels more saumya, more moonlight. Even just visualizing the full moon would be really helpful. But again, you're, as an individual, are not trying to get rid of that anger. Right? You are not in control of that. [STUDENT 1 laughs] Right? You're one part of a mandala of circumstances that has caused this unique being to arise, to experience this anger.

So you are one element in that mandala and the practice that you do and the ways that you adjust your perception are one important element of that mandala. But it is not the whole mandala. Right? So wisdom is collaborating with you and that anger will go away when it goes away. That's all we can know. We don't—we can't make it go away. But we can participate in making it less important and less obstructive in our lives.

The idea of not getting locked into trying to solve a pattern, between recognizing it and directing energy elsewhere, there's're already in it. So there's a point of interruption. But I'd love to hear from you any teachings about how to interrupt it.

Mmhm. So everything is bound up with desire. Those patterns that we're trying to interrupt are also bound up with some form of desire. And so when we try to change them, we hit what we call resistance. Which is basically this new desire to experience things differently and the old desire to just keep going in the old way.

So we don't experience resistance unless we're trying to change something, right? Resistance is actually a symptom of having a new direction, getting started. So we can recognize that. And that's the moment, that point of resistance, when we're meeting the old pattern with a new direction of our energy and our body and our mind.

That's the moment when we're going to have to apply effort and we have to feel our own desire to have a different kind of experience. There's many ways of doing that. But one of the ways I have done it in my life, which has been very powerful for me, in that gap, is to ask myself, what do you really want your life to be? Do you really want to just keep doing this stale old thing? Is that what you want? Or do you want to have this new way of being in the world?

And if I ask myself, what do you really want? That, first of all, helps me to take responsibility for what I want. Because oftentimes one of the tricks or the ruses of our old habit patterns is we use that desire to convince ourselves that we're being forced to do something differently. We suddenly start feeling put upon that we're going to have to do something differently. We make up this fake external force or person that's making us do something differently.

And if we pause right there and just take responsibility for what we want, we just ask ourselves, is this the life I want? Or is this the life I want? Identifying our own desire and letting ourselves feel it in a really tangible way, not just as an intellectual idea.

Desire is the most powerful force in all of human life. In all of life, period. And so if we can really feel that desire to live differently or be experiencing things differently, it can help us to put the effort that we need to put in when we're just starting to redirect that energy, which is the most effortful time of any transition, any change. We really kind of have to be forceful sometimes.

Unless that change is really ripe. Sometimes changes happen miraculously, easily because they're just ripe for some reason. But a lot of times we do have to apply a bunch of effort to start that momentum going in a different direction and identifying, not just intellectually, but really feeling, what is it I want?

Do I really want to keep doing this thing again, this way? Right? [laughs] I find that works for me. But you might find something else works for you.


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