Shambhavi responds to questions about greed, spiritual growth, and discovering what’s on the other side of fear. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi
Live satsang is mostly free range Q&A. “Tastings” are special episodes of our Satsang with Shambhavi podcast where you’ll get to listen as students ask all kinds of questions and Shambhavi responds. Welcome to the buffet version of satsang!
Would anyone like me to talk about something?
Greed? How about generosity?
We often get trapped in bemoaning everything that's wrong. Rather than thinking about what can we give? So feeling badly about the state of the world — that's fine. There's nothing wrong with that. But let's not get stuck on stomping around about things like greed.
The opposite of greed is generosity. So if you want to feel more of how reality actually is, you have to find the enlightened essence of these problems and embody those.
So if we're feeling all depressed and angry or whatever we're feeling, what can we give? How can I send something out rather than taking all this in and using it to bolster my realm fixations?
One realm fixation is no one is doing anything kind or nourishing. I'll never get what I need. Everyone's so greedy, so horrible. That's more of a hungry ghost type of a feeling. A sort of keening mourning that we just cultivate. You know, you can go around for weeks feeling this. You could do that for a lifetime really.
While you're doing that, the world just goes on doing what it does and you are contributing zilch, right?
So as we complain about other people, if our basic orientation is complaining about other people, or the state of the world. And it could be in many different flavors—angry, outraged, despairing.
We're doing nothing.
It's just all completely self referential. So we're complaining about all these problems, but doing nothing to address them or insert something more close to what enlightened wisdom might look like. As close as we can get.
So turn it around and think, what can I do? And it turns out that our outrage and or despair really contribute nothing. [laughter]
So we think we're being righteous and demonstrating something about ourselves that's virtuous when we go on and on and on about this kind of orientation to the world. But really, it's very self protective self referential.
I mean, I feel sorrow also about the state of the world and sadness. I'm not saying that we should cut off those feelings. I'm just saying, how can we contribute positively is really got to be out front, not the despair.
And it's that same example I've often given. If we are driving, and we hit a cat in the road or a deer or a dog or something. And it's injured and it's lying in the road. If we're like people who stand on the curb going, oh, my God, I feel so guilty about hitting that animal. I feel so badly about it.
Meanwhile, the animal's like dying. We're not actually going and helping the animal.
So a lot of us are like that, especially on social media, just the continual expression of outrage. What does that actually accomplish? It's like a brand. We think we're somehow in control of it, or it's virtuous. But at some point we realize it has us. We don't have it.
We have, like a continual pattern of outrage or grief or resentment or jealousy or whatever it is. And we think somehow that this is like our personality, that we are freely expressing something, but actually we're enslaved by it. We can't stop doing it.
I've been noticing recently how attached people—including myself—are to painful ways of being in the world, you know? We keep enacting these things that are causing us to feel pain.
Yeah, we usually have a couple of major patterns. In jyotish they're called fixed karmas. Things that we don't have a lot of control over.
Of course, they're not fixed. They're just entrenched. And there's nothing about impermanence that is fixed. And, of course, what we mean by self realization is that even the most entrenched patterns are released.
So what can generally happen with those entrenched patterns of body, energy, and mind or entrenched emotional patterns is we can become less attached to them. They can become less strong.
So, for instance, we might start out where if we feel like they're completely taking up our lives. Or even worse, we feel like they're natural and normal and good.
We don't even realize that there might be something that we might want to get rid of. That the unconscious enactment or the naturalization of these patterns. Right?
Like someone could say this happened to me. For instance, I grew up in a war zone. So that's why I feel this way. And I'm insisting on it, even though I'm suffering, you know, I'm traumatized. I'm going to insist on it because this is a natural, normal way to respond to that situation. And that's who I am. And that's how I'm going to feel forever.
What I'm noticing, I guess, is the defending of it, wanting to keep going on to those things. I see that sometimes in other people. I see those patterns in myself too for sure. But I feel like I don't want to keep holding on to those things. I feel like people are really defensive about their patterns and their like, painful..
And it's hard to know how to be around that.
Well, you may decide you don't want to be around it in certain cases. That's up to you whether you want to be around certain patterns or not. [laughter]
But everybody has some version of that. And that's kind of the dance of teacher and student, too, is trying to find that moment when someone is willing to entertain the idea that some pattern they're holding on to that they think is them and they're very attached to might be something that they are actually enslaved to and might want to let go of.
And as a teacher, I'm often pinging people, as I say. Pinging, little, tiny, tiny, pings, little tiny, tiny questions or challenges to see what happens with someone's major patterns.
And then it's not the right time. They just go into defense mode and so it's not the right time. So okay, I back off, and then I wait and see if there's another moment. That can go on for years. [laughter]
So. But recognizing something is imprisoning you and really feeling that it's not as valuable as you thought it was. And then having the courage to explore who you might be without that.
And that's usually done very slowly over a long period of time. And eventually those patterns, if you keep at it, keep practicing, and kind of getting some distance from them, the energy starts to drain out of them.
So you'll notice that you're not being affected by it for some periods of time. Maybe it's just moments, but eventually it might turn into like a couple hours,
Or a week or even. And then it becomes maybe, you know, the bigger manifestations of that might go away. Then you think you're totally free of it, but then you start to notice the more subtle manifestations.
So basically it just gets more subtle. It gets less troublesome. But this could take years for those really big patterns that we all have. You know, whether or not we were in a war zone. We all have a few of those hanging around.
There's probably not going to totally go away in one lifetime, but they can become more like echoes and less like blaring everyday experiences. But not wanting it anymore is the best.
The first step is really recognizing it's not really natural. It's not necessary. Having the suspicion that it's not really necessary. [laughter] And then being able to maybe pause a little bit before you go into it. Or being able to turn in a different direction now and then. Even if it's still kind of has you by the throat. And then being able to do that more and more, and then having the courage to taste what's on the other side of it.
I was doing a little practice with a couple of students, and we did this practice that has to do with not paying attention to thoughts, basically. Doing something that causes you to not pay attention to thoughts.
And somebody that was doing this didn't want to do it because this person was very attached to their thoughts. And it felt really scary to not be paying attention to their thoughts.
So even something like that, where thoughts are that you're interface with the world. And you don't really know who you are outside of your thoughts. And your thoughts are protecting you from the openness and uncontrollable-ness of life.
You've got everything chunked out with your thinking, and planning, and your ideas, your concepts, and what you believe, and what you don't believe, and how you analyze things, and how you don't, and what you think about this, and that, and the other.
And all of these things are just like filling up the vastness that space, giving you the illusion that you're in control of something. So when you stop paying attention to them, it's like free fall.
And it might be that someone just doesn't want to go there. They just don't want to experience that. But it also might be that someone's just really scared, but they're willing to sort of tip toe into it for a moment. See what it's like. [laughter] So it can be that subtle and that internal these kinds of patterns.
You might not get rewarded for being anxious, but people do get rewarded for thinking all the time. That's another hook. Certain fixations that we have that are really enslaving us—people are actually getting paid to maintain their fixations. [laughter] Right?
So when a society is rewarding you for being enslaved to a karmic habit pattern, that's awfully hard, too. A certain kind of competitiveness and a certain kind of fiery ambition that people get rewarded for. [laughter]
I was wondering if you could say a little something about the difference between spiritual growth and ordinary maturing.
Spiritual growth means that you are getting more in contact with your real nature, with primordial essence nature, in a subtle way.
So just like the kind of relaxation we're talking about when we say 'relax body, energy, and mind' or 'relax your self concept' isn't the same as just getting into your bed and relaxing in an ordinary way.
Growth in an ordinary way isn't the same as spiritual growth.
I might learn lots of stuff about the world. I might learn more about myself as a person. And usually those things come in the form of narrative. Right?
But in general, when we speak of ordinary growth, we're talking about within a dualistic, individualistic context, anything that keeps us beefing up that individual narrative.
A lot of what we call growth is like we go from an unpleasant or less pleasant narrative to a more pleasant narrative about ourselves. [laughter] That's a lot of ordinary growth.
And we learn stuff about how to do things in the world that benefit us. Maybe they benefit some other people, too. But mostly it's still from a dualistic 'me, myself, and I' kind of perspective. Even if it's very wonderful and helpful.
In this tradition, in any case, spiritual growth means that you have opened up the boundaries of that individualistic experience, and you have reconnected with that continuous self. And you have opened up your perceptions, and you are in a state of more immediacy, and improvisation, and spontaneity, and naturalness, natural skill, natural intelligence, natural compassion, natural devotion.
And you have less story. You have less sense of your individuality. Your skill is coming with less pre-thought, with less intention, And more is just coming from the heart and direct perception. So perception itself becomes unordinary.
And that is what we call spiritual growth, though that can happen to somebody to some degree randomly. You don't have to be in a spiritual tradition or doing hours of sadhana a day to have spiritual growth in your life.
It can just happen. And it does quite frequently. But from my perspective, that would always involve a perception of your continuity.
So, for instance, a lot of people say I feel more connected when I'm walking in nature. Well, you could say that that is sort of a leading edge of maybe something we might call a spiritual experience, or something that could lead to spiritual growth.
But if someone doesn't sort of make the connection that there is aliveness and awareness in nature that they are continuous with and can't use that experience for anything, it's just sort of a nice experience they had or have. Then it doesn't really lead to what we would call spiritual growth.
But it could. From the perspective of this tradition and Dzogchen, spiritual growth means coming into direct contact with living presence and being able to remain in that awareness and live from that place.
I just wanted to follow up on what you were saying earlier about making space to be courageous in spiritual growth. And yeah, I'm just wondering if you have any more advice about how to clear space for courage. Because sometimes I feel like I have a desire but I can't see the blocks or something, like what is getting in the way of a deeper dive?
Well, in some respects, I think that we don't understand, or students often just don't understand how much courage it takes to be on this kind of path.
There seems to be some expectation that it shouldn't be too hard. It shouldn't be too scary. It shouldn't be too challenging.
You know, we're up for a small challenge. But I remember one time a student had just learned to do Shamatha, which involves, you're breathing out and you're kind of depositing yourself in the sandhi at the end of the breath. And he would feel terrified every time he was doing that.
And I said: Well, you know, you are just breathing. You're sitting on a cushion breathing. Nothing can actually happen to you. So why don't you just let yourself feel scared and continue on?
But he didn't want to do that. So he stopped doing it for, like, two years. And I think there's a lot of factors that go into that. But I think some of it is that we have a concept that feeling afraid is bad. Or having something be too difficult is bad. Or running into an obstacle is bad.
And really, what we want to try to do is let ourselves move a little past wherever we think we want to stop.
So we don't have to have this bash on through attitude about things. I think definitely true in Tantra traditions in general that there can be an overly aggressive attitude. And we don't have to have that kind of attitude. Like, I'm just going to be incredibly courageous. I'm going to bust on through everything.
But we can when we reach that place where we feel we want to pull back, don't pull back. Just let yourself fall into it and see what happens.
And then at some point, you're going to pull back anyway. But don't do it at the first hint that you want to.
We're very, very easy on ourselves. And again, we have this culture of comfort. We think everything should be comfortable or something is wrong.
In fact, this student was angry at me, thought I had given him the wrong instructions because he was scared at the end of his breath.
And I was like, no, that's actually a sign of it working. That means that you're coming into contact with how you actually feel, something you've been avoiding in your everyday life. And that even made it more angry.
But this all comes from a concept that it shouldn't feel uncomfortable. So see if you have that feeling or that concept running in any particular way. And then when you get to those edges, don't pull back. Try to relax more.
Another example I could give you and I've talked about this quite often, but not recently. I used to be really terrified of flying. I mean, really terrified. And I would still get on a plane, but I had to go through all sorts of machinations to get on the plane.
And before I started doing spiritual practice that included taking valium and drinking. But it never actually helped. I would just be drunk and stoned and terrified. It never actually took the terror away.
But then, of course, when I started doing practice, I stopped doing anything like that. And at some point after having done a lot of meditation, it just came to me that I should try to relax in the face of the fear.
So I'm not talking about a little bit of fear. I'm talking about, like, racing terror.
And so you know how hard it is to just relax, even on a gross, physical level when you're going through that. Unbelievable!
So what I would do would be nonconceptual meditation, like trek chod or sahaja it's called. It's open eyed meditation. So not only am I trying to relax my muscles while this fear is just roaring like a dragon around my body. I'm also just sitting with open eyes, staring into space.
So it's, like, completely groundless, right? And it was really, really hard. It felt really terrible at first. Really terrible.
But then I kind of passed over some kind of border. And suddenly I was just in the presence of God, basically is the only way I can put it.
And then after that, I just looked forward to being able to practice that way on the plane. I would eagerly get on the plane so that I could feel this fear and just relax and feel the experience of presence on the other side of that fear was amazing.
Eventually, though, from doing that, my fear went away, which kind of was a bummer. I just get on the plane and be like, okay.
And I realized what a gift my fear of flying was. I had spent years trying to deal with it, going to therapy, taking Valium, drinking, whatever I was doing. Curling up in a fetal position on the plane.
I had all sorts of narratives going on in my head. I would try to pretend I was a stewardess, and didn't have any imagination at all and didn't ever think of the plane crashing. Because I figured people who were working on planes must never actually imagine the plane crashing.
I would examine the pilots to see if they looked like they've been drinking or something. That was one of my big fears that the pilots weren't really looking out in the way that they should.
But then eventually just all went away. And I was left with the understanding that fear is a great thing to practice with. And actually, this is a big part of the Tantrik tradition from North India. That we practice with things like fear. That these can lead to big openings into presence. And that's exactly what I discovered.
We don't often get to practice with that kind of fear. So whenever you do experience fear, try to just let it happen and relax and don't defend against it. See what happens. Or on the other hand, if you feel resistance, you don't want to do practice, or you feel lethargic, or you feel dense, or you feel angry, or whatever. Try to go past the initial urge to bail and just see what's on the other side.
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