Sobriety, Connection, and Friendship

Three Friends Talking on the Street
June 22, 2022

Immersed in presence without fantasy, we can play skillfully with everything that arises. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

The satsang was compared by my guru, Anandamayi Ma, as like water dripping on a stone. It's a spiritual practice, getting together and just sitting with a teacher and talking, singing.

And it's a slow of practice, but it is sadhana. And, eventually, as Ma said, the water makes a hole in the stone and pours through. The water being knowledge of the self.

So who has a topic?

I've been wondering about sobriety and how it kind of sits in between not hoping and not despairing. And I'm wondering if you can riff on that a little bit?

Well, sobriety is the gift of Lord Saturn. That's just one way of putting it. It means that we are doing our utmost not to be in a state of fantasy. There is no such thing as a real spiritual life based on fantasy. Just doesn't happen.

Fantasy is what is in our way. And I don't mean imagination, although imagination plays a role in fantasy too. I don't mean just being creative or imaginative.

I mean the fantasies of past, present and future. All the concepts that we hold, the fantasies about what's important and what's not important, who's important, who's not important. The fantasy about what a self is. All those things are fantasies. Or the fantasies that we have about ourselves as practitioners.

I'm a horrible practitioner. I'm a great practitioner. No one knows it, but I'm already totally enlightened. [laughs] Or, [laughs] you know, like, someone coming up to a teacher after satsang and saying, I'm enlightened, but no one knows it. It's like, really? [laughs] This is fantasy.

Or all the ideas that we have about what is supposed to happen in spiritual practice. These are all in the way. So sobriety means that we're dedicated to being with what is as it is and not being in a state of fantasy.

And, of course, we have karma, which is basically a state of fantasy. So it's not like we can just pop out of it like that. But we can examine our ideas about things and our concepts of ourself and other people. And question ourselves. Question everything. Until we arrive at what cannot be questioned.

This was one of the best pieces of advice a teacher ever gave me, which is doubt everything until that which cannot be doubted stands alone. And questioning ourselves is an aspect of that.

So many people are unwilling to step out of fantasy. Most people. But someone who is really ripe on this kind of a path, even though they may have fantasies, and surely they will. There's a kind of a desperation to not be in that state. Because you basically can't realize through the lens of fantasies.

You have to be in a more receptive, non-conceptual state in order to recognize the Self, recognize what's really happening here. And that means, at least for a time, being able to relinquish your fantasies about the narrative of your life and why you are the way you are and why you're not the way you're not and why everyone else, this, that and the other.

Any answer to the question, why, is a fantasy—that isn't just, because that's what this alive, aware reality is doing. That's the answer to all why's. Why am I like this? Why are they like that? Why is this happening? Why is this not happening? Because that's the life process of this alive, aware Self. That is the answer. Any other answer is a fantasy.

And that is really beautifully expressed in the second shloka of the Shiva Sutras. Jñānam bandah. Knowledge is bondage. It means that limited knowledge, limited explanation, limited ways of relating to things that we call knowledge, those are bondage. They hold us in bondage because we're not in touch with that living wisdom itself.

We're trying to command, capture and control everything. And put little categories into everything and little boundaries around everything. Instead of just being in the livingness and responding.

So the result of doing this kind of practice, at some point or another, is that we are living in a state of improvisation with no fantasy, lots of creativity, but no attachment to a particular way of looking at anything.

This was also really beautifully expressed by a number of different teachers, including Machig Labdrön and I think Ma said something like this. And also Utpaladeva. Which is summed up with, hold no view.

So we have teachings and we get View teachings, and they're considered to be the most important teachings. And they help us. Having these View teachings to enter more into a state of sobriety.

We hear about how reality is, and if we hear about how it is from someone who actually knows firsthand how it is, then there's a kind of alchemy that takes place. And we can have some kind of actual experience. This is called transmission.

But ultimately, all of that is gone. The end of the line, or near the end of the line, because there is no real end of the line. All of this goes away. And this is really the beauty of this tradition. And then we're in a state of total sobriety, which, it turns out, is not different from the state of total playfulness at that point. [student laughs] Right? [laughs]

Because having no fantasies about anything, we can play with everything. We're no longer earnest about anything. We're no longer attached to this way and not that way. We no longer attach to our self-concept and self-definition.

So it turns out, that total sobriety and total playfulness are the same. [laughs] And that's when we are just being in the livingness without view. Why have a view on anything? Or if we adopt a view, it's just for fun, just to see how that feels.

There is wisdom, there is aliveness. It's meeting us all the time. It's like, if you're talking to someone at a party instead of just talking to them, you're telling them what your idea about them is. The person's like, oh my God, how can I get out of this conversation? [laughs]

You're talking to a person at a party. Instead of just talking to them and getting to know them, you're telling them what you think about everything. And your opinions about everything. And your stances on everything. And who you are and what you've achieved. And you're selling yourself to this person.

You can't really sell yourself to God. You just have to be there, without all of that apparatus. And then you're in a state of complete sobriety, having no view of anything. Just being able to improvise in response to being in the living feel of everything. Like, you're in a state of total perception. And you're just responding playfully.

So at first, early on the path sobriety looks like, okay, you have to question yourself. You have to ask yourself hard questions. You have to question the View also. You have to question what you're learning. You have to air out all of your questions and doubts. You have to be suspicious of yourself. [laughs] Right?

You have to be suspicious of your so-called spiritual accomplishment. Especially in this kind of environment. Right. Not telling stories about yourself as a spiritual practitioner is absolutely key.

And I know from being a teacher now for many years that there's many students of mine who know how much I teach, don't do that. But they're still doing it. So it's like they're guilty secret. [laughs]

Every once in a while, someone will say, yeah, I used to think I was going to be the heir of your teaching, Shambhavi. Like, oh really? That's what you were thinking? [laughs] The revelation of all these fantasies. None of this helps you. None of this does anything but give you a momentary feeling of imaginary satisfaction.

So you have to catch yourself when you're doing stuff like that. You're trying to have an important and meaningful experience instead of just enjoying what's happening and letting it tell you what it's about. Instead of you telling it you're important and meaningful. That's sobriety.

So it's not a dour thing. In fact, it can be quite terrifying, which, of course, is exciting. If we start doubting everything and questioning everything—that's what the Zen folks call 'great doubt'—hoping that there's something left over. [laughs] You know, sometimes it just feels like we're jumping off a cliff. But that's a good thing.

I had a question that I wanted to ask.

Go ahead.

I've been dealing with a lot of anxiety lately. But I've just been finding myself struggling with feeling really impatient and then feeling guilt that I'm asking for more than is meant to be mine at this time. And I'm just wondering if you had any advice.

What is the predominant feeling, anxiety or impatience? Do you feel angry and frustrated? Or do you feel scared, or both?

I feel alone.

You feel alone. Yeah, we all feel that. For sure. You aren't actually alone. And there're ways that we can remind ourselves of that.

One of the ways that we experience our sense of separation of the many, many, many, many ways is that we have some concept that, only if I get this will I feel less alone. Only if I get into this circumstance, or only if this person decides to hang out with me. Only if I achieve this. Only then will I feel not alone.

So we self-limit through this kind of a karmic idea, which we didn't cause, by the way. Many cultures, including this one, teach us that you're going to find satisfaction and fulfillment if you do this. And if you have this. Usually some kind of relationship or job or something like that.

So this is not really a personal karma. It's more like a collective karma in a lot of cultures where we basically get told this and everyone around us is embodying it, and so we embody it also very, very deeply. But the first step is to recognize that it is a very limited idea.

It's a concept. It's not actually the reality of your circumstance that you can only feel less alone if certain things happen or certain people come your way.

So you can take steps to reconnect in really meaningful ways with yourself and nature and that sense of belonging and being immersed in a life that is full of connection, even if you don't have the person or the circumstance that you are longing for.

And I can tell you from my experience with students is that if we really cling to this idea that only certain things and people are going to make us happy and feel fulfilled and less alone.

If we really cling to that, we can turn away from all other kinds of nourishment and many other kinds of relationship because we just define them as not good enough or not the thing or not the one.

Opportunity after opportunity after opportunity to feel nourished and connected comes our way. But we're just like, no, I need that one thing. And we maintain ourselves in this state of feeling very, very separate.

Part of the reason we do that—I mean, it's a complex thing and it's a learned thing—is because our sense of value gets tied up in it. It's not just, I'll feel happier, fulfilled, or less lonely. But I'll validate myself. I'll be a valuable person if I get this thing or this person.

And so it feels like in getting it or not getting it, our sense of value as a human being is at stake. So that's another way that we experience a lot of suffering and aloneness when we're not getting the thing or the person that we think we need.

The truth of the matter is that you are being showered with grace and nourishment in every single moment. And the ultimate truth of your existence is you are not separate from anything.

And what this means on a practical level is that if we can get a little bit of distance on this compulsion to only get the one thing, we can start noticing when other forms of nourishment are coming our way. And we can start seeking other forms of nourishment. Because they're always there. In full measure. But we can take small steps. Very small.

Feeling the sweetness when someone is kind to you in the supermarket. Someone just does a nice thing when you're in the checkout line. Feeling the sweetness of giving rather than waiting to get. Offering help to someone or being generous helps us to feel nourished in very small ways.

Like, just taking opportunities in our everyday lives to be generous and give and to notice, to stop and notice when people are being sweet or kind or generous to us. Somebody offers to cook us a meal or take us out. Or some random person is nice to us.

All of those things can really help us to feel connected. And then there are other kinds of experiences, like taking ourselves out and being in nature more. Listening to really beautiful music, and just experiencing the sense of satisfaction and connection that comes from doing that.

Recognizing that you're part of a realm and part of the incarnation of human beings that creates these beautiful things. You're part of that. You're not separate from it. That's one of the things that we do. It's not all horrible. [laughs]

And then, of course, like, trying to eat with people in community as much as you can. And trying to eat really high quality food. Whatever you can afford, whatever the most high quality food you can afford is.

So that when you sit down and you look at your food, you can feel all the care that went into making that food, growing that food, getting that food to you. And the care that you took or someone else took preparing it.

So you want to start noticing more the care and nourishment that goes into all these little things that we encounter everyday that we often just go, no. All of that doesn't count. You know? The only thing that counts is this guy that I like. You know? [laughs] Right?

So we have to start counting and noticing and letting ourselves pause and feel nourished by all the many, many things that are happening. And then taking time to take care of ourselves with good food, particularly.

And then, of course, ghee. There's always ghee. You should always have really beautifully made ghee around, because it is basically the essence of water element and the essence of nourishment and the essence of generosity. The essence of Lord Jupiter's extravagance.

And you just make that ghee. Don't buy it store-bought. You make that ghee with really high-quality butter, and it has nothing in it but the pure butter oil. And you look at it and the color and the sweetness of it will help you to feel connected almost instantly.

Same thing for flowers. If we just gaze at flowers, they also help us to feel connected. Many, many, many, many ways. But you have to recognize that there's not only one avenue to feeling connected or less lonely.

Most of the practice means we have to tear ourselves away from the limiting ideas that we have about everything. Because they're causing our suffering, right? Jñānam bandaḥ. Knowledge is bondage. You know, this idea that we have that only this is going to make me happy. That's a form of knowledge that is bondage.

Do you have any questions?

No. I was just thinking about what you had said earlier around nourishment. And I've had this really wonderful experience of having one of my very closest friends in the world to be with me this weekend. And I just love hearing you riff on the concept of friendship.

Of course, friendship is one of the great themes of all cultures. All cultures ponder friendship. And if they have writing, write about it and talk about it and try to define it and explore it. A friend is a way of talking about this alive, aware in reality. That Self that is everywhere, that has a friendly, glad feeling of celebration.

And when we meet that friend, we feel that we're being welcomed and that we're coming home. Many other spiritual teachers have talked about and written about 'the friend'. It's something that spontaneously arises in the awareness of many, many people.

Lord Shiva's called The Auspicious. And one aspect of that is this feeling of being 'the friend'. And many of you know that when I was a young teenager I had this idea of 'the friend' and wrote poetry expressing my longing for 'the friend'.

And I had no idea what I was talking about on one level. I mean, I had no spiritual practice or introduction to anything like this. But I just had the sense there was this friend and it wasn't anybody I knew and it wasn't someone I hadn't met. It wasn't, like, a person that would satisfy all things. You know, it was just like this something.

And I guess the closest thing that comes to that 'friend' in embodied life is Guru because there...have that quality of friendship for everyone. Or at least it's supposed to. So that is really something that's just built into all of reality and we can meet that in the heart space and meet that everywhere once we get familiar enough with it in the heart space.

And of course, serving is what God does. God is also a servant and serving all of us. Serving us by creating a world to live in and all of the ways that we have opportunities to be nourished and to meet ourselves again. So when we are serving others, we're being more like Lord Shive, the host.

When I was in my late thirties, early forties and I was participating in this spiritual community. And my line about myself was that I hadn't had a spiritual life up until my mid-twenties when I first encountered this kind of practice.

And I was talking about this and then I realized I had some things happening that they were spiritual life. I just didn't recognize it. I didn't have a story like that about it.

Trying to relate to something that I thought of as goodness or sweetness or 'the friend' and being so concerned with hosting and wanting to serve properly. All of these things were evidence of some kind of thread that wove through here that was aligned with some other practices and some other life that I brought in with me.

So looking back, I feel now, I always had a spiritual life. Right? I just didn't know it. And I was looking and looking and looking. Whatever 'it' was that I was looking for, I always had the sense of, there's something I have to find. And I didn't realize I was there the whole time.

But to me 'the friend' was always whoever, whatever was going to lead you to this understanding, to this knowledge, real knowledge. To being your real self. That was what 'the friend' was for me.


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