There is No Spiritual Path

CCRAlogosmallThe spiritual path is not a spiritual path. It is an integrated process of illuminating all Nine Spheres of life, of which the spiritual dimension is one. We use the term “spiritual practice”, but this is misleading. It feeds the fantasy that emphasizing the more subtle aspects of your experience will somehow magically help you transcend the discomfort of your personal situation. Yet no matter how deep you go into the subtle realm of spirit-energy, you always find yourself pulled back into the mundane affairs of ordinary life. There are always dishes. The rent is due. Relationships push your buttons. Your mother is calling.

As it turns out, the path is all-inclusive.

You can convince yourself that mundane life no longer affects you, that you have mastered detachment, but this gives rise to a spiritually caused pathology: disassociation. You see, the erroneous notion of a spiritual path validates the habit of self-abandon. It has you chasing mirages: gurus, bliss, secret teachings, strange postures, esoteric states, special abilities.

Yoga, meditation, chanting, satsang; these serve mostly as forms of distraction. Spiritual escapism. The practices themselves are not at fault. The traditions are time-tested and the potential for profound transformation is there. It is the lack of contextualization, view, and self-honesty that cause seekers to be mislead by spiritualism.

Authentic awakening is about immediacy with every aspect of life, not only the spiritual. It is about total and undiminished intimacy with everything that arises in the Nine Spheres. Awakening does not transform you into something beyond ordinary. It does not get rid of your worldly problems. It does not fix what you unconsciously assume is broken (your imperfect self). Quite the contrary!

Awakening reveals what is universally true.

Once the fundamental predicament of self-obsession is fully understood, a new type of practice occurs. We call this the birth of the radiant self. Yet no birth at all has taken place. The game of upholding a fictitious self-projection simply ends. When you stop this game, reality becomes self-evident. The un-fabricated truth of what you actually are shines forth spontaneously. You are able to meet life with openness and immediacy on every level.

The whole enterprise of spiritual practice hinges on self-honesty. Without self-honesty — full acknowledgement of your direct experience — nothing of value can be gained from spiritual practice. Without self-honesty, the study and practice of spiritual teachings will serve only to adorn your collection of mental distractions and egoic identifications. These function as toys you use to avoid the naked experience of your own situation.

The reason it is so important to fully embrace your unmodified direct experience is that, although it is painful, it is true. Real. Deep inside, you are suffering. This is a fact you are usually reluctant to admit. You cover this up with all sorts of spiritual rhetoric and idealized behavior, things you have read and heard. You become what you’re supposed to be. It’s an act. You’re hiding. You know it, and so do I.

Why do you play this game?

You can deceive yourself and others, but this does not change the fact: there is something uncomfortable about being you. Most of the time you are running from this discomfort. And you are not the only one. Self-deception is the main obstacle for all seekers. I’ve been there, too.

The good news is: your fully acknowledged suffering is the very foundation of genuine awakening. But you have be more interested in waking up than you are in remaining safe and comfortable in your dream.

In other words, the prerequisite for awakening is to cease avoiding the predicament self-contraction. If you understand this, you have received the core teaching. This is what is meant by the axiom, “start where you are.” Strange as it may sound, your turmoil contains the key to your freedom.

This is the root practice: Face your life in all Nine Spheres. Feel the full effect of your human embodiment. Release your reluctance to be vulnerable. Find out what it’s really like to be you. Become greatly interested in what your immediate experience is really like — at the gut-level — without getting hooked by the promise of self-improvement.

Apply absolute loving acceptance to what is right in front of you.

The very act of doing this is the true meaning of surrender and the true heart of devotion. This is yoga. This is meditation. This is the path.

If you can muster the courage to practice this, to walk the all-inclusive path, a door will open inside you.

Grace will rush in.

Suffering will come to an end, forever.

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There is No Spiritual Path

The Sacredness of Everyday Life

CCRAlogosmallQuietly I sit before dawn, before anything needs to be done, before birds sing, before bustle begins. In that silent stillness, I soften and surrender to the Great Respiration. I can feel life pulsing within me.

Rising from the cushion — stillness begets movement — gently I open the joints, revitalize muscles and sinews, and invigorate my skin with vigorous rubbing (chi bathing). The daily routine of self-healing feels wholesome.

Morning practice comes to a close. I offer incense and heartfelt wishes for the welfare of all beings. I renew my commitment to self-cultivation, shake off laziness and doubt, and express sincere gratitude to my teachers for giving me back to myself.

On to the kitchen; the sound of boiling water, the smell of porridge, steamed vegetables and kim chee.

tea session
Swirls of steam rise from a pot of freshly brewed oolong tea. I fill my favorite cup with green ambrosia. Ahh, the smell! For a moment, I am transported to the misty mountains of Taiwan.

It’s time to begin the day’s work: writing, teaching, seeing students for sessions of healing and guidance on the path of awakening. Doing what I love, the hours fly by.

It’s an hour before sunset. I pry my hands from the keyboard and head outside. I walk up into the nearby hills to commune with Heaven and Earth, to practice moving with nature once more. I climb up into an old oak tree and sit in its branches. Peering off into the distance, I ponder questions that have no answers. A woodpecker beats her rhythm against an adjacent tree. I watch the sun dip behind the mountain; a reminder of time’s passing. I miss my mother, her wise words, her smile. I think of my own mortality, about the moment I, too, will pass beyond the dark mountain.

It’s getting late. I can feel Revital wondering where I am.  Was I supposed to cook dinner tonight?

Back home, family converges around the table. A bowl of hot soup, stories of our day, sharing “highs and lows.” Laughter and tears tell their own version of the ups and downs of each of our lives.

Dishes. There are always more dishes. Whoever cooked the meal gets off free; that’s our house rule. It’s my teenage daughter’s turn tonight. We squabble over the fairness of it. “Life’s not fair”, I bark. “For as long as you eat food, there will be dishes”, my parental lecture spouts on. Sigh. Eye-roll. “What. Ever.”, she retorts.

A moment later, Miley Cyrus appears in my kitchen at full volume (or is it another tongue wagging pop star?). Music makes the chores more fun. Before long, we’re all dancing. “Mom, not like thaaaat!” It seems the inevitable act of parents unabashedly embarrassing teens is as proverbial as dishes after dinner.

The evening settles in and a conversation with Dogen, Zhuangzi, Ashtavakra, and Laozi gets rolling. Longchenpa chimes in. We meet in the space between pages, in the gap between thoughts. In the sagely presence of these old masters, I feel humbled and inspired.

Bucket bathing: First, hot water, then cold. Vigorous drying with a rough towel. My skin turns pink and tingles (activation of wei chi / vyana vayu). Warm all over. It’s time for bed.

I snuggle in to my beloved; two spoons in night’s drawer. I reflect on the day. I feel gratitude for all that I have. Falling asleep, all cares dissolve. Myriad dreams paint a rainbow spectrum. In the dreamless space, there is no self at all. Gone. Utterly gone, every last trace of “I.” Until morning once again ignites the dream of being awake. Amazing! This no-self-no-form appears to emerge from emptiness.

A new day stretches its limbs. The ever-running stream of freshness carries on.

To fully participate in Life’s procession, to offer something of value back to humanity, to see if can indeed reach my true potential today; these are my heart’s deepest ambitions, the very things that pull me from the comfort of my warm safe bed to meet the great unknown on this brave new day. Or is it, perhaps, the bladder’s urgent need that moves me from slumber? That is certainly real.

Either way, it’s a glorious morning. It’s a Radiant Awakening.

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The Sacredness of Everyday Life

The Body-Mind

CCRAlogosmallIn the English language, we refer to body and mind as two separate entities. We have been taught to value the importance of the mind over that of the body. Sayings like “mind over matter” imply that somehow the body is subservient to the mind (or at least in those we admire, we assume it ought to be). We impose this idea on the youth by forcing children to sit still in school all day while their bodies yearn to move and play. We punish the ones who fidget too much. Those who struggle most with our unnatural imposition are “diagnosed”, their supposed pathology “treated” with pharmaceutical drugs. We can’t have a society of people connected to their primal wild power, now can we.

Throughout our education, we are taught to memorize the names of muscles, organs, hormones, and chemical reactions; but never how to feel the function of these in our own flesh. We are molded to regurgitate disparate facts on command; to build a great repository of information that we parrot back to those with red pens at exam time. Yet tragically, we know very little about our own embodied experience. Many among us scarcely feel their bodies at all, save for times of illness and pain.

Through this unbalanced development of the intellect, our heads have become so inflated that we collectively believe we have out-smarted nature. Yet the state of our physical health as a society proves the opposite. Of the top-ten leading causes of death, nine are related to personal conduct. We would be hard pressed to find here on Earth another organism that, of its own free will, makes choices that secure its own demise. It just isn’t natural.

As it turns out, we are not as smart as we thought.

All of this is indicative of a cosmology that has separation, and therefore conflict, at its very foundation. We are in conflict with ourselves, with each other, and with our own habitat. We learned this through religion, politics, academia, and by the misuse of the scientific process (as a validation mechanism for self-serving agendas, instead of as an instrument in the pursuit of truth). The notion of separation is woven into the substratum of our cultural world view. It is built in to the structure of our language (and most Euro-centric languages). The basic structure of an English sentence exposes our unconscious assumption of separation. Grammar dictates that there must be a clear break between the subject and the object, such that the subject may demonstrate its power by acting upon the object. Take the case of body and mind. Clearly body is the object, mind the subject. “I hate my body”, the teen girl says. This type of thinking and speaking persists even though modern science has proven that no such separation exists whatsoever between body and mind. Who is hating whom?

Body-MindAll of this is based in an erroneous understanding of basic physics. Even an elementary look at the natural world quickly exposes the undeniable realization that everything is intrinsically interwoven. Ancient people from all corners of the globe understood: It is not separation that is the ruling principle, it is interdependence.

We have known full-well, since in inception of quantum thinking, that all things are literally interrelating as a vast spectrum of energy-consciousness. Einstein proved it (E = mc2), and every great thinker since has followed suit. Mass and energy are the same entity. Mind and matter are a continuum. And of course, all of the world’s ancient wisdom traditions share this basic understanding. We see traces of this inclusive thinking in languages still connected to the cosmology of wholeness — such as classical Chinese, Japanese and Sanskrit — where words often include a vast spectrum of interrelated meanings.

Take the Chinese ideogram xin (心), for example.  Xin can mean heart, mind, center, intention, core, feeling, emotion, and more. Here the notion of mind as separate from body does not exist. Hence, the English word mind does not translate perfectly into Chinese.  People usually say “heart-mind” to more accurately convey the classical Chinese idea of body-mind as a interrelated web. In classical Japanese, the word hara (Vital Center) is often used when talking about a person’s mind state. Hara is located in the belly and denotes the spiritual-visceral essence of a person. Here mind is literally thought to originate inside the abdomen.

In the same way that every coin has “heads” and “tails”, body and mind form two parts of one whole. Day and night. Winter and summer. Life and death. Emptiness and form. The web of life cannot be separated into parts. To attempt to do so causes a deep division in the human heart. This conceptual insistence on separation is the cause of great suffering to ourselves and the planet we live on. This is what perpetuates the Cycle of Affliction.

Anytime I use the term body-mind, I am referring to the natural law of interdependence. I am pointing to the fundamental unity of all things. This is not a lofty spiritual concept. It is the very basis of your own direct experience.  If I say body, I also imply mind. If I speak of the mind, I am referring equally to consciousness and physical matter.

With all of this, I am asking you to cut through the habit of dualistic fixation. This habit has been conditioned into you without your consent. It serves an agenda you don’t believe in: control of people and resources.

For the sincere spiritual seeker (or anyone interested in freedom), the notion of separation must be severed at its root, at the level of self-contraction, self-protection and fear of intimacy. A profound liberation happens through the constant application of self-observation and self-honesty. Through this practice, the erroneous world view you have been force fed will break down. Something deep inside you will finally relax. And as you wipe the dust from the mirror of your own body-mind, you will discover a brilliant reflection shining of itself.

Your true Original Nature.

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The Body-Mind

The Cycle of Awakening

CCRAlogosmall Waking up is a profound transformation — a wild fire that consumes disappointment, illness, struggle and affliction. The Cycle of Awakening is set in motion by the courageous act of releasing your reluctance to feel. It begins the moment you stop avoiding your own discomfort, the moment you enter into total loving acceptance of your current situation. In essence, waking up is a process of losing what you are not.

cycleofawakeningThis is the spark: the choice to honestly face yourself with naked awareness. Complete self-acceptance is a gentle bellows that nurtures the inner fire of awakening. A brightness grows in you.

All of this happens at the level of deep feeling in the Vital Center. Here, inside your belly, is the common origin of all Nine Spheres of your life.  And for authentic awakening to come about, all Nine Spheres must be illuminated.

Once set in motion, the Cycle of Awakening is self-fulfilling. If you attend to it diligently through the time-tested practices of self-observation and self-healing, the Cycle will completely transform the cause of your suffering into the seed of enlightenment.

When all that you are not is transformed in the fire of relentless loving awareness, what remains is your pristine Original Nature.

Vital.

Radiant.

Free.

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The Cycle of Awakening

The Cycle of Affliction

CCRAlogosmallThe Cycle of Affliction is an unconscious chain of mental-physical reactions. It begins in early childhood with a traumatic experience, or a series of them, that create a pattern of visceral-emotional pain and contraction in the Vital Center. This pattern becomes a constant strain on your life. It is a deep-rooted self-defense mechanism, a type of bracing. Until resolved, it is always there at the gut-level in everything you do. It’s like a painful cramp that affects your ability to be who you truly are. Since the discomfort of it is constant, you are unconsciously fighting for relief all the time.

cycleofaffliction

The experience of trauma and conditioning leave a type of psycho-physical debris inside the human body-mind. If this debris is not fully digested and eliminated it clogs the Vital Center and blocks the flow of life-force. This diminishes your capacity to thrive in the Nine Spheres. Over time, without knowing it’s happening, you can become a refugee inside your own skin. There is a kind of constriction at the core-level of your being. You start subtly resisting life. You begin contracting in on yourself. Vitality constantly tries to flow into you, to nourish and fulfill you, but you resist.

Yet the thrive reflex is always operative. Your natural unconditioned state is persistently shining like the sun behind a wall of clouds. Radiant health is your birthright and life is one hundred percent supportive. However, when you are constantly contracting, the potency of life can not flow through you smoothly. You experience this as a reduced sense of joy and ease. Things seem more difficult than they ought to.

As you attempt to secure satisfaction in any Sphere, a feeling of anxious discomfort is always getting in the way. You try to alleviate the discomfort, but nothing seems to work. You are forever trying to make it go away. You are always, in one way or another, in conflict with this primary discomfort. Because this is not your original state. It is not who you truly are.

This is what I mean when I talk about self-contraction. It is an act of withdrawing into yourself. An act of self-protection. This survive reflex is an inborn way of coping with emergency situations. It certainly has its place; to get you through life-threatening challenges.

But life in not an emergency!

The self-protection response easily gets stuck in the “on” position. This affects your physiology on every level and compromises the function of all body systems: digestive, nervous, endocrine, cardiorespiratory, etc. Since the Vital Center is the origin of all Nine Spheres, self-contraction distorts your innate capacity to thrive and experience fulfillment on every level.

This is why I implore you to practice self-observation. You cannot release the cause of your suffering until you understand it. Please take a close look at yourself, an honest and compassionate look. Full acceptance. Free of judgment. Notice how you constantly seek comfort and satisfaction. See how you abandon yourself in work, food, drugs, social media, sexual fantasy, narcissism, video games, shopping . . . you fill in the blank. The results of this strategy of distraction—in terms of moments when you actually feel genuine contentment—are deplorable. I don’t at all mean to diminish the experiences you’ve had, the knowledge and possessions you’ve amassed, and the things you’ve accomplished. But doesn’t it strike you as odd, that even with all of this, fulfillment somehow keeps sliping through your fingers.

Why?

Because you don’t realize you are caught in the Cycle of Affliction.

Until this cycle is disrupted, you will go round and round grasping for what can never be found inside such a cycle. The cycle is self-perpetuating. It always produces exactly the same results: suffering. The purpose of the Radiant Awakening is to disrupt the pattern. To break the Cycle of Affliction. To bring you into lucid awareness of your actual situation. So that you can see. So that you can wake up.

Here’s the thing you must understand.

Suffering is an action you are choosing. It is a self-perpetuating sequence of choices you make moment by moment. These choices are not in harmony with universal workings of natural law and they are not congruent with who you really are. Contrary to common assumption, suffering is not something that happens to you. It is something you make happen.

This might sound harsh. It might seem confronting. But it’s true.

The good news is: you have free will. Action is a choice. It’s the one thing you can control; how you respond to the situation. And there is a radically different type of action you can take, one that breaks the Cycle of Affliction for good. This action is not something you do. It’s something you stop doing.

Avoidance.

Stop avoiding the most uncomfortable things your life (you know exactly the ones I’m talking about). Stop running from yourself. Stop avoiding intimacy and vulnerability. Turn around and face yourself with total acceptance, with relentless honesty and love, in all Nine Spheres. Then bring this unguarded presence to all your relations.

This is the practice that breaks the Cycle of Affliction once and for all.

This is the practice that sets the Cycle of Awakening in motion.

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The Cycle of Affliction

The Vital Center

CCRAlogosmallDeep inside the abdomen exists our most profound source of feeling, intelligence and vigor. The Vital Center is called hara in Japanese, dantien in Chinese, and kanda in Sanskrit. In Eastern wisdom traditions, this important center is understood as the source of presence and potency in the human body. It is thought of as the meeting point of Heaven and Earth, the connection of past and future. In the field of biomechanics, it is referred to as the Center of Gravity (COG). In the study of physics, it is called the Center of Mass (COM).

vitalcenter

The Vital Center is the basis of human life; the root of our digestive, immune, and reproductive systems. In our earliest prenatal days each of us grew from a few tiny cells into a fully formed fetus. We were nurtured in utero through the belly-to-belly connection with our mother; her Vital Center working for the development of ours. She performed the functions of eating, breathing, and eliminating for us, then transferred the benefits through the umbilical cord. Until birth, mother was our direct connection to Nature. After birth, once the umbilical cord was cut, we began a new and direct relationship with the natural world. With our first few breaths, the Vital Center in our own body became truly active and autonomous. And for the rest of our lives the Center serves as our direct tether to womb of Nature. It is where we digest food, experiences, and emotions, where we hold our most private sentiments, and where the face of our true character resides.

Colloquial sayings like “I hate your guts” and “I have a gut feeling” derive from our intuitive cultural understanding of the fundamental importance of the Vital Center. Phrases like “belly laughter”, “I can’t stomach it”, and “it’s gone belly up” convey the sense that the Center is not merely a physical cavity full of important organs, but something of much deeper significance.  When we say that a person is “centered and upstanding” we mean much more than the location of their Center of Mass, or the fact that they are merely situated in an upright position. What we mean to say is that such a person has themselves at hand, they know who they are; they are established in the truth of their own being and in contact with natural law.

The Vital Center is located about three finger widths below the navel. It sits directly on the vertical axis, halfway between the lower belly and the sacrum (closer to the spine than you might think).  The Vital Center is where you actually are. It is the present moment in flesh and blood. Your thoughts may wander to distant lands, and at times you may feel lost inside your self, but the Center is always right here.

The state of your Vital Center determines the state of every aspect of your life throughout all Nine Spheres. This is why the importance of working with the belly cannot be overemphasized. The primary function of Radiant Awakening practice is to illuminate the Vital Center. In other words, through self-healing and self-observation you remove accumulated psycho-physical tension from the belly and reset your connection to the primordial source of life.

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The Vital Center

Seven Billion Hearts

CCRAlogosmallFor one brief moment let us suspend our opinions, take off the masks of our race, faith, politics, philosophy, culture, color, age, and gender. For just this moment let us set aside our grievances, put down our pride, our flags, and our guns. Let us unclench our fists and unfurrow our brows. Let us retract the pointed finger of blame and cease to entertain notions of “us and them.”

Temporarily, let us place on pause our ambitious pursuit of profit and gain.

And for one fleeting instant in time—right now—let us simply stand together and hear the pulse of our shared humanity, the sound of seven billion hearts beating in unison.

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Seven Billion Hearts

The Trouble with Knowing

CCRAlogosmallThe study of spiritual teachings might be the worst thing for your spiritual growth.

The more you read and study, the more you think you know. Once you have read a hundred books on yoga, truth, mindfulness and divinity, your mind naturally sees itself closer to those concepts. You can easily flaunt the garments of spiritual life, look the part and speak the talk—“namaste”, “it’s all one”, “be here now.” But intellectual understanding is not the same as direct realization. And realization is not the same as embodiment. At some point you have to set aside all externally gleaned knowledge and genuinely investigate your own direct experience. The point is to know yourself fully.

We call this the practice of relentless self-honesty.

This is the basis of authentic spiritual growth.

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The Trouble with Knowing

Meditation is Difficult?

CCRAlogosmallTo enjoy life fully, we have to learn to appreciate each moment without always wishing for something different. We need to learn to love the fact that things are always changing, that life is messy and unpredictable, and that there are many things we don’t know.

To be at ease internally, we first have to understand that the mind is simply a changing field of conditions. To be able to appreciate the changing states of mind without an exclusive preference for clarity or calm is the first step toward medatitive equipoise. At times, your thoughts stomp through like a platoon of storm troopers. In another moment, there might be vast openness and peace. It’s always alternating: Noisy. Silent. Vivid. Dull. As your practice of meditation matures, you learn to appreciate the complete spectrum of mind. There emerges a sense of curiosity and wonder.

The insight that mind is constant change makes us fit for concentration. Sustained focus has to coincide with this insight, otherwise frustration will ensue and spiritual development will be imbalanced (not to mention, you’ll have lots of headaches). With strong concentration alone you can certainly override the natural currents of mind, enter various trance states (samadhi), and experience different levels of bliss. But when those mind states end, the preferred pleasant experience also ends. There is always a struggle to get back “there”, to the calm and blissful place. This type of grasping is common mistake. Let us be absolutely clear about one thing: effort to secure preferred states of mind is not meditation. It’s escapism.

The bliss that comes and goes is not true bliss, but rather the flip-side of frustration. Once bliss ends, the inner conflict with mind resumes. This is not a path toward awakening.

So how do you clear your mind?

Stop trying!

With recognition of how your own mind actually functions, concentration can be rightly applied and liberation is no further than you own navel.

A quick practice session: Sit down in a comfortable position and do not move. Release all striving and enter into harmony with your own direct experience. Pay attention to the feeling of your Vital Center. If thoughts come, smile. If thoughts do not come, smile. If there is calm, great. If there is agitation, fine. Notice that when you stop trying to manipulate your situation, there is no difficulty. When you don’t fight with thoughts, there is no conflict.

Meditation is simply the practice of resting in your natural state. Personal effort and surrender work together to reveal what is always the case: that the true nature of mind is totally clear and open. That you are originally whole and immaculate from the beginning. And there is nothing you need to do can do to make it so.

As the saying goes: “When the bucket is left undisturbed, the mud settles itself.”

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Meditation is Difficult?

The Sword and the Heart

CCRAlogosmallThe sword and the heart are two of the most important tools of the spiritual practitioner.

Wisdom is the sword that cuts through self-delusion. It slices away fantasy and idealism, and exposes the places you are avoiding intimacy with the actual circumstance of your life. The function of the sword is to skillfully remove the layers of conditioning obscuring your Original Nature. Most seekers avoid the sword because they think the truth has to hurt; a common excuse for avoidance. However, the sword of wisdom removes only the clothing of accumulated erroneous views. It never touches the skin. Its function is to sever all self-protecting identifications, to free you of what you are not. What’s left is the naked essence of what you truly are. Unburdened. Without a scratch. Radiant and whole, from the beginning.

Love is the flaming heart that lights up the world. It is a warm embrace of all that is. The heart has no interest in changing you. The heart is constant and unwavering acceptance. It does not expand or contract with the changing circumstances. The heart maintains continuous luminosity, like a shining sun in the cosmic sky. All appearances are warmed and nourished by the heart.

By the sword of wisdom, you empty out. By the heart’s radiant light, you are filled up.

The spiritual path is primarily a process of unlearning, emptying. It is what you lose through spiritual practice that eventually severs the knot of self-contraction. When you are naked and empty, sincerely reduced to “I don’t know,” love spontaneously fills you to overflowing. When you are not longer invested in the constant game of defending a fictitious self-image, you will fall into the loving embrace of the heart.

Such are the physics of grace.

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The Sword and the Heart