What is Natural Law?

CCRAlogosmallThere are three undeniable laws that govern the way of all things: constancy, change, and interdependence. Change is the quality of movement and alternation. Nothing stays the same. Everything is becoming something else. Transformation. The body is always changing. Thoughts are always changing. Emotions are always changing. Physical sensations, always changing. Likes, dislikes, dreams, aspirations, intuitions — all are constantly changing. The river of change is unstoppable. Not a single thing endures.

Nobody perfectly understands how or why the law of change works. Science has its ever-evolving theories. Religion postulates a god whose will is the driving force. Astrology has it explanation. Theories and elaborate equations are valid and interesting. Yet, in terms of spiritual awakening, it is not particularly relevant to understand how the law of change affects your personal story. It is essential to see how acting in contradiction to the law of change perpetuates your own Cycle of Affliction. To this end, it is helpful to investigate your relationship with change. When we pay attention to the changing dynamics within our own experience, we have the possibility of insight into the universal principles of natural law. This insight is one of the most direct pathways to awakening.

Fib SequenceConstancy is the complementary opposite of change. The reason we can notice change is because there is a continuous background that is unchanging. Openness. Constancy is the backdrop upon which change happens — like the silver screen behind a motion picture. In terms of visual observation, we call it space. While reading this blog, you see the words on the screen and give little notice to the white background. When you enter a room, you notice what stands out. But look around the location you are in right now. What is the most plentiful thing you see? Space.

Between and around every object is space. Between your eyes and the screen, space. Can you see it? Can you see the open space?

In terms of listening, constancy is silence. The reason we can hear musical notes is because of the silence between them. In fact, silence is always there. It is a continuous medium within which sound resonates. Like space, silence doesn’t stand out unless you notice it.

In terms of thoughts, constancy is awareness. Are you aware that you are thinking right now? At first glance, thoughts appear as a continuous stream. When we observe more closely, we find that thoughts are similar to musical notes. Between each thought is a gap. Like objects in a room, thoughts stand out because of the space between them. Just as silence is continuous behind sounds, awareness is constant behind and between thoughts. In the practice of contemplation, we observe what is there and what is not there. Part of the practice is to notice the unchanging dimension behind all phenomena.

And yet constancy has two sides. On the other hand, the law of constancy refers back to the law of change. It says that change is the only constant. If that is the case, what appears to be unchanging must also change. Our dualistic mind, with its love for tidy boxes, does not like this idea at all. It threatens intellectual certainty. It rocks the boat. Change and constancy are supposed to be opposites, distinct and fundamentally separate.

But it’s not that cut and dried.

Observable things have shape, size, duration, texture, or some definable quality that stands out. These can be thoughts, sensations, emotions, plants, people, planets, galaxies. We can use the word Appearance to describe anything that has distinctive qualities. If we are uncertain whether something meets this description, we ask four questions to clarify: Is it observable? Does it have a beginning? Does it change? Does it have an end? A yes answer to one question automatically confirms the other three.

Appearances are anything observable, changing, and temporary. These parameters apply regardless of size, scope, duration, or subtlety: a passing cloud, a tree, the sun, a dream, a human body. Now for the interesting part: Appearances only arise in conjunction with their partner, Awareness. Awareness is unchanging. Awareness is non-preferential. Awareness is vital, luminous and cognizant.  It is complete openness. Total acceptance.

It would seem that Awareness and Appearance are polar opposites, like Republicans and Democrats. Yet the law of continuity says that opposites are actually one continuum. Think of a magnet with two poles. Positive and negative are distinct, yet both are part of one magnet. If you cut a magnet in two, both pieces will have positive and negative poles. The law of change says that everything is becoming something else.

When we apply the laws of continuity and change to Awareness and Appearance, we discover a singular unbroken reality with two expressions. The life-matrix is “more than one, less than two,” as Indian Bhakti Yogis are fond of saying. Like a magnet with two poles, Awareness and Appearance are one body. Form-Emptiness. Shiva-Shakti. Body-Mind.

The law of Interdependence states that nothing has singular individuated existence. No single thing exists by itself. All things are interdependent. And all things are composite; made of multiple parts. Even the parts are made of parts. These are the basic elemental building blocks of the natural world, referred to as the Five Elements (Chinese wu xing, Sanskrit pancha mahabhuta). The building blocks themselves are composite and continuously changing. Think of water. All living things contain it. The human body is about 60 percent water. Yet we don’t own that water. Water doesn’t stay in the body as it would in a balloon. New water moves in and old water moves out, constantly. We know that water itself is not a singular thing. It is made of molecules. Molecules are not singular things either. They are made of atoms; in the case of water, two hydrogen and one oxygen. Atoms are made of subatomic particles. The further we zoom in, the more pieces we find.

There is no center to the onion.

When we drop our preconceptions, and look with openness and attention at the natural world, we eventually behold the place where Awareness is becoming Appearance, and Appearance is becoming Awareness. This is what science calls the time-space continuum, the quantum field of energy-consciousness. This is the heart of relatedness. That place is right Here. And there is no adequate name for it. Attempts to explain it are awkward at best. We could call it Universal Truth. Dao. God. Goddess. Quantum reality. The Way. Original Mind. But a quick scan of history shows us that the compulsive human need to understand and name things causes much confusion. We too easily mistake intellectual understanding of a concept for the direct experience of Reality. Religions and wars are based on this mistake. So maybe it’s best that we let the Unnameable remain as such, and place our efforts on the correct application of personal practice. Because, as it turns out, what can’t be explained in words can be directly experienced.

All of the world’s great wisdom traditions are based on this revelation.

Sign up for Cain Carroll’s Radiant Awakening Newsletter >>

What is Natural Law?

What is True Freedom?

CCRAlogosmallIt is possible to be without the limiting constraints of self-consciousness, anxiety, and claustrophobia. It is possible to be free of the feeling of separation that results from identification with a finite personal reference point. Yet this freedom is not a license for reckless abandon. Freedom is not the liberty to do whatever one pleases. This type of freedom usually coincides with profound suffering; it is motivated by egoism. As much as our over-indulgent culture would have us believe otherwise, immediate and unrestrained gratification of personal desire does not bring lasting joy to the heart. In fact, in the long run, it serves to increase suffering.

So, what is true freedom?

As human beings, the open dimension of our experience allows for a vast range of conduct. This range is significantly more diverse than that of any other living organism we know of. Yet the ability to do anything we want might be more of a liability than an asset when it comes to our own contentment. Ignorant of the repercussions of our choices, we exercise one of the most precarious powers we have: free will. Seemingly limitless are the possibilities of what we can do. We often do things “just because we can.” We can eat too much, drink too much, work too much, and stay up too late. We can clone sheep and grow hamburgers from stem cells. We can make nuclear weapons that can destroy the entire planet. Ego believes itself to be a god.

God or not, each of our actions has its repercussions. The law of cause and effect is undeniable. Ignorance says, “I’ll do what ever I please, I don’t care about the consequences.” Wisdom says, “I will do only what nourishes life and minimizes suffering.”

This is the highest use of free will.

Amazing-Canyon-River-WallpaperFreedom is a great power that can easily be squandered. Through our practice, we come to realize that we cannot be lax in our relationship to freedom. Direct realization of inner freedom coincides with a firm adherence to upright conduct, routine, and respect for natural law. Quite different from morally imposed religious rules, these are innate expressions of wholesomeness. Centered in basic goodness, our actions accord with what supports life. No outwardly imposed rules or idealized moral conduct are needed. When ignorance, deceit and self-obsession are given up, people return to a good and simple life.

By dwelling in the Center of Being, we know instinctively what virtue is. Behavior that might look like strict discipline from the outside often occurs as spontaneous action for a highly cultivated person. When there is ample space within, one feels great joy in simply flowing along with the natural course of things. What, in the beginning, we might call discipline turns out to be more like rhythm. Dynamic. Changing.

Summer follows spring. Night follows day. Exhale follows inhale. An adept follows what is natural.

To move like a river and blend with the changing times — to set aside our self-serving agenda and ask, “how can I use my unique gifts and talents to serve others?” — these are expressions of true freedom.

Sign up for Cain Carroll’s Radiant Awakening Newsletter >>

What is True Freedom?

How to Sit Like a Mountain

CCRAlogosmallThe practice of seated meditation holds special significance in Asian spiritual and artistic traditions.  An image of the Buddha, Shiva, or Guanyin seated in meditative equipoise evokes a powerful resonance within us. There is recognition of some inherent aspect of ourselves. Something inside us says, “I want to feel like that. I want to be like that; so serene and collected.” We intuitively know that we have this Buddha-like quality within us.

How do we bring it forth?

As we embark upon our own practice of seated meditation, a subtle resonance pulls us ever inward toward the Center of our own Being. We discover that Buddha is not a person, Guanyin is not a deity, Shiva is not an external image. These are mirrors reflecting what is shining within us all the time. Buddha is quality of presence, clarity and calm. Guanyin is our own compassionate heart. Shiva, our own pure awareness.  All reflect aspects of our own intrinsic nature. On the path of rediscovering our Buddha-like clarity and calm, seated meditation is one of our most powerful tools.

The seated meditation position offers stability, comfort, and a near perfect balance of poise and relaxation. The attentiveness necessary to maintain a naturally aligned sitting position supports sustained focus and relaxed alertness. The relative ease most people experience while in the seated position allows for the possibility of a graceful transition from doing to Being.

buddha2

The Sanskrit word asana means “seat,” and refers to the cushion a yogi sits upon to practice meditation. Asana also signifies any of the numerous bodily positions used in yogic practices. Yet the word asana implies much more than the shape and location of the body. A student once asked the great Indian sage Ramana Maharshi, “What is the best asana?” He replied, “Abidance in the Self is the only true posture.” The Maharshi’s loaded response hints at the importance of what we might call embodied presence.

As it turns out, remaining in our original nature is what matters most. If we strike an esoteric yoga position and lose our original breath and original posture, we have temporarily forfeited our original nature. In other words, we have lost sight of our natural way of being and breathing. Although such an asana may be technically correct and even display superior flexibility, balance, or strength, if we are not truly seated in our Center of Being, the pose is considered counter-productive in terms of spiritual cultivation.

More often than not, this type of posture practice is an expression of the habit of avoidance of uncomfortable feelings deep inside.

We must apply the same thinking to our seated meditation position. If our seated position becomes forced — our spine ramrod straight, or our legs forced into full lotus with screaming knees — our practice will serve to strengthen self-delusion and ego-clinging. Sitting, as with all aspects of inner cultivation, must first and foremost be a natural expression. We start where we are. With daily practice, our posture, breathing, and mental state will go through various changes. Our hips will open, spine will find more freedom, and legs stop falling asleep as easily. It takes time. Our thoughts, emotions, and sensations will go through innumerable transformations as well. The mirror is being polished. The store-house of latent tendencies is being emptied.

When we sit, we forget our external ambitions, we forget our personal preferences.  We let go of conceptual toys to entertain the mind. We remain attentive to our posture and breath, moment by moment. We take refuge in the Vital Center and embrace the living moment as-it-is.

Poised and still, sit like a mountain.

Calm and serene, rest like an ocean without waves.

Attentive and bright, shine like an eternal flame.

This is the spirit of sitting.

Sign up for Cain Carroll’s Radiant Awakening Newsletter >>

How to Sit Like a Mountain

Engaged Spiritual Practice

CCRAlogosmallGenuine spiritual practice is a full-time enterprise. The innumerable changing circumstances of each day provide endless opportunities for applying enlightened action. From the yoga mat to the meditation cushion to all Nine Spheres of our life. Walking. Standing. Sitting. Lying down. We’re always practicing.

It’s a matter of applying the teachings in our own daily life and choosing to embody what we know to be true and virtuous. This is engaged spirituality. Everyday enlightenment. The conditions have never been more ideal for this type of awakened action. It’s a matter of gathering our courage and resolve, discarding bargaining and excuses, and deciding to make spiritual life a priority.

As our formal practice matures, it will naturally spill over into all aspects of our life. We find ourselves practicing good posture, natural breathing, and meditative presence in everything we do. Sitting on the subway becomes a practice. Standing in line at the grocery store becomes a practice. In a sense, our practice has gone beyond the confines of a specific time and space. This is a wonderful confirmation that it has become rooted in our bones. After we have practiced consistently for some months, years, decades, there is an unstoppable momentum carrying us forward. Practice has become a central part of our life, forever.

maxresdefaultIt may seem at this point that formal practice is no longer necessary. Nevertheless, we keep practicing. A sincere cultivator upholds their daily formal practice until the last breath leaves their lips (and even beyond). This is not done out of obligation. It is pure joy. There is no denying the fact that practice is difficult at times. It takes discipline and diligence. Sometimes we just don’t want to do it. Facing our laziness, fear and self-delusion can be excruciating. Yet the rewards vastly outweigh the investment of time and energy.

The heart opens. The body heals. The spirit soars.

The result of sincere spiritual practice is incomparable happiness, peace and bliss. Radiant Awakening. This is why yogis place practice at the center of their life, and choose not to live a single day without it.

Sign up for Cain Carroll’s Radiant Awakening Newsletter >>

Engaged Spiritual Practice

Doubt is Holding You Back

CCRAlogosmallThe path of inner cultivation clears the dust of conditioning from the body-mind. As our practice unfolds, a type of clarity naturally dawns and we see the hidden lies in so many things. Religion. History. Politics. Academia. Science. Medicine. Spirituality. It becomes evident that hidden agendas too often distort the truth. Much of what we’ve been taught is simply not so.

When clarity begins to emerge, an overwhelming sense of doubt arises. We realize that most ideas we see propagated in the world are simply not true. Looking within, we come to distrust the authority of even our own beliefs. We see that the basis of our own thinking is steeped in assumptions and projections, concepts that are pre-established by our culture’s dualistic worldview. Clarity gives us the ability to observe our thoughts closely. We are free to believe them or not. During meditation, as we watch intently, it becomes apparent that we are not our thoughts. We understand that thoughts are temporary, changing and relative, and can never represent the whole of universal truth. Doubt becomes very useful here.

Freedom from identification with your own thoughts is a healthy sign that the knot of self-delusion is starting to untangle.

However, doubt is incomplete without its partner. At some point we must come full circle and rediscover doubtlessness. After the initial stage of awakening matures, the usefulness of doubt wanes. To rely on doubt exclusively produces a new kind of cleverness. Spiritual cynicism. “I’m too awake to be tricked by dogma and spiritual fantasy. I don’t believe in anything anymore.” Although this kind of razor sharpness is helpful in not falling prey to spiritual materialism, it becomes a new kind of guarding, a new limitation. It causes the heart to constrict. Doubt gone stale turns out to be the greatest undermining force for mature spiritual practitioners. Becoming doubtless is the next step we must take on the path.breaking-free-

This requires even more audacity.

There is only one way to become doubtless. Contrary to popular assumption, faith and belief are not the way. Anything that requires faith is somehow defective. Universal truth is self-evident. The need to believe in something co-arises with the intuitive sense that belief is contrived. Belief is unreliable because it is based in thought; and thoughts are always changing.  Behind our most cherished beliefs, we intuitively understand that we actually do not know. Rather than admit “I don’t know,” we try to silence this non-knowing with the boisterous voice of conviction. Yet the silent watcher within us know this is just an act. Belief requires a corresponding concept. Concepts are mind-made models of an incomprehensible reality. They are incomplete. We manufacture beliefs to give ourselves something to clutch to, because we are secretly afraid of three harmless words: I don’t know.

Behind extreme confidence is extreme doubt. The outward display of conviction always co-arises with secret inward doubt. Self-doubt. Perhaps this is most obvious in fundamentalism. With a quick scan of history, it is easy to see how belief in ideas, especially ones set forth by charismatic leaders, can disengage people from their humanity and innate wisdom. Under the spell of concepts, people easily lose their human-heartedness. Ideals place a wedge between you and the immediate moment. They block your ability to feel. And feeling is your umbilical cord to Life it self.

An honest seeker must confront fear and doubt, and go directly to the one thing they can actually be certain about. Certainty must come from our own direct experience, nowhere else. No book, teacher, or doctrine has any business here. This is an intimate and personal meeting between you and the great Unknowable. All spiritual paths lead here: to the moment you confront what mystics call Divine Ignorance. To know that you do not know. You must realize that the observer, limited to the point of view of “I,” cannot comprehend the whole of reality. Only when the certainty of “I don’t know” dawns will you pass through the tunnel of “I” and become truly doubtless.

It is disastrously ironic that the one thing that can restore true courage and establish doubtlessness is “I don’t know.” This is the antithesis of what religion, politics, academia, and advertising have so desperately propagated. Our cultural addiction to ego-glorification makes the story seem believable. Self-cobsession lives within the domain of the hope-faith / doubt-belief conflict. This is the proverbial struggle of good and evil, based in the erroneous assumption of a divided world. God above. Hell below. Sacred. Profane. Such distinctions only exist in the conceptual mind.

To place full confidence in “I don’t know,” and to no longer harbor the secret feeling that something is wrong with you because of it, is the great leap beyond illusion and self-doubt. It opens the gateway to doubtlessness. Once you are doubtless about the fact that you do not know, you can discard hope, faith, belief, and all other spiritual playthings that once kept you seperated from the immediacy of your situation.

When true doubtlessness dawns, you are free to play the ball where it lands. Unfettered by the exhausting game of needing to conceal your doubt with cleverness and contrived confidence, you can live your life with unprecedented openness. You can relate to people and situations with natural presence, and embrace life with an unguarded heart.

Sign up for Cain Carroll’s Radiant Awakening Newsletter >>

Doubt is Holding You Back

Meditation and Quantum Gravity

CCRAlogosmallIn all mind-body practices (yoga, qigong, meditation, martial arts, dance, etc), we experience a palpable downward force pulling toward Earth. Gravity. We know it exists, and we know its constant influence is relentless: slipping on a wet tile floor, dropping a cell phone, knocking over a cup of hot tea. Gravity is so much a part of our daily life that it is easy to overlook its importance.

Newton explained gravity in a clean and tidy way: a force pulling toward the center of the Earth. Then Einstein came along and turned the Newtonian idea of gravity on its head. He explained that gravity is a product of the curvature of space. Bodies are not acted upon directly by a force exerted on them, but they are compelled to bend along with the curvature of space. Gravity is a phenomenon that continues to cause even the most cutting-edge scientists to scratch their heads. A theory of quantum gravity is in the works, yet much remains unclear. Science is certain gravity exists, but we still know very little about exactly how it functions in the larger view of things.gravity_well_cartography_2_by_lordsong-d5lrxwsLet us turn for a moment to a simple observation about gravity made by ancient yogis and mystics. For a person interested in discovering greater vitality and fulfillment, gravity is studied not by means of instruments or mathematical equations, but within the domain of direct experience. Using the body-mind as a laboratory, yogis understood that gravity was a constant force. As such, they sought to cultivate an active relationship with gravity in a way that supported their practice. They treated gravity as one of the many observable expressions of cosmic energy (prana, qi, ki). They found that gravity could be “harvested” to support the health of body and mind. They explained that gravity’s obvious effect was experienced as the downward pull toward the Earth. They described this as “descending energy.” They also noticed another, perhaps more subtle, responsive force going the opposite direction. They called this “ascending energy.”

Conventionally, we know that there is a reactive force corresponding to gravity. Visualize a falling object, say a ball. Once it hits the floor, it will bounce back up a certain distance, depending on its weight, speed, density, and so on. What yogis discovered is that this reactive force is also operative in objects as they remain in continuous contact with Earth—namely the human body. Because there is a constant “falling” of the body, there is also a corresponding “bouncing up.” This is going on even when our feet don’t leave the ground.

This is not observed visually as an up-and-down movement, but felt inwardly more like the movement of gentle winds. Yogis found that rising and descending energies are in perfect balance in the natural world. Rain falls down to Earth. Water in a pond evaporates up to Heaven. These corresponding movements are the basis of circulation. The same rising and falling energies are moving in and through our bodies. This creates a perpetually self-renewing flow of Vital Force.

Through awareness, proper alignment, and natural breathing, we harmonize with this circulatory flow of energy.

Gravity’s constant downward pull is a big help for spiritual seekers, meditation practitioners, movement artists. By its very nature, gravity can pull even the subtlest of things downward. When we cultivate good body mechanics and natural posture, even thoughts will “descend” to a lower center. The head becomes lighter and the belly more stable. In our practice of meditation, we allow gravity to guide the feeling of Being to a lower point. Gravity assists our journey from identification with thinking (head) to Presence (belly).

As we relax and notice this descending quality, the corresponding ascending property has a spontaneously uplifting effect. If we try to lift ourselves up artificially, we disconnect from gravity and waste energy. This produces, at best, a faint imitation of lightness. As it turns out, genuine lightness and authentic presence result from being grounded.

The force of gravity is operative at every level of our experience: physical, mental, emotional . . . in all Nine Spheres. Learning to harvest gravity is an important, and often overlooked part, of meditative practice.

Sign up for Cain Carroll’s Radiant Awakening Newsletter >>

Meditation and Quantum Gravity

Perceptions and Projections

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 11.39.10 PMCCRAlogosmallOur View has an enormous impact on the way we move, breathe, and act.

There is a classic example used in Vedic philosophy that illuminates this point: A farmer returns to his home after a long day in the fields. Upon entering a dark room, he sees a snake coiled in the corner. He jumps back in fear, heart racing, and lights a lamp. As light fills the room, the man realizes the snake is actually a coiled rope. He sighs in relief. Immediately, his fear is gone. The body, however, continues to tremble for a while as stress hormones make their way through his bloodstream. This affects his posture, heart rate, breathing, and many other physiological and psychological functions. His mental and physical reactions were real. Even though, in reality, there was no snake and no threat.

Our perceptions and projections are kicking up dust all the time.

Many of our worries and problems are simply snakes in the rope. Ignorance causes us to think, speak, and act in disaccord with the way things actually are.

Most of our suffering arises from misperception. Misperception results from seeing the world through clouded assumptions.

The trouble is, our presumptions don’t particularly like to be exposed. Assumptions, like ignorance, function best in the dark. When we begin to shine the light of awareness on our assumptions, they get a little uncomfortable.

As beliefs get challenged, feelings of irritation or defensiveness can easily arise. This is usually an indication that a particular belief is concealing a more sensitive issue. Usually, it’s the fact that we feel confused about more things than we care to admit. Our façade has been breached. We don’t have answers to life’s big questions. We’re not sure who we are. We have feelings, sensations, and experiences that we don’t fully understand. Beliefs and assumptions offer temporary relief. We lose ourselves in them. Like an anesthesia, they buffer the sting of immediate contact with the imperfect reality of our personal situation.

One of our culture’s core assumptions is that life has to make sense.

Society values knowing. We give precedence to people who know. We make a big fuss over faith, conviction, and belief. People with strong convictions seem to transcend the humbling dilemma of non-knowing. They are confident and magnetic. Charismatic. We like that. It’s exciting. Maybe they know something we don’t. Our cultural presumption is that if we can just get rid of uncertainty and feel solid in ourselves, we will finally be comfortable and happy.

It doesn’t happen like that.

Sign up for Cain Carroll’s Radiant Awakening Newsletter >>

Perceptions and Projections

Self Reflection: Exposure, Contemplation, and Embodiment

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 1.29.36 PM

CCRAlogosmallThe art of self-reflection is the central endeavor of spiritual cultivation. It includes three main aspects: exposure, contemplation, and embodiment.

Exposure means making contact with ideas that spark the process of self-reflection. Exposure can happen in many ways: reading books, listening to lectures, making a connection with a teacher, observing nature, and so on. Exposure is exciting and fresh. The inception of new possibilities usually is. Yet every honeymoon period wanes with time. Although exposure is absolutely necessary, it only reaches skin deep. The genuine value of exposure is that it ignites contemplation.

It takes courage and perseverance to touch the depths of anything, especially the human heart. The movement from exposure to contemplation is no exception.

We can easily get caught in the trap of reading stacks of spiritual books, attending endless seminars, and otherwise accumulating a head-full of  theoretical knowledge. Getting stuck in the exposure phase is like never leaving the buffet line. We overeat and then suffer from spiritual indigestion. At some point, we must stop and digest what we have already consumed. Digestion is less exciting than consumption; however, this is how value is extracted and assimilated.

Contemplation, in its early stages, is the ability to entertain an idea without accepting or rejecting it. It is something akin to holding a baby bird in your palm. With great interest and care, you begin to observe closely. The purpose of contemplation is to see things in a fresh way. Premature acceptance of exciting ideas closes the hand too forcefully, crushing the bird. Premature rejection of confronting concepts pushes new possibility away; the bird gets dropped.

The first lesson we must learn in the art of contemplation is to calm down. We have to take ideas in fully, digest them slowly. There is no rush. We do not have to accept or reject. We do not have to label “good” or “bad.” There is another option beyond the duality of choosing this or that. We can simply remain open.

The process of contemplation entails closely observing our own beliefs. The objective is not to acquire a host of new ideas per se, but to find out if the ones we hold dear have any relationship with reality. One of my teachers said it nicely: “Losing ignorance is much better than gaining any wisdom.”

One of the benefits of properly conducted contemplation is that it exposes our own confusion. Contemplation shines the lamp of awareness into the dark rooms of our belief systems. Light can only expose our ignorance; it’s up to us to toss out assumptions and beliefs that are not representative of reality as-it-is.

Although contemplation can bring clarity, it is easy to mistake lucid theoretical understanding for embodiment. Mental certainty of spiritual truth is quite different from realization. It takes courage to move from contemplation to embodiment.

The risk of getting caught in contemplation is that one formulates lofty theories and then stands behind them, aloof from the living moment. This is a common mistake among so-called “advanced” spiritual seekers. Unchecked contemplation can render a person dharma- intoxicated. Blindly adopting spiritual axioms will do the same. This means we have taken on a particular view—usually one that espouses transcendence—and have placed that view between ourselves and the immediate situation of everyday life. Shrouded in spiritual ideals, and armed with objective understanding, a seeker can become distant from immediacy. Untouchable.

This is a common obstacle on the path.

Studying an atlas is quite different from walking in the forest. At some point, we have to fold up our map of concepts and step onto the path-less path. Teachers and teachings can only point in a general direction. We have to step off and trust life itself. With the firm ground of self-honesty under our feet, a profound recognition dawns.

We realize that, despite all of our learning, we actually know very little.

A sense of wonder returns. Freshness. This is how self-honesty and contemplation work together. At the end of the day, contemplation clearly reveals that to satiate our innermost longing we must go beyond concepts and preconceptions. Contemplation must lead to embodiment.

Embodiment is warm and intimate, totally engaged with the immediate situation. To move from contemplation to embodiment, we have to drop our guard. The cloak of self- protecting concepts is disrobed. We become vulnerable. We feel. Contact with life reaches our bones. Embodiment means being fully alive and available. It requires that we remain open to whatever arises.

This might sound fantastic in theory. In real-life application, however, living like this can be quite confronting. It dismantles our built-up mechanisms of protection. It breaks our cover, messes with our cool. It exposes ego’s hiding scheme. Nevertheless, if we are to become real human beings (Chinese zhen ren), we have to take the leap from contemplation to embodiment.

Perhaps Dogen Zenji says it best: “Enlightenment is intimacy with all things.”

Sign up for Cain Carroll’s Radiant Awakening Newsletter >>

Self Reflection: Exposure, Contemplation, and Embodiment

The View: How You Think the World Works

Poppy field at sunset

CCRAlogosmallThe way we conceptualize ourselves and the world largely affects how we go about doing things.

Whether we are conscious of it or not, we hold a particular mental outlook—a view.

A view is a set of beliefs about how we think the world works. It is a cosmology. A mythology. Much of this view is formulated in childhood by the dominant assumptions of our culture. Many of the core notions that make up our culture’s worldview are established by religion, politics, and advertising. Each of these has its own agenda.

As we mature, we adopt certain beliefs based on what we deem advantageous. Maybe you are an optimist. A realist. A believer. A skeptic. A mystic. Maybe you have adopted science as your chosen mythology. Whatever the case may be, like a fish in water, your view is the medium you swim in. It’s easy to forget that you have a view. If you do not check frequently, you will only operate within the framework of your view. Seems harmless.

Yet, if certain aspects of this view are not representative of reality as-it-is, you will find yourself feeling claustrophobic, uncomfortable in your own skin. No matter what you do—how much success or fun you have—there is a nagging sense of unrest. It doesn’t matter how much others love and respect you, genuine fulfillment somehow seems to elude you. Even though you do everything “right,” secretly inside yourself there is still a sense that something is missing.

The cause of this predicament does not lie with you or the world. Both are perfectly imperfect. The glitch is in the view. We do not taste true satisfaction until we go beyond the veil of our own concepts. We are not free until we cease to be defined by what we believe.

In the next blog post, we’ll see how the art of self-reflection is the central endeavor of spiritual cultivation. We’ll also examine its three main aspects: exposure, contemplation, and embodiment.

Sign up for Cain Carroll’s Radiant Awakening Newsletter >>

The View: How You Think the World Works

What is Meditation?

CCRAlogosmallThere are many conflicting ideas about what meditation is.

Western culture has adopted meditation as another form of self-improvement. The cultural assumption is that meditation is about stilling the mind or entering altered states of consciousness. There is a common belief that the goal of meditation is to get rid of thoughts, kill the ego, or enter an otherworldly blissful trance.

Such ideas are erroneous and misleading. They expose a worldview based in the cosmology of insufficiency. There is a fundamental assumption—primarily informed by the Judeo-Christian notion of original sin and subsequent need for salvation—that something is innately wrong with us. Theism postulates God and his ordained instruments as the answer to the supposed problem. But what if no such problem exists to begin with?

Popular understanding of meditation often removes the orthodox notion of God and religion from the equation, but fails to investigate the insidious assumption that one is in need of saving. In the core teachings of spiritual traditions where meditation is foremost, no such idea arises. In fact, Buddhism, Daoism, and Vedanta postulate the exact opposite: that everything is just fine.

All things are faultless from the beginning.

The central teaching proposes that it is through mental projection and error of perception that we find flaw with the world and ourselves. Ignorance is the root cause of suffering. A verse from the Pali Canon reads, “The heart’s nature is intrinsically radiant, defilements are only visitors.”

Meditation, then, is not a tool for fixing what is wrong or attaining what is absent. It is a way of directly realizing the truth, of savoring reality as-it-is. Meditation is not something esoteric. It is not an Asian aesthetic hinting at transcendence. It has very little to do with stone Buddha statues and lotus flowers.

Plain and simple: meditation is an immediate relationship with what is right in front of you. Uncolored by culture, religion, or politics, true meditation exists only in the context of your direct experience.

 Sign up for Cain Carroll’s Radiant Awakening Newsletter >>

What is Meditation?